Hindsight can be often do a disservice to a certain event or to a certain entity; this is due to the very nature of time, resulting in not having a clear appreciation of what was going at that particular moment in time. This is very true in music because we often forget the influence, consequence or impact that a certain band, album or song had given how time progressed.
Let’s take Slipknot, for example: it’s not the same to talk about this band now in 2019 than it was back in 2003 or 2004. Nowadays, Slipknot is a stablished band; a Metal group that has managed, like us or not, to reach an entire generation and become of the genre’s more resonating groups of this century –not too shabby for nine guys from Iowa.
Back in 2003 or 2004, the context was different: Slipknot was still a fairly new group and they were on the rise, becoming one of the most popular groups in the modern scene. The reasoning was pretty simple: while groups like Korn, Deftones, Limp Bizkit or System of a Down were very successful in their own right, Slipknot was offering a heavier and more extreme brand of Alternative Metal, with aesthetics that were quite hard to forget.
Albums like their self-titled debut or Iowa went on to become modern classics and commercial successes, so there was a lot of anticipation and expectation for their upcoming third album, but things weren’t going as smooth as you might imagine.
Slipknot’s shows during their first two album promotions were a festival of mayhem, often portraying a band on the verge of pure and absolute chaos, which was actually the case when looking back behind the scenes: the band members were getting at each other’s throats and there was constant bickering, drinking and drug consumption, so, right after the promotion of their second album, they were already a group on the edge of break up.
So after the Iowa tour they decided to take a small break, with every band member doing their own thing. This led to projects like drummer Joey Jordison’s Muderdolls or vocalist Corey Taylor’s Stone Sour, enabling them to have creative freedom and to stay a little bit away from the chaos that was Slipknot at the time. But the band’s demands were quite high and they went on to The Mansion, their own secret place to make music, with producer Rick Rubin (known for his work with Slayer), to make their third album, called Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses).
The writing process of Vol. 3 was a tortuous as you can imagine and this marked a major difference in the album, compared to what went before: Slipknot’s third musical effort is as much more restrained album if we compare it to their debut or Iowa, with a much bigger focus on melodies, Corey Taylor’s clean vocals and overall more accessible tunes.
It’s important to analyze Taylor’s role in the making of this album and in the band’s future productions: his work with his other band, Stone Sour, showcased the more melodic side of his songwriting and singing style, allowing him to be more musically diverse, which was something that he brought to this Slipknot album. While the band’s first two albums did show Taylor’s combination of growls with clean vocals in songs like Wait and Bleed or My Plague, this is the first time it would become a focal point in the band.
And so we get Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses): an album that was an international hit, raising the band’s profile to unsuspected heights and turning them into global stars. I remember my older brother listening to tunes like Before I Forget or Duality almost every day–songs that would go on become to Slipknot classics and live staples in their shows. This album was everywhere and it could be very much be considered Slipknot’s very own Black Album: that point where they became commercial icons of the genre and they broke away from their more extreme nature for a somewhat more accessible musical approach.
This is not to say that the album is without critics–on the contrary, it has its fair share of detractors. To a lot of people, this is the moment where Slipknot became way too accessible and light to reach a wider audience; it’s important to point that this is their first album without profanity, thus being a more child-friendly album, for example. This new melodic approach would be perceived by many as a “selling out” and a key point in the band’s history.
It’s hard to talk about the songs themselves because most of them are so known in this point. The Blister Exists is a pretty good example of how the band, despite the hardship between them and the new musical approach, they’re still very much capable of making a powerful and demolishing track. Opium to the People is a hidden gem in Slipknot’s catalog, often forgotten and left behind (no pun intended) to much more famous hit singles, but it can rival the likes of Wait and Bleed or Duality.
Speaking of Duality, it’s one of the first tracks that show us the new Slipknot in all its glory: an intense and yet melodic song that can be a great way to introduce people to the band–its music video is one of modern Metal’s most famous and it became an MTV staple for years.
Both versions of Vermillion show the band’s capacity to mess around with a musical structure and be versatile at the same time; two tracks that are proof of the band’s knack of writing bizarre lyrics and their capacity to make truly fantastic tracks. Corey Taylor plays around with similar lyrics in both songs and he’s capable of delivering different vocal performances, proving that he can be a lot more diverse as a vocalist than he’s usually given credit for.
One song that doesn’t get enough credit is Circle and I can understand why: it’s a song that is so different to what the band had done until that point in their careers that you can understand people from having that confusion (I’ll admit that I was one of those people). Taking a page from tracks like Bother from his Stone Sour band, Circle sees Slipknot in full ballad mode and Taylor taking the central stage, giving a heartfelt and solemn vocal performance that has a certain epic vibe –perhaps because of the lyrics-, despite being a simple acoustic track.
Pulse of the Maggots and The Nameless is the heavier side of the band–the Slipknot that we’re used to, if you will. I like the fact that these songs balance the melody of the other tracks because it creates certain equality, thus making Vol. 3 much more homogeneous and varied. As a side note, Pulse of the Maggots was a tribute to the band’s fans and their support throughout the years.
Of course, no Vol. 3 review can be complete without analyzing Slipknot’s biggest hit and most famous song, Before I Forget. Continuing the Black Album comparison, this would be Slipknot’s Enter Sandman: the song that became their big breakthrough and their iconic music video becoming the very moment in which they turned into the Slipknot that we know nowadays.
Before I Forget has been heard so much in the last fifteen years that is hard to remember how good this track, filled with intensity and showing Corey Taylor at the height of his powers, with a slow interlude that I find quite, quite good, even today, after so many years. This is a great song and a great reminder of the good things that came out of this album.
Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses) is actually a pretty good metaphor about what Slipknot is: something that is not going to be liked by extreme purists in general, but it has enough good songs, melodies and dynamics to give us exciting listens. This is an album that you can enjoy without having much experience with the genre and Slipknot, while giving you a somewhat clear notion about what the band is about.
Hindsight is complicated, but we shouldn’t forget one thing: Slipknot’s third album is fun as hell.