Slipknot singer Corey Taylor knew his band was destined for greatness. He also knew that it wouldn't come easy.
"When we were starting out, we had all these strikes against us," he says. "We were from Iowa, there were nine of us, we wore masks, we wore coveralls, we played metal. Hard metal."
"It was tough getting people to come out to Des Moines," adds bassist Paul Gray. "I don't know why, it's a pretty cool place. But A&R dudes - jaded folks from Los Angeles or New York - it's hard to get them to come to Iowa."
"And then there were all the haters," says Taylor.
Ah, the haters. The people who liked nothing more than to give the band flack for its look, for substituting numbers for names, for putting on a show full of over-the-top chaos and unmitigated mayhem. Some of the comments came from the usual assortment of web sites and so-called music critics. But, surprisingly, "we also took a lot of shit from other bands," says guitarist James Root. "When we hit the road with Ozzfest in 1999, I heard a lot of condescending remarks from other musicians. They were saying, 'Slipknot won't sell enough records, they won't survive, they've got too many people, nobody's gonna get it, they're all about image.'"
"The joke's on them," says Taylor with wicked glee. "Our music stood up. We're much more popular now and it wasn't because of our image. It was the music."
Now, most of the bands who turned slagging Slipknot into an extreme sport have fallen off the face of the earth. The 'Knot, on the other hand, have spent nearly a decade cementing their place as one of hard rock’s most extreme acts. They've dropped three albums and two DVDs, all of which went Platinum or better. They've sold out festivals and tours around the globe. And they are preparing to release their fourth record, All Hope Is Gone.
Slipknot - which features DJ Sid Wilson (0), drummer Joey Jordison (1), Gray (2), percussionist Chris Fehn (3) Root (4), sampler Craig Jones - 133 (5), percussionist M. Shawn Crahan - Clown (6), guitarist Mick Thomson (7) and Taylor (8) - is still heavy, still enamored of great, big walls of deeply textured layers of sound. But this time, they've approached their music with an eye towards stylistic expression that completely invalidates any and all comments about heavy metal clichés. Moreover, they've continued the exploration of melody that began on their first record.
Songs like "Sulfur" and "Psychosocial" deliver crushing verses and bridges, but then explode into soaring choruses that provide a powerful showcase for Taylor's voice. The song "Vendetta" features a sleazy, rough-and-tumble kind of swagger, but still delivers Slipknot's trademark balls-out fury. And "All Hope Is Gone" just spews raw anger, aggression, hate and foulness that serves as a reminder to anyone still stupid enough to harbor doubts that Slipknot are experts at delivering pure, heavy-metal punishment.
"It's our fourth album, and we wanted to do something different," says Gray. "You can't put out the same record over and over again. At the same time, you can definitely still tell that this is Slipknot."
"I'm looking forward to the expressions on people's faces when they hear the new record," says Taylor. "There's very, very heavy stuff on this album, and it's gonna blow people's minds. But I'm also excited for them to see the stuff that's different on this album, the more experimental music. No one's going to expect it."
Much of the album's diversity comes from the band's new approach to writing and recording. Over the years, most of the members have worked on various side projects, none of which sound remotely like Slipknot. It's no surprise to find out that these efforts influenced the writing process. Perhaps even more importantly, All Hope Is Gone was the first album on which contributions came from nearly all the band members, with each person bringing his own unique voice to the mix. The band co-produced the album with Dave Fortman.
"I think everyone just went in with an open mind. We would always listen to everyone's ideas, and if they worked, they worked, if they didn't, they didn't," explains Gray. "This time, we really tried to build off the ideas, really tried to work on them. I think it helped that so many of us were able to spend time doing our own thing, too. Just writing with different people really makes a difference in how you think about music. When we finally came together, we were able to bring that to the mix."
Slipknot also made the executive decision to abandon Los Angeles, where they had recorded previous records. Instead, they came back home and set up camp in Iowa. The differences were immediately apparent.
“It gave us more time and energy to experiment in the studio. I was able to come up with more guitar sounds than ever,” says Root.
While the heart of Slipknot remains its music, its soul is planted firmly on stage. Today, Slipknot are playing in sold-out arenas, but the band developed their talents by slogging it out in the Midwest, playing any show they could find. These were frequently one-off shows; the band would travel from their hometown of Des Moines to places like Omaha and Chicago. "There were never any actual tours in those days," says Thomson. "Our shows were like sporting events: We’d put everything into them and then afterwards, we'd be fucking exhausted. We weren't going to pile into a van - all nine of us - and then drive all night to the next show. We'd have fallen asleep at the wheel and died."
"Those early shows were rough, but I loved the small stage," says Gray. "There was something intimate about it. It was like an old-school punk show, which is what I grew up with."
"I don't miss that shit at all," disagrees Thomson. "It was 8,000 degrees, you're bumping into people, you're tripping over equipment. Those small stages have low ceilings, so the heat's trapped real low - right at your head. Those shows are about survival, not about playing."
As difficult as those early shows were for the band, they were just as challenging for whoever might be standing in the front row.
"Shawn used to bring chop saws on stage to grind pipes for sparks," remembers Thomson. "Once, a chunk broke off and sent a kid to the hospital. But people who got hurt at our shows were cool about it - we'd follow them to the hospital and sign some shirts and shit. It was like, you know, no harm, no foul."
"Everyone tried to control us, though," says Taylor.
"Yeah, those fuckers," says Thomson. "We'd be on tour and fire marshals would show up with camcorders and accuse us of all kinds of crazy bullshit. They'd say, 'We heard you set yourselves on fire.'
"Well… okay, we'd done that!" Thomson continues, laughing. "Sid and Clown would spray each other with lighter fluid and then they'd pull out lighters. That got us in trouble. One promoter would call the next - they'd warn each other and they'd hit us with 'do not' lists. We were castrated."
Surviving for 10 years is an accomplishment for any band. With Slipknot, it feels like some sort of miracle. Personalities frequently collide, side-projects abound, and on-stage fights are common. And yet, year after year, album after album, all nine men keep coming back for more. "We're banded together in hate," says Jordison. "Sometimes we hate each other, sometimes we hate the world, sometimes we just hate our own lives. But when we get together, something monstrous happens and we pull this amazing sound out of all that energy.
"Plus," he adds, "we believe in world domination, and this is the band that's gonna get us there."
"You know, we went from being some local band in a basement to selling millions of records," says Gray. "It's going to be a decade since the first album came out. I'm so happy and amazed and proud and thankful for where this band has gone. I've gotten to see the world - and I get paid for it! I'd have done it for free."
Chris Fehn agrees. "I think the best part about being in this band has been getting exposure to the rest of the world. You realize that everything in the world is the same - people feel the same, they have the same desires, hopes, fears. Being worldly is a gift that I don't ever want to give back. It changes your life - especially when you're from a small town in Iowa."
"I always knew we'd go far. I just knew it," says Taylor. "There was no way this band was going to fail. But I never knew we'd reach the heights we've come to. We've traveled the world so many times; all the different countries are like our second homes. To this day, it still blows me away that we took this crazy idea and made it a global sensation."