Sunday, May 15, 2016

Slipknot - .5 The Gray Chapter (2014)

When choosing the artist to write about, the first that popped into my mind was Slipknot and their latest album .5 The Gray Chapter. The fifth studio album of the American nu-metal band was definitely going to be a bit different from the previous and most certainly a long-waited one.

Finally, .5 The Gray Chapter was released in October, 2014 and received a lot of feedback. It was the first album the band released after the death of one of the founding members Paul Gray and the departure of the long-time drummer Joey Jordison, who had been kicked out of the band. Band started to release teasers of the upcoming album in July 2014. Teasers were all about 15 second long clips from the upcoming video for the single “The Negative One”. The clips did not include any lyrics and mostly featured horrifying flashy images of a young woman wearing a white gown. In addition, all the social media accounts of band had gone black and the shrill images and clips suggested there was something new to be coming up from the group. Fans were eager to find out what was the new album going to sound like after the death of Gray and departure of Jordison, who were the new members of the group and what were their mask going to look like (as one of the features that the band is known for is wearing scary masks in all of their music videos and performances). Due to all these emotions fans expected a dark, intense, hard-hitting album and I can assure you that they were not let down.

First song on the album is title “XIX”. It is a perfect and a typical intro song. The sounds of bag-pipe, Corey Taylor (front man and the lead singer of the band) mumbling in a pissed off way build up the flawless tension for the upcoming material on the album. The track goes on adding more instruments, like drums, acoustic guitar and Taylor intensively singing. At about the 2:20 the song gets a bit more catchy as the rhythm picks up and lyrics get more intensive. And then the song ends. Just like that. You are built up with emotions and then left with nothing. Like I said, a perfect song for intro and to make you wonder what there is more to come up.

The next track is called “Sarcastrophe” and to me it sounds like it picks up from where the last track was cut off. It starts slow and with the same muted drums and acoustic guitar as “XIX”, but then the tables turn as the hard guitar riffs come in with Taylor growling. The intensity of him singing and the lyrics with percussion drums really show that these guys are full of anger and they are here to make a statement. Also, when I first heard “Sarcastrophe”, one of my very first thoughts was that this album is really going to be high-quality. The song is heavy, has lot of instruments and features, but in my opinion it is also airy and not at all overwhelming – it really makes senses and all of the elements complete one another.

Following up is “AOV”. This is one of my favourite songs from the album. It is fast, aggressive and reminds me the songs from their début album Slipknot. This track, in my opinion, is the first one on the album to première the skills of the new drummer and his death metal style. In the lyrics, Corey Taylor also prevails what the acronym AOV means: We bury what we fear the most / Approaching original violence.

Next up is “The Devil in I”, which is also the most known song from the album and the second single. The track is very enthralling and a “classic Slipknot track” with the catchy phrase line and an easy beat to follow. At first, this was my favourite song from the album as I really enjoyed the music video for the song. But the album has more to come – although, this might be the best known track, it definitely is not the high point of the album.

After the “Devil in I” comes “Killpop”. When first listening to the song I had very mixed emotions. It did not sound like Slipknot to me, it reminded me a ballad in some way and the vocals were just too soft and fragile for the Corey Taylor I was use to. But then the song grew onto me. Especially the hard hitting chorus, where Corey really shows his vocal power. The more I listened to the song, the more I started to notice all the details in it. The lyrics that can be taken ambiguously, the custom percussion (my favourite!), the ballad in it that builds up to be very heavy, the story that the song tells and so much more. And of course, the cherry on top is the video for this song. Very satanic, full of symbols, mystic and beautiful – a true Slipknot classic again.

In the eyes of a fan, the next song “Skeptic” is a direct and the most noticeable reference to the late Paul Gray:

Legend! / Bastard! / Best friend! / Why? / Why do the limits have to realign / Hero! / Martyr! / Mystery! / God – he was the best of us / The world will never see another crazy motherfucker like you / The world will never know another man as amazing as you.

I do not have a lot to say about this song. It is great, it has a gripping rhythm, fast beat and is definitely meaningful, because of the lyrics. One of the best from the album.

