MUSIC REVIEW: Slipknot, “.5: The Gray Chapter”

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A lot of things have changed since 2008, when Slipknot released their last studio album “All Hope Is Gone”. In this six year span, founding member and bassist Paul Gray (the namesake of the album’s title) died from a drug overdose, and drummer Joey Jordison was later ousted from the band in a contentious manner. Vocalist Corey Taylor has certainly stayed busy with his more traditional rock band Stone Sour, and the other members have had various side projects of their own. When they announced that they were coming out with an album this year (due for release on October 20th on Roadrunner Records), the collective metal world had to wonder if they would live up to the greatness that was on full display on their self-titled major label debut and on “Iowa”, and the moments of greatness on the subsequent albums.

Well, you may hear it here first: They have made a triumphant return to their roots on The Gray Chapter, and manage to combine many elements from all of their albums to make a surprisingly thematic and consistent album that is as musically accessible as it is mind-blowingly heavy. Much of the album seems to take lyrical inspiration from Gray, and a couple songs seem lyrically pointed at Jordison. When Taylor yells in his best rap-influenced scream, “The world will never know another crazy motherfucker like you” on “Skeptic”, it’s as if this album is a long-playing eulogy dedicated to the recently departed soul of Slipknot. As important as Gray was to the band, they have certainly rebounded in his absence. The infectiously bouncy “AOV”, the accessible yet heavy “The Devil In I”, the old-school slam in “Sarcastrophe”, the melodic and haunting “Killpop”, and the brutal “Lech” are testament to that. Craig Jones and Sid Wilson’s electronic flourishes create the perfect mood and dissonance throughout, which in turn complement the expansive riffs of Jim Root and Mick Thomson. The drumming, whether it is programmed or is live (Jay Weinberg, perhaps?), is competent throughout, with passages that are just off-kilter and original enough to keep the listener engaged throughout. Chris Fehn and Shawn Crahan complement the drumming well, with their own signature layers of percussive madness. The low end has been admirably picked up also, which bears mentioning that Paul Gray was certainly an underrated bassist in most of the metal world when he was alive. He would most certainly be proud of the album.

Of course, there will be the inevitable comparisons. What previous Slipknot album does this sound most like? Where does this album ultimately fit in? Well…personally, I think it hits a sweet spot right between “Iowa” and “Vol. 3”, while drawing elements from the S/T.

And, where DOES it fit in…? Time will tell, of course. If this is the penultimate Slipknot album (which it very well could be), then rest assured that they went out on a resounding high note. Slipknot may have vacated the metal throne for several years, but they have returned to reclaim their place in the top pantheon of heavy music. This is certainly one of the top albums of the year, and is highly recommended.

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