Album Review – Slipknot – 5: The Gray Chapter (2014)

Availability: Amazon, YouTube (Full album upload), iTunes and Spotify

Was requested to write this nearer the time the album premiered, but unfortunately couldn’t get round to it. However, due to the upcoming tour dates in London (9th and 10th Feburary, at Alexandra Palace) where the founder Sarah Tsang and I (with a friend) are due to attend and review, I thought would be an appropriate time to get this done.

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On 20th October 2014, the nu-metal/heavy metal band Slipknot brought out the album 5: The Gray Chapter, four years following a hiatus after the tragic death of bassist Paul Gray – as the title symbolically gests to – in 2010. The new material of album had been introduced with singles The Negative One – directed by the percussionist Shawn Crahan; The Devil In I, the music video not only laying to rest their past incarnations, and welcoming the new; it also introduced their fandom to their new bassist Alessandro Venturella and drummer Jay Weinberg, younger brother of drummer Max Weignberg. The next videos to emerge were lyrical videos for the songs Cluster and AOV, and their latest video Killpop premiered 8th June 2015.

In addition to the standard edition of The Gray Chapter, a special edition was produced and featured bonus tracks  Override and The Burden, and a Deluxe Edition including three untitled tracks under (a.k.a); silent, talk and funny.

The hiatus was beneficial to the band, as with the opening track XIX is an incredible eye opener of the emotions, heartbreak and trauma they experienced during not only of the news of Paul’s death, but his eventual funeral and much later, the trial that took place against Gray’s former physician, Daniel Baldi in September 2012. It’s mournful, and pleading for understanding. It’s instructing the listeners with authority to move forward with Slipknot as they travel into the unknown, to an unsure outcome.

Sarcastrophe, is the song that brings up to the style that we know Slipknot is for – heavy, aggressive and lyrically deep, and the familiarity of the hip-hop influences. The initial construction of the album was to draw attention to the frustrations of mainstream pop culture, and the social break down, corruption and mistrust due to the rise of extremism in religion and politics. Sarcastrophe‘s focus is the disillusion of entrusting one’s purpose in the hands of a deity, the turning to apathy, or becoming irreligious. What’s notable in this particular track is the inflection of the drums, they are the main focus and in an indirect way, they a very reminiscent of groove metal in structure.

AOV (Appropriating Original Violence) takes a return to the band’s heavy metal roots, in turn to incorporating clean vocals, which were previously brought into the mix in Slipknot’s previous album All Hope is Gone (2008), it follows on from Sarcastrophe’s narrative of religious apathy, and implies to the hypocrisy of Catholicism. Alongside the beautiful guitar solos from Mick Thomson, Corey Taylor really allows us to hear the intensity, and range of his voice, and harmonizes with himself so exquisitely , which contrasts with his harsher vocals, and in a way keeps the listener on their toes, to not get comfortable with the instrumental and harmonize interlude.

Like the music video of The Devil In I illustrates, the song is a personal reflection on the band member’s personal struggles, with coming terms with their flaws, and faults, and once again, integrating religious connotations of asking for the possibility of redemption. Wanting to shed their past, without having to forget, but learn and move on. They, using the protagonist of a father (Pope), as to represent their listeners and fans, ask them to accept the “sins” they have endured and embrace them as they have.

Once again, Corey treats us to clean; melodic vocals in Killpop, and as an accompaniment, the instrumentals are mellowed to differ from the traditional heavy metal sound to experiment with gothic symphonic metal, without losing the enthusiastic metal riffs and drums.  The song is much additionally closer to the dynamics of gothic symphonic metal for its usage of melancholic lyrics, and I can hear influences from HIM and some of The Ramus’ later work (Dead Letters, Black Roses) in this number.

