Method & Madness in Slipknot’s “Day of The Gusano”
Say what you want about Slipknot, but don’t question their ambition. In their 16-year career, the Iowa nu-metal act has had little use for subtley. Why have one drummer when you can have three? Why merely sound like a riot when you can bring that same anarchic spirit to life on stage?
Day Of The Gusano, a concert film that captures Slipknot’s first performance in Mexico City, is both a representation of the band’s world-beating ambition and a product of it. Directed by Slipknot’s own Shawn “Clown” Crahan, the film is a feat of balance, finding screen time for each of the band’s nine members, the elaborate stage show, and a teeming mass of adoring fans. Crahan smartly places cameras in the audience, and some are almost immediately pulled into the vortex, knocked off balance and swirling. After the ominous aerial shots that open the film, with shades of Fincher’s Zodiac, the sudden jolt of kinetic energy pushes you right next to those who are feeling the exhilaration of seeing their favorite band emerge from backstage. Crahan and the band’s DJ, Sid Wilson, also handle their own cameras, giving an intimate view to the madness on stage.
For Crahan, it was key for the film not just to show the band performing, but to give the audience a feel for what it was like to be in attendance that night. Even he realizes this is a next-to-impossible task. “Anyone who was at that show is going to watch the film and say ‘that’s not what I saw.’” Crahan tells me over the phone. “It may feel like the show that they saw, but unless I have ever band member filmed at all times, all on Timecode, we’re not going to get everything.”
Crahan, who also is also one of Slipknot’s percussionists, has a perfectionist streak that manifests in a mix of supreme confidence in his vision and open frustration with anything that prevents him from realizing it. He’s undeniably proud of his work, telling me that if I were to watch Voliminal with him, he could point out edits that would blow my mind. But he’s also quick to acknowledge that the work necessary to achieve those details is painstaking and often requires him to cede control to people that might not be as invested as he is.
“There’s one hour before the show, two hours during the show, and one hour after it where I don’t have any control of the cameras.” Crahan says. “I have to trust the second units.” In a way, this removal worked to the film’s advantage, allowing the film crew to get reactions from the fans that would have been colored by the presence of one of the musicians they were their to see.
Even with these technical limitations, it’s clear that Crahan has a great eye for striking images. When the band unleashing mayhem, he zooms in on specifics: Wilson brandishing a Mexican flag, fire leaping from the stage on a downbeat, a baseball bat clanging against an iron drum. He’s just as adept at building tension, e.g. framing percussionist Chris Fehn in a spotlight during a moment of eere calm and executing a beautiful zoom-out to reveal the scale of the crowd in attendance.
At the same time, the band faced the difficult task of summing up their whole career in a single performance.
“It’s tough. We have generations of fans, so we have to build the setlist with that in mind,” Crahan says. “We have fans who want to hear ‘The Devil In I’ and ‘Killpop,’ but others that have been with us since the beginning. We brought out a few songs we haven’t played in years like ‘Eeyore.’ Back in 1999 when we only had 30 minutes, we would play that song to show off our punk and thrash side.”
A lot has changed since those days, however, and not everything that worked on Slipknot’s rise translates during their reign at the top. “Eeyore”’s runaway-train energy barely holds together when played on a stage of this magnitude. Some of the band’s early cuts fare better: “Wait And Bleed”’s chorus works at any size, and a classic jump-the-fuck-up routine turns “Spit it Out” into a raucous spectacle. Others, like the creepy-crawly “Prosthetics” or “Metabolic” from Iowa feel like early drafts of ideas better executed elsewhere in the set. The nature of live filming may have more to do with this disparity in quality however, because the crowd in Mexico City devoured songs old and new alike.
“I don’t rank our fans,” Crahan says. “But Mexico City was fucking loud. Usually I can’t hear much of the crowd through my mask and the in-ear monitors, but there were times during ‘Before I Forget’ where I could barely hear the bass drum and snare. It’s like, ‘god, could you people just shut the fuck up?’”
It’s songs like “Before I Forget” along with “Psychosocial” and “Duality” that demonstrate why Slipknot have become a global phenomenon. These are grade-A hard rock hits that make space for singer Corey Taylor to show off his melodic chops. The joy of Slipknot often comes from how cluttered their music is; how it feels like every inch of the arrangement has someone bashing away at their instrument with all their might. But these songs, along with “The Devil In I” from 2014’s .5 The Grey Chapter, reveal that even at their most chaotic, Slipknot are guided by razor-sharp pop songwriting.
Those instincts have led the band to astonishing success, but Crahan isn’t interested in running a victory lap. He’s quick to undercut the prestige of the band finally making it to Mexico City. “There are still maggots who haven’t seen us in China, we’ve never played Iran. Even Mexico City didn’t get to see us with Paul [Gray, the band’s bassist who passed away in 2010] or Joey [Jordison, who was fired in 2013].” Instead, he’s already got his eyes set on the next mountain to conquer: stadiums. Unprompted, Crahan outlines one potential version of a Slipknot stadium show that starts with a parade “full of pagan rhythms and goosebumps on goosebumps.”
“Our next album is going to take us there,” Crahan continues, on a roll at this point. “One day you’re going to be in your car and you’ll hear the first few notes and you’ll ask yourself, ‘could it be?’ Then you’ll hear Corey’s voice and you’ll know that the monster has returned from the woods.”
Until then, the band will be screening Day Of The Gusano in theaters around the world. You can find info related to those screenings here.