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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Issues – Headspace

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So far, the Nu Metal revival was great but a little disappointing. We got bands that mined the genre for emotional. It sounds impossible, but there’s beauty in Islander’s “The Sadness of Graves” or Of Mice & Men’s “Another You” that no other band in the style had. Others just knew how to rock. What the revival didn’t have was a band that captured the original weirdness.

Nu Metal was, at its heart, a weird genre. The reason critics and True Metalheads whined about it was because they couldn’t keep up. Bands switched vocal styles and genres but still kept it simple. You don’t hear a song like Slipknot’s “Only One” anymore – a mish-mash of three genres that’s accessible enough to play Tekken to. Issues finally deliver what the revival needed – an album that’s as bizarre as it is catchy.

It was so easy to go the other route. It was so easy to feed the mosh kids what they want, play 100 more breakdowns with the occasional R&B break. Instead we get “The Released”, which explodes with a funky riff, rapped vocals and then towards R&B singing all backed by Djent guitars. The second single “COMA” sounds even more like Periphery remixing a Justin Bieber song. Previous Trancecore band still had some aggression in their vocals, but Carter forgets he’s in a rock band. If I were a Slayer fanboy, I’d be offended.

The problem with mixing genres is getting the balance. Some bands merely add elements – a rap verse here or a bass drop there. The most frustrating ones add so much you can’t ignore, but never enough to break out of their subgenre. In their beginning, Issues’ R&B elements were hard to ignore but were also not enough. “Stringray Affliction” may be brilliant, but it’s a Metalcore song spliced with an R&B outro.

Headspace isn’t completely genreless, but it’s diverse enough to make it only fit ‘Rock’ or ‘Nu Metal’. It’s not even that the band isolates the styles, playing a Djent song and then a Pop song. The songs don’t even switch sections. It’s the methodĀ of picking small elements, mixing them and creating a whole song. “The Realest” is the best example of this. Despite mixing Funk, R&B, Djent and Hip-Hop it still sounds like a whole song rather than hopping from one thing to another. What’s more impressive is that these outside influence aren’t filtered. The rapping in “Blue Wall” and “Someone Who Does” is convincing. The two vocalist can produce a Rap record and no one would guess they have a Rock background. It’s also no surprise Carter released a solo record, because he never sounds like a Rock singer imitating Craig David.

As exciting as the sound is, there’s also disappointment. Issues never go full weird. There’s nothing like “Kobrakai” or “Nobody’s Listening”. While the band managed to distill their influence into a coherent sound, they’re afraid of expanding on it. The songs never differ too much from another. “Blue Wall” is feels like the most radical departure here, only because it commits itself fully to brutal slamming. None of the song commits itself to anything, but the band merely plays variations on a sound.

They got hook to back it up, though. The sound isn’t the only attraction here. Issues use their sound to dress up already great hooks. In fact, the album is ridiculosly consistent. The only missteps are, perhaps, “Yung & Dum” which feels too redundant in going on and on about how fun it is to be young. It’s easy to forget there were singles when the songs remain catchy all the way through. They also borrow Periphery’s songcraft. While still relying on choruses, the verses are often different and the songs conclude (“Lost-n-Found” gang vocals are an album highlight). The band doesn’t just wants to have a gimmick or hit singles. They produce actual songs.

Anyone who’s moderately interested in music should hear this. People who like heavy music can use this as a gateway to beautiful melodies. People who love hooks and clean singing can use this as a gateway to harsh vocals. Many will still dislike it. The typical criticism of ‘they have no direction’ and ‘they’re gimmicky’ will surface, but these are just Slayer fans being stupid or Indie fans not knowing how to have fun. It’s the Blue Lines of Rock – an album that mixes genres seamlessly, creating a consistent sound and plenty of great songs.

4 wastes of headspace out of 5

Rob Zombie – The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser

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Rob Zombie’s new album isn’t going to win him any new fans. It’s hard to imagine his audience expanding. The face of Rock has changed. Loud guitars pretty much lost their cool unless you’re in the True Metal zone. That zone is about being the least original anyway. Nevertheless, this album is a step in the right direction.

