.5: The Gray Chapter (Roadrunner) is an album of some significance.
Not just because this will be the most high-profile heavy release of the year (probably by some distance) from the biggest current relevant band in metal; not just because six years and two months have passed since their last, the under-rated but far from classic All Hope Is Gone; but because this album will have to answer the burning questions over whether Slipknot, this generations’ standard-bearers and the largest and most impactful metal band since Metallica, can still raise the flag and deliver following everything they have had to endure in the intervening period.
So, is The Gray Chapter good enough?
The answer to that, and the questions above, is emphatic. The Gray Chapter is a statement of intent, a mountain-strong collection of hate-anthems to stand with Slipknot’s best.
All Killer, No Filler, And then some. .5 punches hard, deep and long, undeniably their most consistent album since 2001’s Iowa, with ten of the twelve full songs clear and valid options to be elevated to a set list already packed full of classics.
The Gray Chapter explodes to life as the venomous ‘Sarcastrophe’ launches with a roar over a trademark downtuned ‘knot riff, like a rattling rollercoaster with drums and taut percussion slamming under DJ Sid Wilson’s scratching, sirens and whirls as a stomping anthem of violence is spat out. ‘AOV’ follows in the same vein; a spiteful, claustrophobic pounding that opens out into clever hook of a chorus, with impassioned delivery from ringmaster Corey Taylor. Next, the excellent melodic insurrection of ‘The Devil In I’ raises the level of the impressive start to the album, a track to rival a ‘Duality’ or a ‘Left Behind’.
And then there is ‘Killpop’, a milestone track; beautiful, dark, venerable and vulnerable, a song of gravitas and reflection that continues down the left hand path of ‘Vermillion’ and ‘Snuff’, that reminds that, amongst the clatter, this is a band with genuine depth behind it.
Having visited anger and reflection, it seems the band finally reaches acceptance at the midpoint with the songs most clearly about the tragically departed Paul Gray, the melancholy ‘Goodbye’ and ‘Skeptic’, a catchy uptempo riot with Taylor hollering “The world will never see another crazy motherfucker like you, The world will never know another man as amazing as you”. That expressed, it’s like a weight off the mind of the album and things tear off, starting with ‘Nomadic’ and its classic grind-and-click-into-huge-chorus Slipknot.
Reaching the conclusion of their fifth opus the band hit the “moving on” part of the Kübler-Ross curve, delivering two immense slabs of Class A Slipknot. ‘Custer’, with its “Cut cut cut me up, fuck fuck fuck me up!” refrain deals out a pounding that is half Slipknot, half Subliminal Verses, Shawn Crahan showing how important his percussion is to the overall sound by tying their new (as yet unveiled) drummer to the Slipknot groove. Meanwhile there are further daemons shown to be exorcized in ‘The Negative One’, a song that despite protestations has to be about Joey Jordison, and it stomps out a syncopated battery and buzzing migraine of a low-slung riff, before ‘If Rain Is What You Want’, a sombre and pained conclusion.
The Slipknot sound has long been established, their influence is inherent, but what .5: The Gray Chapter achieves is unity – a pulling together of all the relevant bits of Slipknot. It may not have the vitriol and face-ripping point-proving of Iowa but it does amalgamate everything else that is Slipknot into one tribute to their past, and to those that passed. If there is a criticism it is that development seems to have ceased, as this is an collating and re-presenting of their previous endeavours, but the ‘knot still completely and absolutely pwn metal’s mainstream.
Nine may have become seven, but if you’re five five five, then they’re (still) six six six.
As I said before, .5: The Gray Chapter is an album of some significance.