Since the first teaser for Slipknot's .5: The Gray Chapter went up on July 15, speculative postings and supposed "insider knowledge" has been spread like wildfire. Who was going to take the place of recently fired drummer Joey Jordison? Who would fill the mighty shoes of the late, great Paul Gray? Would the band still be able to bring it like they used to after six years of silence? While the answers to the first two questions have been all but confirmed across the Internet, I can answer the last one- Slipknot can bring it just as hard as they used to and then some, but with the acrid grace and brutal maturity of musicians who know what they're about.
This review is pretty straight forward in terms of layout. I'm going track by track and then give my overall impression of the album. Deal?
Let's get to it!
"XIX" opens up with a distorted bagpipe-sounding keyboard patch, a glockenspiel and an acoustic guitar in the background. Corey Taylor's vocals come in over the eerie soundscape alongside muted drums quietly keeping the beat and his voice sounds strained in a fed up, pissed off way. "XIX" is interesting because it keeps building on a lot of added instrumentation, volume increases and layered vocal harmonies seeping into the frame. The scratchy, sickening soundscape remains constant and you can almost feel Taylor glaring at you. It seems like Slipknot is trying to make you feel uneasy with this track.
The song builds, edging toward total paranoia, and finally arrives at… nothing. Everything falls apart and you're left with the original soundscape in disrepair. It’s like you're expecting something to jump out at you from behind a curtain. You reach toward it and there's nothing behind it, but you're pretty sure there's someone breathing down the back of your neck now.
"Sarcastrophe" picks up where "XIX" left off in terms of mood. There’s light percussion, effected clean guitars and a bubbling static noise. Things pick up with the addition of cymbals and distorted guitars. Then, out of nowhere, a drum fill and you're thrown into the midst of Corey Taylor growling his fucking face off. The heaviness arrives in the same way the band did heaviness on their debut record- plenty of heft in terms of a traditional metal band, but with more percussion going on and the added madness of DJ electronically adding layers of insanity.
It’s immediately noticeably that this is not the Slipknot you think you're getting. This is a Slipknot that is righteously pissed off. There's blasts, there's tremolo-picked riffs and there's non-conventional breakdowns that include sampling and keyboard work and aren't drum centric. There's a strange, airy quality to the heaviness of this song. It's not this laser-focused precision that's cut and dry. It’s haunting, terrifying and larger than life. It's as if Slipknot were this spectral being here to kill you, but slowly… painfully.
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"AOV" is driving in the same way the members of Amon Amarth are just kind of vikings. The combination of double bass and percussive attacks on the downbeats give the song a militaristic stomping quality while guitars simply drive like tanks through your speakers and keyboards sound the air raid sirens as if it were the end of days. There's a big hooky chorus that pops up between the bursts of violence that's going to get stuck in your head, and that's just the first half of the song. What surprised me was the interlude toward the middle of the track.
During the interlude, the majority of the band fades off and featured prominently, providing the melody aside from a tinkling piano and dreamy, swirling guitars, is the bassist. I'd go as far as calling this a bass solo. It’s melodious and has a sense of direction in that it touches on what the guitars are doing in the background but doesn't stick to them. With the band still mourning former bassist Paul Gray, I wasn't sure if this was going to be Slipknot's …And Justice For All.
It is not.
4) The Devil In I
Everyone knows this song already, so I'll keep it brief. This is straight up classic Slipknot via their Iowa days with a heavy dose of that unsettling heaviness I’ve mentioned. It's also the slowest song up to this point (barring the introductory track) and I'd even say the least heavy.
Do not underestimate how much heavier this band has gotten.
The intro to "Killpop" brings back that "XIX" phantasm keyboard sound along with plodding drums doubled up by what sounds like an electronic drum kit. The best way to describe "Killpop" is a ballad co-written by Satan himself and someone who is just totally empty inside. It's cold, it's slow and it seems to deal with drugs, the issue of addiction and someone taking advantage of them. "Killpop" is interesting because it relies on keyboards and alternative percussion as the main focus the song, barring the blistering guitar solo and blastfest in last forty seconds of the song.
As a quick refresher, Craig "133" Jones is listed as doing media and sampling in the band, Sid Wilson on turntables and Chris Fehn on percussion for the group. The trio has always been a part of the group's sound and a big part of the live show, but they shine in a huge way here. After listening to the record in full, I can honestly say the three have a big hand in .5: The Grey Chapter terrifying. In fact, they’ve the backbone to two of the five songs we've looked at so far!
There's a lot of references to someone dying and some else being arrested for it in “Skeptic.” I’m near positive this one is directly about Gray’s death. The chorus of the is particularly touching in both inflection as well as lyric, reading-
"The world will never see another crazy motherfucker like you.
The world will never know another man as amazing as you.”
"Skeptic" is an interesting song musically. It starts off with the typical Slipknot stomp and then launches into a Soilwork-worthy melodic death metal chorus, even using a pre-chorus section twice in two different formats that gets blindingly fast and uses a lot of chromatic, dissonant tonal work. "Skeptic" opens up the sonic space a lot throughout its runtime to be filled out entirely by (we assume) Jay Weinberg's drumming, giving the song this very punk rock feel with grindcore sense of anger.
“I know why Judas wept, motherfucker.” Those are the words that seem to boil out of Taylor’s mouth at the beginning of “Lech.” There’s no instrumentation backing him up, there’s nothing. This is between you and Taylor, and so help you he’s going to make sure you heard him.
“Lech” takes the punk feel of “Skeptic” and heaviness of “AOV,” and marries them into the sound of ten thousand soldiers with Doc Martens and six-foot mohawks curb stomping everything. There’s a few passages in the song that use effect-laden guitars that sound like broken machines and even some glitched audio that serves as a vehicle for the band to essentially make sure you’re feeling the violence. At this point, I’m noticing the main focus of Slipknot’s songwriting seems to be the flow of energy in a song- how can they make people feel something during this song, or beat the shit out of each other or even we make their pain evident.
That attention is obvious and well noted.
We review the second half of the album on the next page…