Slipknot – All Hope is Gone

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Normalization is the worst thing that could happen to a Nu Metal band. Back in the 00’s everyone whined about bands ‘selling out’, but they were concerned with the band’s image rather than quality. If a band decided to sing more and perhaps tone down the noise, it was wrong because it was accessible. Whether it lead to good music or not didn’t matter. So all the critics going hammer missed out about bands dropping elements, turning their vision more and more narrow.

The 00’s were surreal times, and pretty awesome. You could listen to Lostprophets without feeling guilt and overly serious EDM didn’t dominate the airwaves. A wave of loud rock bands rose, deciding that genres are silly. You can have funky rhythms, rapping, Dream Pop atmospherics and coherent screaming – sometimes all in the same songs. They weren’t afraid of being danceable or loud or poppy. “Eyeless”, a full-on rant with Jungle elements was considered unoriginal. It was unoriginal compared to, what, exactly? Long guitar solos and lyrics against Jesus Christ?

When Disturbed and Papa Roach dropped their quirks, it was a bummer but not too much. They weren’t too good at working with them anyway. Slipknot, however, are the band that suffered the most from the normalization. They didn’t distill their quircks into an accessible sound that still had shades of a unique personality. Korn still sounded out-of-place when they made “Make Me Bad”. Slipknot obviously read all the reviews that whined about how Machine Head does something other than an overly serious Pantera and decided, ‘hey, we’ll do it too!’

Why would anyone want to listen to “Gemataria” over “Eyeless”? What is it about the former that makes it more fun, more aggressive, catchier, more creative, more anything positive? Slipknot was so bizarre in their noisy rants that were somehow friendly to Rock radio. You would expect that the music would still have a shed of personality. If Slipknot makes ordinary music, it should at least sound like they’re playing the genre on their own terms.

Instead, it sounds like a creative band trying desperately not to come off weird, like a dude trying to hide his Slipknot shirt underneath a suit & tie. “All Hope is Gone”‘s chorus breaks into a Hip-Hop beat, and the chorus can be adapted into a Hip-Hop song. Since Corey displayed good rapping skills, nothing prevents him from breaking into a full Rap verse. It would be bolder to end the album with pure Breaks and rapping. The groove that drives it comes less from Pantera, and sounds more like the Funk-influenced ending of Prong’s “Cut-Rate”.

Elsewhere, “This Cold Black” and “Wherein Lies Continue” are more embarrassing examples of how hard Slipknot are trying to fit in. The latter has a slow groove that’s not danceable. It’s only ‘heavy’ in the sense that it’s not pleasant to the ear if your musical vocabulary consists of Backstreet Boys and the one Michael Jackson everyone knows. Imagine a Groove Metal track you’re supposed to brood too, rather than dance to. If you can imagine that, you need not ever listen to the song – or the whole album, actually. You’ll also desperately need something to make you forget this image. The former of these two track is the banding slamming their instruments seriously. There are no fun, catchy lyrics like ‘fuck you all, fuck this world’.

Really, people, why must anger be serious and dramatic? Vulgarity is informal. It mixed so well with Nu Metal because it gave it a lightness, a bouncy fun aspect to the music. Vulgarity makes the anger less serious, and the tracks more akin to venting than making grand philosophical statements involving fear and trembling. “Gematria” is limp and anemic, the band slams but can’t come up with anything truly hard-hitting. Spitting poetry about America being a killing name is so hilarious over these theatrical, brooding metal riffs. “We’ll burn your cities down” is the one highlight of the track, because Slipknot used to sound like they want to burn cities down for the fuck of it. Corey sounds more serious than angry, and you’re only allowed to be serious with Nu Metal if you’re weird enough.

Slipknot could’ve have justified their new, ‘no fun allowed’ approach since they were one of the few Nu Metal bands with an artistic bent. Vol. 3 didn’t suffer from it. In fact, it justified it by having fragile atmospheric ballads like “Danger – Keep Away” and weird noises during party tracks like “Pulse of the Maggots”. Nothing here is as brave and progressive like “Three Nil”, a track that was as angry as it was experimental as in was contemplative. It sees Slipknot utterly unrestrained by either Pop or Metal structures. Corey never once touches the conversational tone of that song, and no song has its unique, ever-changing structure except “Gehenna”. It’s an interesting song, at least, which counts for something in an album so lacking in spark or imagination.

