It’s been twenty years since Slipknot released their self-titled debut album, and the disparity forged between then and now is immeasurable. What was once a pack of freaks from the Iowan backwoods, clad in boiler suits and horror movie masks to bash out the vile, violent cousin of the tandem nu-metal boom, is now a genuine pop culture phenomenon really unlike anything before or since. Those two decades have been fraught with turbulence and change, ranging from new costumes to less-than-amicable departures, but that’s where a lot of thrill lies. The fact that Slipknot have gotten this far while never not feeling like a band on the edge of implosion is borderline miraculous, and even if they’ve largely streamlined their approach in recent years in the move to metal’s top tier, there’s a level of combustibility and danger that you just don’t get from their contemporaries. Factor in the ever-growing celebrity status of frontman Corey Taylor and increased penchant for melody that’s proven controversial but has ultimately widened their pull for the better, and Slipknot’s ranking among modern metal’s greats has proven more essential than plenty would estimate. And yet, when it comes to an album like We Are Not Your Kind, it’s hard to see just where Slipknot are positioning themselves to go from here. Right now, they’ve proven their extremes on both sides beyond any reasonable doubt, and with a far slower rollout than usual for an album of this magnitude – even with the numerous assertions of having Iowa levels of heaviness – there’s always the chance of this being a band caught up in the weight of the expectations upon them, and ending up treading water while failing to navigate them. That’s largely what 2014’s .5: The Gray Chapter felt like, an album that still has real standouts and an intention that appeared well-realised, but struggled to consolidate everything it wanted to achieve beyond what could occasionally feel like Slipknot-by-numbers, especially when looking back on it now.
And on the first listen, We Are Not Your Kind does seem to fit that mould. It can feel like a retread of The Gray Chapter at points, swinging between a heft that’s pleasant but lacking the fire of the old days, and softer, more introspective moments that bring a change of pace well, but don’t have the connective tissue to work as a whole. But there’s an insidiousness about this album that makes it so compelling to return to, and with each return, We Are Not Your Kind becomes so much more effective as the layers peel back and reveal what Slipknot in 2019 really is. Because that’s ultimately what this album needs to establish, and when it’s so profoundly fuelled by Taylor’s own sliding towards depression and madness, the pin is placed on a band who have grown and found new dimensions to express their grief and anger in their maturity, while still being able to dish out a prime example of how metal can be ready for the biggest of venues while remaining uncompromisingly creative.
Granted, it probably leaves the aforementioned comparisons to Iowa feeling a bit disingenuous, but they’re honestly not needed given how much wider the scope of Slipknot’s ideas these days reaches. For one, the core of it all still comes in the bludgeoning, feral take on nu-metal that formed those first albums, especially in Taylor’s faster delivery on tracks like Nero Forte and Orphan that draws parallels to rapping, but with the staccato quality that chips away at the edges to result in a more jagged, punchy sound. As well as that, the bigger arena-metal slammers of Unsainted and Birth Of The Cruel feel decidedly in line with mid- and later-period material in their sense of presence that brings in a greater melodic focus to complement slightly sharper production. Of course, none of this is new, but it’s a testament to Slipknot’s versatility as a unit that they’re able to make this feel so direct and volatile; even when a lot of these tracks do run past the five- and six-minute mark, rarely do they feel as they stalling for time or don’t have enough material to justify their lengths.
A large part of that feels brought over from how good Slipknot have gotten at making their slower, more contemplative tracks, and while the likes of Vermilion Pt. 2 and Snuff have always stood out for how away from the norm they actually are, We Are Not Your Kind is perhaps the first effort to integrate both sides of Slipknot’s repertoire and a single, breathing organism. It says a lot that the album’s centerpiece is A Liar’s Funeral, beginning with whirring synths and a baleful acoustic line set to marching drums, and steadily evolving into the dark, dirgelike grind that definitely feels natural, but is simultaneously lent a fresh direction overall. Admittedly, this is the area where the album’s only true dud lies in My Pain, the sort of deviation into darker, shuddering electronica that’s understandable on paper but less workable on practice, but when that’s counterbalanced by the stalking bassline and creeping music-box twinkles of one of the album’s clear standouts Spiders, the experimentation feels very worthwhile in the end. And when this is a band who, instrumentally, are on top form throughout, it’s hard to really criticise when Slipknot are bringing so much of what makes them great in such a concentrated volume.
And even then, it’s not like any of this comes at the expense of the growth that’s been so necessary for Slipknot to continue for as long as they have. It’s not like continued white-hot rage is sustainable, and when We Are Not Your Kind moves away from that, and instead doubles down on the intrinsic darkness of Taylor’s own mental state, there’s such a natural heaviness that not only comes from that darkness, but from the weight of years being dragged behind. Unsainted feels like the clearest starting point in its contemplations of how to deal with depression without fully falling into the abyss, but that mutates into the darker pessimism of those who judge and don’t understand the severity of the illness on A Liar’s Funeral, or Spiders where the immediate conclusion is that depression won’t be understood by those who haven’t experienced it, and so it’s left to fester. That’s a duality that feels especially realised in the closing pair of tracks, as Not Long For This World sees the self-harm reach a point where something more permanent would feel like the only reasonable escape, and yet on Solway Firth, he tries to keep the smile up and bear it for just a bit longer. And what really hits most about all of this is that it’s a far more mature portrayal of these issues than has often been seen, mostly because Taylor is the sort of phenomenally detailed and vivid writer that has the layers pile on, but also because there’s a realism that comes from longstanding experience compared to so many others that’s so unflinchingly raw. It’s the same rawness that’s always been present in Slipknot’s material regardless of the subject, and to have it so smoothly transposed here does feel like an incredibly poignant and fitting next step.
And that’s the main reason that Slipknot have withstood in the metal world – and indeed, the music world as a whole – as long as they have; the core idea remains unchanged, but they always come up with ways of growing it and letting it evolve on its own to prevent the sort of stagnation that has afflicted so many of their former peers. To be truthful, it looked as though it was about to hit Slipknot themselves for a moment, but We Are Not Your Kind is the sort of fantastic revitalisation that’s so justly earned, especially this far into their career. This feels as relevant in 2019 as their self-titled album did twenty years ago, with the main idea being the same, but the execution feeling so much more timely, both in terms of the current era and of the band themselves. And for a band that could easily rest on their laurels at this point and rely on legacy alone, Slipknot’s dedication to themselves and their music speaks volumes, and it makes their status as icons feel all the more deserved.
For fans of: Korn, Nine Inch Nails, Stone Sour
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘We Are Not Your Kind’ by Slipknot is out now on Roadrunner Records.