From the sublime to the ridiculous, Slipknot have been criticised for many things over the years, but playing it safe is one accusation that rarely arises. While it’s true the Iowan nine-piece possess a patented, signature sound, it’s also clear they’ve never been afraid to take chances, pushing the envelope at every turn. Even on their 1996 full-length demo Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat. Slipknot were taking risks. Risks that led to the reward of a major label deal and a hugely successful career built on a foundation of unpredictability.
From the youthful exuberance of Slipknot to the more commercial trappings of Vol:III – (The Subliminal Verses) and the dark show of resilience that was .5: The Gray Chapter, each successive album represents another clearly defined chapter in the Slipknot story. Now The End, So Far (Roadrunner) takes that story and adds fresh twists to the plot.
For one reason or another, the opening track of any new Slipknot album is usually a disorienting experience and ‘Adderall’ is no exception. Slow, funereal keys spiral downwards into throbbing waves of distortion and feedback but as you wait for hell itself to break loose, the song springs into life with a simple, bright beat played off against piano keys and clean, airy vocals from effervescent frontman Corey Taylor. Even with its light choral backing, the underlying expectation of an impending eruption is present but never materialises, playing out almost like a Broadway musical number with shades of U2, buoyed by smooth, funky bass work from Alessandro Venturella.
Fully aware that many eyebrows will have already been raised to medically inadvisable heights, the band hit more traditional territory next, ‘The Dying Song (Time to Sing)’ boasting an instant chorus and the rhythmic familiarity of ‘(sic)’. Released last year, Slipknot’s take on social media, the actual media, and English serial rapist/murder Peter Sutcliffe (aka The Yorkshire Ripper), ‘The Chapeltown Rag’ has had plenty of time to take root, it’s punishing blastbeats and chaotic energy harking back to earlier records.
Meanwhile, latest single ‘Yen’ is a quietly unnerving affair with a killer chorus and some classic turntable action from Sid Wilson. Seriously. If you’re not singing, “As the knife goes in, cut across my skin, when my death begins I wanna know that I was dying for you. I died for you!” the moment it blasts into your earphones then you’re doing it wrong.
After a typically off-kilter intro, ‘Hivemind’ bludgeons and smashes with a chuggy, sliding riff and some serious footwork from drummer Jay Weinberg, the song quickly escalating into another clangorous tour-de-force. “Isn’t this what you came here for?” questions Taylor on the tongue-in-cheek and autobiographical ‘Warranty’, a cut supported by more choral contributions, and background accompaniment that could have been lifted from Walter Hill‘s street gang classic, The Warriors.
The slow Tool-esque grind of ‘Medicine For the Dead’ deals with the numbness of depression, while ‘Acidic’ is a tribute to the long-since defunct but still hugely influential New Orleans act Acid Bath. Climaxing with an understated but sensational bluesy outro, the song is so full of doom-laden, Black Sabbath-tinged sludge it could have been dredged straight from the Louisiana swamps.
Written from the viewpoint of a domestic abuse survivor, ‘Heirloom’ is modern Slipknot 101. Basic but effective, the chunky riffs and soaring melodies come closer to Stone Sour than anything else on the record while ‘H377’ blasts us back twenty years, its low end hammer-ons cheekily borrowed from Cannibal Corpse. The darkly melodic ‘De Sade’ eventually erupts into classic ‘Knot brutality ahead of ‘Finale’, the aptly titled curtain closer lacing its bass-led intro with strings and gentle orchestration before piling on the drama. Adding more dominant, Nightwish-esque choral vocals to the mix, this strikingly melodic climax might be too much for some maggots but the sensational “I know it’s a shame but I gotta stay because I like it here” chorus really doesn’t care about that.
Comprising aspects of every Slipknot album to date, The End, So Far is also more than comfortable to experiment with plenty of different sounds. Progressive elements sit alongside retro influences, guitar solos are longer and more articulate (or frantic dive-bombing insanity, depending) and there are no interludes to restrict the momentum, any added atmospherics being self-contained within the song itself. Joe Barresi‘s top drawer co-production demands performances to match and gets them in spades with every member at the top of their game.
Uplifting one moment, furious and explosive the next, this is controlled chaos fuelled by loss and bitter experience. As venomous as Iowa with the commercial quality of Vol: III, an even darker undercurrent is always lurking nearby, due in part no doubt to the death of former member Joey Jordison last year. As confrontational, volatile and polarising as ever, The End, So Far could very well be the most divisive album of Slipknot’s entire career, but it also happens to be one of their best.
9 / 10