The highlights are only “Psychosocial”, “Vendetta” and “Butcher’s Hook”. They don’t reach the heights of Slipknot’s older material except for “Psychosocial” – a fist-pumping stomper that tries to put a serious face, but still cares more about the party than grand statements. The other songs see Slipknot letting loose for a while. “Vendetta” may seem normal, but not because Slipknot are trying to be normal, but because they felt like kicking a straight-forward rocker. “Butcher’s Hook” sounds more like something out of Vol. 3 and has some fantastic atmospherics. DJ Starscream has always an important rib of Slipknot. His odd sounds made them sound more dangerous than any metal riff can, and the intro to the song is more intense than any Thrash Metal record.

Slipknot deserve so much more. While at first they seemed like they were Nu Metal’s most brutal band, they were also one of its weirdest. Even at their worst they sounded off-kilter and actually dangerous, like a band who can’t contain themselves. On this album Slipknot restrain themselves, and if this doesn’t sound awful to you consider this. “Danger – Keep Away” is an extremely soft ballad where the band jumps into its idea with full conviction. It has no build-up, just pure ambiance and creepy lyrics. Slipknot are unrestrained even in their soft songs. Nothing here sounds as dangerous or intense or authentic as that one. Here, they try to please those morons who whine about Machine Head being unoriginal since they expanded their sound. Such people you don’t want at your party, and you don’t want this album either (except “Psychosocial”, that’s Prong-level of party starting).

2 butchers out of 5

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The Doors – The Doors

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I wonder if people who think ‘music isn’t as good as it used to be’ are taking the same drugs the Doors were into. You don’t have to go too far into modern times for this to sound dated. A year after this came out Iron Butterfly dropped “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”. It was the same year the famous version of “Just Dropped In” was released. How did this stick in people’s consciousness?

I can understand why, but it’s not a flattering reason. The Doors sound like the protoypical ‘classic rock’ album. It’s a little loud, it has sex in it and some psychedelia to give it an edge. It has some long songs and it sounds very important. That’s the difference between “Light My Fire” and that Iron Butterfly song. Iron Butterfly just got a banging bassline and rode for 17 minutes. The Doors were sure they discovered new frontiers.

Maybe they did back then. The record has some charm in how big it is and how much it thinks of itself. Every song is deliberate, revolving a clear idea. The sequencing makes perfect sense. The first is a fast-paced rocker. The second is a macho pick-up-women song. The third is a weirder psychedelic ballad. The band wisely chooses these songs to introduce people to basics. “Light My Fire” comes later, after you’re used to the band to show you they can be weird.

Of course, ‘weird’ back then meant long songs and free improvisation. “Light My Fire” just sounds like an ordinary rock song with a jamming session. It works there because finally the band lets out all the energy they have. Add an extra minute or so to that section and the song wouldn’t be any worse.

The difference between that song and everything else is that it’s less caught up in making a statement. Compare it to “The End” (which sounded way better when I saw Apocalypse Now). “The End” doesn’t justify its length. The band tries hard to let you know this is the climatic ending with drum rolls, a serious atmosphere and Jim Morrison telling you it’s the end. The result is just showing off, but no energy or fun or substance. On “Light My Fire”, they just bang their instruments.

The album is part of the era before Rock was divorced from its rock influence. It’s no wonder artists were so confused. Only later artists like Black Sabbath and Five Horse Johnson knew how Blues worked and combined it with loud guitars. The band thinks being theatrical equals to being bluesy. The cultural appropriation debate is pretty stupid, but not as “Back Door Man”. It’s better than Led Zeppelin’s attempts, but it sounds the guys heard some Blues on the radio and made a song based on a few parts.