This shouldn’t have happened. How many bands that rely on loud noise and grooves carry on for so long? Pretty much every band from Zombie’s era is dead, or drastically changed their sound. Many of them are still good, but Powerman 5000 are revivalists. They’re brilliant at mining great songs but they don’t push the sound forward. Metalcore bands now jump from section to section and act like hooks never existed and Marilyn Manson quit for blues.

Zombie is still doing the B-movie bullshit. Looking at the ridiculous song titles (“In the Bone Pile” is the most normal title here), two options come to mind. The first is that Zombie is desperate. He knows he’s not as popular and he’s trying to be as wacky as people to catch attention. The second is that it’s the most inspired he’s been since forever. All these paragraphs are a product of a mind that can’t contain his excitement.

“UFO”, the first single, features Zombie talking like a hillbilly about a story involving sex and UFO’s and aliens. It also features one of the best riffs in his career, that kind of riff that causes earthquakes at shows. It sounds like a gimmick, but it isn’t. The song merely reveals what’s the source of Rob Zombie’s greatness all this time. Riffs and hooks weren’t Zombie’s strength. His personality made him one of Rock’s most engaging singers.

The defining feature of the album is that Zombie’s personality dominates it. Previous albums had plenty of great hooks and riffs. They were the source of success in an era grooves and hooks shot Rock music to the top of the charts. Nothing here is as accessible as “Dragula” and all of it is way weirder.

Since the personality drives the music, the wackiness follow. From his early beginnings in White Zombie he had songs called “Drowning the Colussos”. Feeling freer, he now tries to rap on “Get High”, makes Garage-Rock-Fuzz-Noise thing on “Gore Whore” and a progressive epic closer that ends with a piano solo.

None of this sounds particularly new, though. None of it sounds like Zombie is deliberately pushing himself into new territories. Yet it stills sounds like progress instead of mere revivalism. Zombie was meant to be here. The Electric Warlock isn’t his heaviest album like he said, but it is his weirdest. Nothing here serves any genre or general around but exists to contribute to the whole ‘carnival rock’ thing.

Originality isn’t simply sounding different. It’s about having a personality that’s your own, that can’t be easily replicated. Zombie used to sound like just another Industrial Metal-er with a weirder personality, but Static-X had songs like “Dragula”. No one can make another “Teenage Rock God” because you’d need the exact inspiration Zombie has – cheap B-movies and their ridiculousness – and his passion.

Thankfully it’s not all sound. Although it’s less diverse than “Get High” would’ve hinted at, the songs still sound like individual pieces. It helps that every song has a clear idea behind it. While the hooks are slightly disappointing and only “Teenage Rock God” sounds like a single, Zombie’s personality makes up for it. I wouldn’t want to hear anyone else singing these songs.

The album also contains some of his more ‘artsy’ work. Beyond “Wurdalak” and the two instrumental interludes (which are actually necessary, providing respite and fitting in with the atmosphere) there are touches of psychedelia, Doom Metal and Hip-Hop all over the album. The most frustrating thing about the album is the oddest flaw you can have. It’s not extreme enough.

As charming as it is, it still sounds like Zombie didn’t go all the way. He could’ve taken more direct inspiration from Carpenter and added 3 more Horror Synth-length tracks at a decent length. He could pile weirder sounds and he could make the Hip-Hop on “Get High” more apparent. It’s not clear why he doesn’t push into those territories. He’s clearly very excited over this music. Perhaps his passion is still mostly in loud guitars. Although he deviates occasionally, he’s not interested in these experiments enough. It’s a shame, because at this point he’s an experienced artist with a solid fanbase. It’s the ideal position to be with. It worked for Marilyn Manson.

The Electric Warlock won’t attract any new fans, but fans who are into Zombie’s shtick instead of just the loud guitars should have plenty to enjoy here. Even at its short length, these are 12 tracks of silly, loud Rock that sounds like it’s too passionate to care about how cool he is.

3.5 really really really long song titles out of 5