ALBUM REVIEW: Slipknot ‘.5: The Gray Chapter’

Forever changed, the unit survives: A return to Slipknot

I grew up with Slipknot, as many a hormone riddled, angsty teen did, seeking some sort of ear-splitting relief from vacuous production-line number ones: ATB’s ‘Till I Come’, Fragma’s ‘Toca’s Miracle’ and…save me, Jebus…Vengaboys’ ‘Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom’. Disgusted, we turned to the disgusting; plagued by our naive existential crises, we turned to a band that personified the wish to transcend and nullify our own existences with a wearable face. Welcome, Slipknot.

Since then, I’ve mellowed slightly. I discovered those who do everything Slipknot could do with sweeter tones and a less emotionally bribing, manufactured image. But my anger reached a new peak yesterday when I got my hair cut by mistake due to miscommunication with a hairdresser. The hippy exterior—the identity I’d cultivated over many years—instantly replaced by a medieval page-boy look. I suddenly found myself transported back to the self-conscious, angst filled days of my teendom and seeing .5: The Gray Chapter on the list of albums for GigSlutz reviewers, I decided it was time for a little metal therapy.

This album is change and reflection, embodied—perhaps solely—by the departure of well-respected drummer, Joey Jordison and the death of bassist, Paul Gray. The title itself is an homage to the much missed bassist and two tracks are certainly tributes. ‘Skeptic’, a work of lyrical stream of consciousness, doesn’t shy away from the pain of loss like ‘farewell’ tunes sometimes do in favour of a more stoic sound. ‘Goodbye’ disappointingly starts with a funeral-friendly vibe before launching, harmonising the vocals and doubling up on the bass drum pedals, but still managing to carry the original sound with single melodic notes and riffs without the crunch. Naturally, all criticism may focus on the sound sans core members, but I’ll get to that later. Firstly: seasoned vocalist, Corey Taylor.

Taylor, as all fans of Stone Sour and earlier Slipknot offerings know, is a very capable singer, all too often scoffed at by the scoffing classes. Listen to the sweet treble he achieves in tracks like ‘The Devil in I’ with a seamless pitch to the death growl vocals we all recognise. But it’s the in between in the opening track ‘XIX’ that I love. Just enough of each to tease in clear, succinct and emotive tones. With grace, it slides into ‘Sarcastrophe’, picking up on the crunchy speed-riffing and the quick march dry toms that had me clenching my teeth and tamely moshing on my living room sofa. I’m home again, guys.

The musicianship on the album is impeccable. Flawless guitar riffs changeup like Taylor’s voice, from wall-shaking rhythm crunch to the divine solos on ‘Nomadic’ and ‘The One That Kills The Least’, the latter with nothing to descry a lifting finger, straight from the depths of their heavy metal roots. This, in addition to turntable driven choruses on ‘The Negative One’ and the time-signature switch ups and double pedal driven drums throughout…well, it’s a metal masterpiece worthy of the eponymous album that filled the void over a decade ago.

Given the departure of two key members, the sound oddly remains…Slipknot. Songs like ‘Killpop’ feel designed to mock what we all reluctantly expect—that irrevocable change in sound, the mellowing of the mournful—but the song soon drops, and we have Slipknot again. It sounds like Jordison hasn’t left, whether through production methods, the fact that percussionists Shaun Crahan and Chris Fehn are on the flanks or conscious imitation, which is no disrespect to the unnamed tom-thrasher as to even adequately replace Jordison is a tremendous feat. Almost capitalising on this, the band have refused to name the replacement drummer, giving us a faceless Jordison carbon copy.

‘Goodbye’ achieves something reminiscent of a coupling of new and old sounds, with sweetness carried by crunch, but it is surrounded by signature Slipknot tunes. ‘Custer’ is very close to ‘Spit It Out’, the declaration to waffling record companies, without being a straight-forward soundalike; ’Skeptic’ revels in the old sound they all created together, fittingly paying tribute to Gray; followed by ‘Lech’, which could act as the showroom in the Slipknot estate. The unmistakeable sound marches on, and so it should.

The band are and always have been a unit: mask-covered and assigned numbers, they made themselves disposable as a comment on record label ruthlessness and manufactured music, but the statement has exceeded what it was and has become the band. Gray’s number is now retired and the replacement members will wear generic masks before receiving their own as a mark of respect to the departed, but it was never really about the individuals, it’s about the unit. This is not a bad thing. Members come and go, but the unit survives. The Slipknot sound—disgusting, divine, dominant—lives.