Even at their best, it’s just serviceable classic rock to play in bars so no one would get offended. There’s nothing really annoying about “Soul Kitchen” or “Break On Through”. They’re pretty catchy and fun, but they don’t have that attitude that made “Just Dropped In” so successful.

Psychedelic Rock can work in two ways. Either the band sounds like they’re off in another dimension, or that they make a melodic, pleasant song with weird sounds. The Doors only try the former on “The End” and “End of the Night”. Neither of them are weird enough, but the latter is good enough to make it the blueprint for the next album. When they try the other method, they make some pleasant music but nothing like the Zombies or Monster Magnet or “Planet Caravan”. The worst are the songs where their sense of self-importance comes through. “Take It As It Comes” is the sort of Classic Rock crap that ignorant listeners think is ‘meaningful’.

I heard that Morrison’s lyrics are supposed to be a big deal. I hear nothing attention-grabbing. No lyrics are bad or good. What exactly is a soul kitchen? I don’t know, but the song doesn’t make me care to find out. It’s easy to assume Morrison just wants to have sex with that woman. Weird lyrics that don’t make sense are a lot of fun. Even if the lyrics were moronic, I would’ve enjoyed them. Morrison’s lyrics are just various ways to tell a woman he wants sex without the vulgarity. It’s less impressive on record.

There are some fun songs here, but what’s the point? The psychedelic parts are rudimentary and you’re better off with their next album, or any of Monster Magnet’s psychedelic works. If you enjoyed the bluesy stuff here, check their own L.A. Woman or Black Sabbath. The Doors sound excited here. It does make these ideas sound new, but everyone – including the band – improved on this.

2 doors out of 5

Slipknot – Slipknot

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I don’t think people understood how weird it is that this album sold so much.

When was the last time such an experimental and almost avant-garde album sold so many records? Yes, I just described Slipknot as ‘avant-garde’. Metalheads describe a lot of Nu Metal as ‘generic’, but being a metalhead means being ignorant of other genres. For an untrained ear, Slipknot is meaningless chaothic noise. If you heard some weird music (Which isn’t limited to Velvet Underground) then this comes off as very experimental.

It’s considered ‘metal’ because it’s aggressive, but in many ways it’s played like an Industrial record. Guitar riffs are not at the front. The songs don’t ride these riffs. They’re just another texture. Among other noises the band adds are creepy samples, Test Dept.-esque metallic clangs and frantic drumming. Then, there’s Corey’s vocals.

Corey sings like an angrier Mike Patton. He does it all – singing, screaming, spoken word, rapping, whispering. His delivery is inspired mainly by Hardcore Punk screaming, as seen on “(sic)” and “Eyeless”. It’s freeform ranting that Patton loves so much. It’s a far cry from death growls, which tend to have a clear rhythm.

All this makes for a wild, experimental record with little single material. “Wait and Bleed” is the only thing that can be played on the radio (and that required an alternative mix). Its reason for popularity is how intense this record is. Slipknot’s weird musical ideas stem not from a desire for creativity, but to vent. When Corey goes “fuck it all” ranting on “Surfacing”, it’s convincing even if it’s a trite expression. That’s why the frantic drumming and all this noise is effective. The drumming is just an extension of Corey’s lyrics and vocals.

Its this blunt anger is also the album’s downfall. Since the band only wants to slam their instruments and rant, there are no deviatons. “Scissors” comes close, but it’s a token, long album closer. None of the above elements are expanded and worked upon. The band drops differnet amounts in different songs, but since the songs all serve the same purpose they all end up as “variation on a theme”.

There are a few songs that expand on the rapping – “No Life”, “Only One” and “Spit It Out”, and they ended up standing out more. Light-heartedness and hedonistic vulgarity are one of Nu Metal’s best assets. It’s the bands that forget this that tend to be the weakest. There’s also “Tattered and Torn”, a song that has more in common with Skinny Puppy than anything else. These slight deviations help lift the album a bit, but it runs out of steam by the time you get to “Diluted” and “Liberate”. You can’t fault the band for this. Songs like “(sic)” are great, but this style gets too tiring. Slipknot knew that, but too bad they later introduced melody in expanse of the weirdness.