Slipknot quickly switches back to the emphasis of the groove and heavy metal direction in Skeptic, with stimulating growls. This song is an edgy; even not up-beat tribute to Paul Gray, stating how much he is an irreplaceable contribution to the band. Lech is a follow on to this, speaking of the band’s recovery from the loss; in quote to the lyric of having survivor’s guilt, using the metaphors of war to describe their upmost internal struggles to cope.  It was in fact during this time, whilst Slipknot were on hiatus (2010 – 2013, that Corey Taylor, and guitarist James (Jim) Root focused on new material for Stone Sour (House of Gold & Bones: Part I (2012) and House of Gold & Bones: Part II (2013)); with a two to three year hiatus after Audio Secrecy (2010).

Goodbye is a slower piece, with Taylor reverting back to clean vocals. Instrumentally, this is the closet to a true ballad that the band has come to. Constructively close to the sounds and genres of former death/doom band Katatonia took claim of later on in their career (Viva Emptiness (2003), The Great Cold Distance (2006), Night in a New Day (2009) and Dead End Kings (2012)), a fusion of alternative metal and dark progressive that lightly touches on doom metal.

The One That Kills the Least and If Rains Is What You Want all follows the same patterns of lighter instrumentals, Taylor voice clean throughout, with the occasional growl. Be Prepared for Hell and If Rain Is What You Want, like XIX include a static voice at the beginning, somewhat like an prelude into the nature of the song; and The One That Kills the Least appropriates the ‘walk with me’ from XIX, confirming to be a continuation and sister track, as it replaces ‘walk’ with ‘come with me’ in the exact same commanding voice. TOTKTL speaks of the emotional trauma that band must’ve gone through, and the internal demons they fought to get where they are today.  Whilst IRIWYW is nearly a lyrical revelation that they were close to giving up the fight, and may hint to how deep Paul Gray suffered from addiction before his untimely passing.

Be Prepared for Hell doesn’t use static to progress into a song like IRIWYW, TOTKTL and XIX, instead like a true “interlude” two minutes consist of static voices, and distorted samples (which interestingly echoes the improvised sampling founded on Vol. 3 (The Subliminal Voices), in 2004 – which was clarified by Corey Taylor in his autobiography A Funny Thing That Happened on the Way to Heaven, 2014, to be spiritual entities playing with the equipment during their recording of the album in 2003 at The Mason, in Los Angeles).

Nomadic, Custer, The Negative One, Override and The Burden are interestingly, if not intentionally thrown into the mix like a bag of sweets with the measured numbers; Nomadic being in Slipknot’s characteristic synthesis of heavy, nu and groove metal, with Taylor’s distinct growls frequent; but unlike the rest, it had a clear inspiration from the classical metal era, with bits of glam metal, with the guitar riffs and harmonizing that could be placed during the metal scene in the 1980s. Custer goes straight into thrash and speed metal with its fast tempo, and aggressive vocals. This song is quite frankly one of my favourites as it’s so jam packed with energy, and even with the anger infused undertone of the song, its wakes you up (symbolically) and gets you going.

The Negative One strangely compliments Custer, and contradicts it at the same time, for it is a lower tempo, but it still carries that heated aggression…as well as the continues with the symbolism of the goat; for Custer samples the internet famous screaming goat from YouTube, and the music video for The Negative One uses goat heads. Lyrically, it talks about the religious symbolism of the Goat, referring to the ‘God of Lies’ – that is commonly associated with Baphomet, the deity adopted by LeVayan Satanism to represent Satan/The Devil, and in some mythologies the angel Samael.

Override the first of the two bonus tracks, interestingly takes on a mix of classic metal with a lenience to thrash, and psychedelic. The clean vocals are complimented with Motorhead and Judas Priest instrumentals, and then you’ll hear background vocals that remind you of the likes of David Bowie from his psychedelic era (Ziggy Stardust – Ground Control to Major Tom for reference).  The Burden, the last of the bonus tracks, takes on the guise of doom and gothic metal once more, with the lyrics convoying the dark atmosphere; completing the package with appropriating some aspects of Cluster, like they’re trying to reflect to – like in Be Prepared to Hell – almost giving into the struggle, but finally finding the strength to move on, and saying goodbye to their sorrows.

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Written for Relive the Music
http://www.relivethemusic.com

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