Next up is “Lech”, one of my recent favourites from the album. In my opinion, this is the most emotional song on the album. When you concentrate on the lyrics and on the way that Corey Taylor passes them on, you can almost feel him going psycho:
And I'll eat the skins of my brothers / Yellow pastor bones will make a perfect wall / Gonna fill in the cracks of these feelings / With every terrible piece or maybe nothing at all.
The song is the most punk and fastest on the album, therefore I believe it is the craziest song when performed live, mostly for the audience.

Goodbye”, then again, is the slowest song on the album and definitely the saddest one. The last stanza of the song is again a reference to Paul Gray (but then again, the whole album is dedicated to him and focused on grief). The song is not a disappointment, but if I had a choice, I would not put it on play.

Then comes “Nomadic”. This song sounds the least Slipknot to me, in fact if I would not recognize Corey Taylor's voice and the ever so Slipknot-like percussion drums, then I would never say that this is a Slipknot's song. The guitar riffs are weirdly chopped off and then they are followed by this weird melodic chorus mixed with electronic snippets by the DJ. Overall, I did not like this song.

“The One That Kills The Least” takes off again with this ballad like vocals, but the stanza is anxious and powerful. Overall the song is yet another slower one, but it is different from the previous, because throughout the song it feels like it will speed up but actually slows down again with the chorus. Not a bad song, but again nothing special.

Next song on the album is “Custer”, the third single from the album, and after the previous three songs that were slower and a bit disappointing, “Custer” is the perfect change of theme. It is the song where you can again feel Taylor going lunatic, but in my opinion, this is also the track where the whole band follows the lead and gives it all. I feel like this is again a song that will not leave a single person in the audience just standing, but will make them go crazy with the band. The overall sound of the song is very pounding and explosive.

“Be Prepared For Hell” is an interlude, and when I usually do not like them then this one is different. The band has used this track for lead-in at the start of their recent shows (and as on the album, the next track up is “The Negative One”). This interlude is one of the scariest from Slipknot (or one of the scariest at all) that I have ever heard. It starts with distorted speaking that “if they will not let him out, he will die” and it is followed by Taylor: Be prepared for Hell and I say oh well / Just tell me when I can open my eyes and realized I've died. The track ends in a maniac laugh and the atmosphere of this track will definitely give you the chills.

“Be Prepared For Hell” was the silver bullet introduction for the next track “The Negative One”. This is also another song that the most famous one from the album. It was the first song they released after the death of Paul Gray and departure of Joe Jordison. The band has said they treated this single more like a gift to the fans, not only as the first single. The track was accepted very well – it was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 2015. The short clips used for the teasers of the upcoming album were all from the music video of “The Negative One” and the video now has over 14 million plays on Youtube. The video is repulsive, but this is nothing new with Slipknot. It includes a dead goat, blood, nudity, madwomen, flowers and much more. The sound of the song is chaotic and reminds me some of their earlier work from previous albums. But then again, it is a song that perfectly describes this whole album – aggressive vocals, fast guitar riffs, drum rolls and DJ scratches. A classical hit by the band.

The last song from the album is “If Rain Is What You Want”. This is the longest track from the album and the tempo of the song is slow, again. But this time I like the tempo of the song. It is a perfect conclusion to the whole album and draws the line at the right point. The song builds up with slow and soft vocals, then the muddy and harsh guitar riffs come in and disappear as fast as they approached. Definitely a powerful ending to the album.

The deluxe version of the album includes five more tracks, which of three are ghost tracks. I am not going to discuss these track as they are hard to find online and they are not really something I would then again choose to listen.

To conclude I think .5 The Gray Chapter is one of the most coherent and focused albums of Slipknot. It is the ideal comeback of the band after such a long wait and the greatest dedication to Paul Gray that the band could have ever made. The album includes all the things that Slipknot is known for – brutality, disgust, infallible writing and ominous lyrics. For the fan of Slipknot (and metal) the album was definitely worth the wait and will become one of the classics of the genre. 

Sandra Timpmann

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