For the first five tracks it sounds like Nu Metal’s classic. It should be. It gets why the genre works so well. It’s just as experimental as its vulgar and catchy. Slipknot didn’t have the wealth of ideas that would later make a record like Signifcant Other or (hed) pe. All the same, It’s still a record worth checking out, regardless of how you feel about metal. The metalheads were right. This isn’t really ‘metal’. There’s too much going on here.

3.5 only ones out of 5

Black Sabbath – Paranoid

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I avoided this album for a long time on purpose. All the metalheads I knew were the most boring people to discuss music with. People whose musical world consists of Ed Sheeran, Rihanna and Coldplay are much better. At least they wouldn’t be afraid of the occasional bass drop or rap verse. Metalheads were so dull, generic and stupid that I couldn’t imagine their music to be any good. Dull, generic and stupid people probably listen to dull, generic, and stupid music.

It’s a hard album to avoid though. It haunted me like whatever’s haunting the protagonist in the title-track. It’s especially hard when you’re into Stoner Rock, and consider Monster Magnet to be one of rock’s greatest achievements. Eventually, I caved in and wondered why no one told me about how this record sounds sooner.

It sounds as influential as you heard it is. If you’re into the slower genres, its influence is more apparent. More than the birth of Heavy Metal, it sounds like the birth of Stoner. Sneak “Electric Funeral” in a playlist full of Electric Wizard, Sixy Watt Shaman and Kyuss and no one would notice the band playing it is from the 70’s. What’s far more interesting though, is that it doesn’t sound like a heavy metal record at all.

After playing some doomy riffs, Ozzy sings with that very familiar way of stretching syllables. I completely forgot that between the verses there are distorted guitars. By the time they turn it down again and Ozzy does his thing, I had to admit this doesn’t have that much to do with Heavy Metal. Paranoid is, at its heart, an American Folk record. It owes more to Dock Boggs and Blind Willie than anything. It’s a reinterpartation of the genre.

The reason it still sounds as brilliant today – aside from containing great melodies – is that Sabbath understood their source material better than anyone else. Death was a day-to-day reality in the Old Weird, but try to listen to “Oh, Death” again. It’s such a different era. It sounds alien and scary. Folk music wasn’t easygoing, but looked at tough subject matters in the eye.

Led Zeppelin tried to made a theater of it all. They tried to make big, loud music out of a genre that gained its strength from a banjo pluck and one powerful line. They worked against the style they’re interpartating. They turned up the volume and exaggerated everything, but it never had the emotional punch.

Sabbath knew that Folk Music was very dark. All they did was enhance the darkness with distortion, and some drums. How different is “Hand of Doom”’s lyrics to Dock Boggs’ “Oh, Death” or “Country Blues”? Ozzy may have been more opaque and updated his subject matter to nuclear apoclypse and sci-fi, but he didn’t work against the genre. The addiction he talks of in “Hand of Doom” is the same alcoholism folk singers been singing about. The title-track has a higher tempo, but the lyrics are the same thing as “Man of Constant Sorrow”.

Even “Planet Caravan” fits the concept. It’s weird and sparse, which is how folk music sounds like today. The Old Weird now looks like an alien planet to us, so actually singing about space travel makes sense. It’s far more deserving to be called Space Rock than anything by Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd’s songs sounded like they had space, but didn’t express what outer space felt like. Leaving planet Earth must be a pretty intense emotional experience. “Planet Caravan” has the wonder, the loneliness and the vastness of space in one song. The vocal effects are a brilliant touch.

People who are into guitars probably already own this. It will be forever considered a pioneering Heavy Metal record, but it will also always stand above the genre. Is there any follower of Black Sabbath that tried to replicate this album’s purpose? Most bands borrowed Black Sabbath’s noise and darkness. None of them were familiar with folk music and why it works, not even bands from that era. Even Monster Magnet, one of the greatest rock bands ever took a very different direction.

4 paranoids out of 5