Metal for the Masses: “We Are Not Your Kind” Sees Slipknot in Absolute Top Form
The first notable thing about the new Slipknot album is its intro. A brief piece clocking in at just about 100 seconds, it features none of the hallmark sounds you might associate with the group. There is a static pulse which gives way to curtains of shimmering synths; quickly it feels like it might develop into a Klaus Schulz or Tangerine Dream-style kosmiche piece. The intro is at once cold and spacious, like being immersed in cool water. This gives way to the now well-played Slipknot single “Unsainted,” a song which delivers the standard post-Vol. 3 Slipknot goods but with a knack for sonic detail work and rich heavy guitar tone that feels more modern than the band would technically need.
This illustrates that interesting dichotomy of We Are Not Your Kind. Slipknot as a band change far more than a band their size really has any need. And yet, despite how deep and fundamental some of these changes can be and how far afield some of those sonic detours can go, they are still a very large band and thus need to deliver certain consistent elements to maintain their audience.
This is at root what causes the at times mixed responses to new Slipknot material within the metal underground. We are at a point historically where there are less people in the metal underground now who have never liked Slipknot than there are people who have once found them appealing; 20 years of consistent presence will do that. Yet it is precisely these consistent elements that inevitably drive certain metal lifers away for much the same reason that the more mainstream metalcore acts like All That Remains lose their more underground fan base over time.
However, despite some clear and overt gestures to filling an arena with lit lighters or the paucity of arena metal, Slipknot still manages to capture an oddly artful draw.
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Take the track “Birth of the Cruel.” It opens with a sonic passage closer to HEALTH than to Korn before segueing into a classic Soundgarden groove. The middle passage echoes contemporary Gojira (a group that is no stranger to nu-metal sonic concepts). “Birth of the Cruel” is a song that won’t necessarily prove to metal lifer naysayers that Slipknot deserves the amount of acclaim that they receive from mainstream press, but a close ear does at least reveal that there are more interesting ideas here afoot than one might give initial credit for. Slipknot seems to be haunted precisely by the nostalgic image of their sound, an image which hasn’t been accurate since Iowa introduced more explicit death metal and groove metal concepts.
The industrial electronic interlude “Death Because of Death” shows more signs of the post-Vol. 3 methodology of the group where they sought to be a more encyclopedic heavy rock group, one afraid neither of extreme tonalities nor mainstream rock movements while still maintaining a taste for the experimental. Granted, we must dose ourselves; the experiments shown on this record are only experiments in the realm of Slipknot’s body of work and not the overall musical spectrum, and the notes for where these ideas seem to have come from are themselves critically acclaimed groups, diminishing the sense of originality in them.
Still, it’s hard to fault the odd-time groove of a track like “Spiders” or the slow-build death/doom of “A Liar’s Funeral.” Both of those tracks sound little to nothing like the Slipknot you may know. The ultimate trick of some of these more experimental rock tracks presented, tracks which are shockingly good, is to cover up the artist name, close your eyes, and listen. Put out of mind that this is a Slipknot record. Some of these ideas would not have been out of place on later Dillinger Escape Plan records, ones that focused on the post-Nine Inch Nails pop groove. The slow dirge-like heavy riff of “A Liar’s Funeral” is a tremendously compelling doom riff that develops into a heavy stomp.
But the best passage of the record is the closing trio “My Pain,” “Not Long For This World,” and “Solway Firth.” The first is a strange, slow, progressive track, built entirely from electronic textures and layered vocals, while the second is a mid-tempo heavy track and the closer is a melodic death metal ripper, complete with a thrash metal riff right in the middle. All three demonstrate heavy influence from the least acclaimed period of the group, that of All Hope Is Gone, an album that saw the band disintegrate but also showed the most explicit thrash, death, black and doom metal influence… a shot of pure extreme metal that did wonders to lift Slipknot up out of the at times cringeworthy emotionality of nu-metal into more mature and rich expressions of the same root rage.
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Slipknot are still a deeply emotional band on We Are Not Your Kind. This is to be expected; not only is it their modus operandi, but Corey Taylor also recently went through a divorce, providing a fresh source of complex and raw emotions to tap into for powerful material. The past 20 years have been good for the group and their various side ventures seem to have paid musical dividends. They are less likely to swing for the fences in terms of complex percussive nu-metal aggression to make their point, saving it as a punctuation and not necessarily purely the norm. The electronic touches from their debut, a feature which seemed to diminish over time, have returned with the fullness of what intriguing groups like Nine Inch Nails and HEALTH have accomplished, which the likewise more-experimental-than-you’d-expect rock records of Stone Sour seem to have informed the less heavy moments.
We Are Not Your Kind is not mature in the sense that it’s boring but in the sense that the group seems more aware now that they have an incredible wealth of tools, musically and compositionally and arrangement-wise, at their disposal and seem fit to use them as such.
The pacing of We Are Not Your Kind may be “off” for a listener who is not a major Slipknot fan. I’ll acknowledge that while I’ve kept up with the band over the years, it was more out of a sense of obligation to a band that helped get me into much heavier music than fandom. As a result, the first half of the record, which seemed to alternate song by song between intriguing experimental flourishes and the kinds of anthemic arena extreme metal you’d expect from Slipknot, became tiring. The back half, from “A Liar’s Funeral” on, opens up; they know they’ve got the Slipknot fans hooked now with the standard set of future singles to get them to settle in for some intriguing and powerful material.
There are a number of mainstream publications giving this record full marks; as it stands now on Metacritic, it has over 90 points. I’m not much of one for scores (they feel critically cheap), but it’s not hard to understand that reception. When it comes to a mainstream metal band, there are few as extreme as Slipknot, and this record feels like a hybrid of Iowa and Vol. 3 without the elements that make those albums occasionally cringe-worthy on return, plus the added benefit of more modern production and musical ideas. It isn’t a stretch to say this is likely the best record the group has put out and, if we’re honest, it has more than its share of incredible songs that no fan of heavy metal should go without hearing.
Approaching Slipknot the way we might approach False or Slugdge or Mournful Congregation is foolish and leaves us misunderstanding more than we understand. In the realm of groups like Mastodon and Gojira and Ghost, groups which either are heavy metal or at least have a heavy metal past, Slipknot finds better sonic company, being both more artful and generally higher quality than groups like Bring Me The Horizon and Avenged Sevenfold while still being a very present mainstream act. And in that peer group, it’s hard to find We Are Not Your Kind an unfulfilling album. It is at once Slipknot’s most artful and least cringe-worthy; imagining five or ten years down the line, it’s more likely I’d hand someone this record than any of their others.
To do this 20 years into a career is no mean feat, especially when half the world is your ardent fanbase and the other half has written you off.
I’d hesitate to call We Are Not Your Kind a masterpiece, but I have no qualms calling it incredible and likely the best mainstream metal record of the past decade or more.
We Are Not Your Kind released last Friday via Roadrunner Records.