The Rickety Old Shack

Slipknot — .5: The Gray Chapter

album cover

Always one of the most polarizing acts in the metal scene, at this point in time Slipknot have firmly established themselves as an enduring, successful act. Following the sudden death of bassist, and founding member, Paul Gray, in 2010, Slipknot took a couple years to re-group. During this hiatus, the band's line-up shifted further, with the departure of Joey Jordison — for reasons not disclosed by the band or the drummer himself. Twenty years since their founding, and six since the release of their last album, All Hope Is Gone, Slipknot finally move on — but not without taking a few looks back — with .5: The Gray Chapter.

Since their break-out, self-titled debut album, Slipknot have been a curiosity. The raw, untempered angst and rage of both their debut record and the follow-up, 2001's Iowa, was truly something to behold in my late teens. The releases after those two massive hits were a mixed bag for me; Volume 3: The Subliminal Verses and All Hope Is Gone were decent records, but they felt like the work of a different band. As frontman Corey Talyor began pulling double-duty with his other band, Stone Sour (which included guitarist Jim Root), I found Slipknot really began sounding like the former. At no point in time was there a sound logic to having nine members in the band, but the first two records — with their much more frantic, cacophonous sounds — were almost convincing enough.

As with the last two releases, .5: The Gray Chapter sounds very much like a Stone Sour album — especially given the number of tracks with largely clean vocals. This isn't inherently a bad thing, as the band's later material is actually a lot more coherent and mature — even if it isn't as savage and dissonant. The guitar tones are a lot cleaner, and the song writing is a lot more nuanced; the sampling and additional percussion is used sparingly, but to good effect. Corey's vocals are up to their usual standard, though there are some awkward, clunky lyrics in the chorus of "Skeptic," and "Killpop." The production is very high quality: all the recordings are sharp, crisp and mixed well, though the material feels a bit too clean and precise for such a historically intense group.

At this point in time, it is very clear how far removed from their formative years Slipknot have become. In addition to losing a key song writer, the group's members have clearly matured and changed as players; I'm not surprised this isn't a return to their caustic roots, though I do feel the bleed-over from Stone Sour is getting really noticeable. There are plenty of moments on .5: The Gray Chapter that are intensely heavy, but you can tell the seething anger of youth is no longer a driving force for the band. While I don't really want to revisit the sophomoric (though, admittedly cathartic) stylings of "Surfacing" or "People = Shit," a little dirtier production and less restraint would have been nice.

This record features a very stripped-down sound; the production is clean and very modern, but the instrumentation sounds very bare — even Corey's vocals seem less intense in the mix. The only real issue I have is that everything about the band today seems counter to their image and history. I'm fine with groups evolving their sound over time, but there is no reason nine people are required to produce this music; this is a very traditional alt-metal record, albeit a very competent one.

I actually enjoyed .5: The Gray Chapter quite a bit; I've long since made peace with the fact that Slipknot are going to be making a lot more songs like "Wait And Bleed" than anything else. In that vein, The Gray Chapter is a solid effort — a serving of thick, beefy riffs and some sugary, clean vocals and melodic passages. Of special note is the mixture of atmospheric audio samples and textural guitar sounds in the backing tracks. Overall the production is a little bare, as I said above, but those aforementioned little details really shine through in such a mix — though I wish they'd explored that more on the album.

As with every Slipknot record post-Iowa, my impression is a mixed bag. I really like the direction the band is going; I like Corey Taylor's clean vocals in contrast with the abrasive screams, and Jim Root has always had a guitar tone and writing style I've enjoyed; my only issue with present day Slipknot is how redundant a lot of the material feels given the existence of Stone Sour — which I also enjoy. The similarities between both groups only continue to grow, and I continue to question if better output would result from putting one of them on the shelf.

Summary

A respectable release from a tenured alt-metal act, .5: The Gray Chapter may not appease fans of Slipknot's earlier work, though that should be no surprise by now. It's difficult to not have at least passing familiarity with Slipknot, and this record is a good starting point for new listeners. While the group's first two releases are highly touted, they are a lot more intense and one-dimensional; .5: The Gray Chapter tempers the extreme elements with a safe dose of melody and clean singing. If you find yourself enjoying what you're hearing, but crave something more furious then jump into Slipknot and Iowa. As a stand-alone record, .5: The Gray Chapter is a solid release; not "album of the year" material by my reckoning, but still very good despite some criticisms.

Album Information

Release date: October 21st, 2014
Record label: Roadrunner Records

Corey Taylor — vocals, bass
Mick Thomson — guitar, bass
Jim Root — guitar, bass
Shawn Crahan — percussion, backing vocals, drums
Craig Jones — samples, keyboards
Chris Fehn — percussion, backing vocals
Sid Wilson — turntables
Donnie Steele — bass
Alejandro Venturella — bass
Jay Weinberg — drums

Track Listing

  1. XIX
  2. Sarcastrophe
  3. AOV
  4. The Devil In I
  5. Killpop
  6. Skeptic
  7. Lech
  8. Goodbye
  9. Nomadic
  10. The One That Kills The Least
  11. Custer
  12. Be Prepared For Hell
  13. The Negative One
  14. If Rain Is What You Want

—by Derek

Published: December 5th, 2015.