CLASSIC ALBUMS REVISITED: Slipknot’s Debut Album Turns 20

Ah, 1999. A time for ridiculously baggy jeans, wallet chains, and clothes with far too many zips and pockets. A time for silly haircuts, spiked neckbands, black lipstick, and even blacker eyeliner – for both sexes. A time for backwards-facing red caps and hilarious facial piercings. Also a time for many metal fans over the age of forty to think back upon while making vomiting noises and pretending such crimes against metal never actually happened.

Nu-Metal was about to explode, but while acts like Korn and Limp Bizkit were already well on their way to becoming household names, the genre still needed something extra to give it that final shove over the edge. An instantly recognisable face was required to help lead the charge. Or to take the blame…

And so, it was into this arena of questionable fashion and DJ assisted beats that Slipknot burst onto the scene. The perfect antiheroes for an imperfect time, these nine bizarrely masked figures in bright red boiler suits clearly did not give one solitary fuck about what you, me or literally anyone thought about them.

It was the perfect time to be an angry, disillusioned teenager.

I was twenty-seven.

In truth, right up until the day I actually bought Slipknot (Roadrunner), I had managed to remain completely unaware of the band’s existence. I had stopped reading certain metal based magazines a few years before, so had fallen somewhat behind on what was considered cool, hip, and down with the kids.

However, after being won over by a rather impressive promotional display in my local record shop, I bought the album on the spot. Hearing my overexcited commentary on it the following day, a work colleague also decided to give it a go, but listening to it in his car turned out to be a rather hazardous experience, as just at the moment ‘sic’ kicked in, he mounted the kerb and only narrowly avoided ending up in a ditch.

This wasn’t an isolated story. People everywhere were having their lower jaws slackened instantly by this Ross Robinson produced hour of uncivilized mayhem. Whether you loved them or hated them (and if you hated them, why are you even reading this?), it was impossible to ignore them. “They’ll be gone in five years. It’s always the same with these gimmick bands” was one of the most common reactions at the time. Well, twenty years later, Slipknot have gone on to be one of the biggest acts in the world. The tiresome bickering about whether they’re metal or not still continues to this day, and in all honesty, will probably see no end.

Although being front-loaded with belters such as ‘Eyeless’, ‘Wait and Bleed’, ‘Spit it Out’, and ‘Surfacing’ – tracks which still feature in the band’s live shows to this day – the second half of the record features the equally mental ‘Liberate’ as well as being packed with lesser played deeper cuts. The sinister crawl of ‘Diluted’, the unbalanced atmospherics of ‘Prosthetics’ and ‘Scissors’ – two songs where vocalist Corey Taylor sounds genuinely unhinged – and the explosive rap of ‘No Life’ which also features some of drummer Joey Jordison’s finest work, as well as that truly monstrous chorus of “only one of us walks away!”

Not without some controversy, the album had to be recalled shortly after release, the song ‘Purity’ and its prelude ‘Frail Limb Nursery’ being replaced with the no less impressive ‘Me Inside’ due to copyright issues over the fictional story upon which the song was based.

Following the success of the album, the Iowan live invasion really began. Their first UK show was met with sold-out chaos at the London Astoria (RIP), and their appearance on UK TV show TFI Friday climaxed with host Chris Evans (the ginger English one, not Captain America) whining about the loss of an expensive TV camera in the moshpit melee. A full UK tour in 2000 saw the band getting in trouble for jumping from balconies, punching and setting fire to each other, and – from my own horrifically close-up view from the barrier at the Wolverhampton show – I had the dubious pleasure of witnessing percussionist, Chris Fehn, proudly flopping out his man-pork and giving it a good old rub right in front of me. Yeah, thanks for that, Chris.

Despite much resistance from metal elitists, unhappy these apparent enemies of metal were being mentioned in the same breath as Slayer and Metallica, the record was met with an overwhelming surge of approval. All the sneering at t-shirts and irrelevant jibes about the band only being “entry level” metal for kids didn’t stop the album from going platinum in the UK, and double platinum in the US. The raw, deranged uncultured insanity of Slipknot helped launch the band to the forefront of modern musical culture, and while in the following years the band was to refine their sound and sharpen their skills, nothing will ever compare to the utter fucking bedlam of their major label debut.