Hearing Aide: Slipknot Return with ‘.5: The Gray Chapter’

5_The_Gray_Chapter_ArtworkSix years after their last album, 2008’s All Hope Is Gone and down two members, Slipknot is aiming for the jugular with .5: The Gray Chapter. Following the tragic death of bass player Paul Gray who was said to be a chief songwriter in the band and the unceremonious firing of drummer Joey Jordison, Slipknot find themselves in an uncomfortable spot. Surrounded by controversy and dealing with fan backlash after the band made a major style shift following their second record Iowa, can Slipknot once again reclaim their place at the throne of the metal kingdom?

The first single released from The Gray Chapter, “The Negative One”, had fans rejoicing that the band was back to their roots. Slipknot started off as a noisy, percussion driven, chaotic band that took the metal rule book and didn’t just throw it out the window but lit it on fire and blew it to pieces with a shotgun. However, starting with their third album Vol. 3 (The Subliminal Verses), the band started to introduce a more melodic texture with ballads and songs fit for mainstream radio. This caused many fans to blame lead singer Corey Taylor’s radio hard rock friendly side project Stone Sour for the style shift. Slipknot always had the brutal speed-freak hyper aggression on every album but more and more of their sound was changing and the ratio was starting to become more 50/50.

Now, getting back to how this ties into the new record. If that first taste of The Gray Chapter had you hoping for Iowa 2.0, I’m sorry to tell you it isn’t the case. This record feels like a direct link to Vol. 3, completely bypassing All Hope Is Gone, which was the bands more experimental effort. But does that mean it’s a bad record or it isn’t a “real” Slipknot album? Far from it. But at this point what is a “real” Slipknot album? Going by their overall catalog they now have more albums that sound like the hybrid heavy/melodic sound we’ve been used to for the past decade than the first two off the wall records that launched them to superstardom. If that’s the case, The Gray Chapter is the most “real” Slipknot record to date.

If you’re still holding a candle for the first two albums, hoping they’ll ditch the “Stone Sour crap”, I hate to break it to you but you’re missing out. The Gray Chapter knows when to dial up the hatred and spew out a diseased metallic headbanger but also when to slow things down a bit and let emotion shine through. Corey Taylor knows how to sing beautiful melodies with agony and disgust in his voice and he showcases that multiple times on The Gray Chapter.

However, even though the band has struck a balance, that doesn’t mean the album doesn’t come off as disjointed. It’s almost as if no thought was given to which order the songs will appear. But when you think about it, there isn’t an album Slipknot has done where the songs flow from one to the next. But what the band has done, which more need to do, is not front load the record. Far too often these days all the best songs are found at the beginning of the album. The Gray Chapter does have some issues with “filler” but great songs are found at the beginning, middle, and end sections of the album.

And speaking of great songs, Slipknot has brought some absolute monsters on this one. “The Devil In I” is hands down one of the best songs the band has ever written. It will be a live staple until the band dissolves and is a strong contender for not just best metal song of the year, but the overall best song released this year. Other stand out tracks include the sonic haymaker that is “Custer”, the fantastic opening ballad “XIX”, and the Paul Gray tribute “Skeptic”.

The only serious downside to the record aside from some forgettable filler songs is the production. The songs seem to lack a fullness that older records had. Even when you crank the volume it just feels like something is missing. Whether it’s a lack of punch in the drums, or missing bottom end, the songs feel like they needed a bit more time in the mastering portion of production. It’s a shame because every other record before had a tremendous sound to it. But The Gray Chapter has almost a demo like feel to it. As if we aren’t hearing the final product.

Slipknot have changed as a band. No doubt about it. But that doesn’t mean they’re a lesser band than they used to be. They’ve never stopped experimenting even when they find a formula that works. This should be lauded by the fan base, not condemned for not sounding like records that are over ten years old. Slipknot never forgot their roots, they still know how to bring the pain. But they also know how to bring the emotion, depth, and maturity that defines a legacy. With the addition of The Gray Chapter to their discography, Slipknot has made the case to be a Rock And Roll Hall of Fame contender when they become eligible for induction.

You can purchase the album on iTunes.