By the time Slipknot finished touring behind 2001's Iowa, the bandmembers were clawing at their fetid masks to escape the beast they had created. Musically, physically and emotionally, the band was at the end of its tether.
So the 'Knot took a one-year hiatus to get their bearings and work on some side projects. Those side projects (Murderdolls, To My Surprise and Stone Sour) have been done, Slipknot are back, and fans are in for a surprise.
With Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses), Slipknot have retained the ferocity, but their musicianship is tighter and their sound is far more expansive. The album incorporates melodic vocals, experimental flourishes, strong dynamics and an array of striking riffs, some of which sound like a cross between early Metallica and industrial-metal band Prong.
If that sounds wussy, keep in mind that Slipknot aren't visiting completely foreign territories. The band dabbled with melody on Iowa's "My Plague," "Left Behind" and "The Shape," and way back in 1997 the group toyed with funk, jazz, rap and ambient industrial music on its debut, Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat. Some of the credit for Slipknot's developmental leap can be attributed to master producer Rick Rubin, who worked closely with the band for months and pushed it to reach its full musical potential, yet much of the credit must go to Slipknot.
"The Blister Exists" sounds like a genetic experiment between Hatebreed and System of a Down gone terribly wrong. During the middle section, all three drummers play a daunting march while the guitars chug with contempt. From there, Slipknot employ a multitude of aggressive metal styles. The first single, "Duality," features harrowing whisper-rapping and stop-start, harmonic-tinged guitars that build into a rousing sing-along chorus. And "Nameless" starts with a hate groove reminiscent of Morbid Angel, then shifts into a staccato riff that cuts through a hardcore beat. Before the end of the song, Slipknot have flavored the dissonance with industrial samples and even an ethereal, acoustic, Beatles-esque interlude.
The rest of Vol. 3 is equally harrowing, bludgeoning and sonically diverse, making the band's first three albums sound like demo tapes.
The same can't be said for Slipknot's lyrics. Taylor might well be railing against the fickle fans who abandoned the band when Stone Sour surfaced, and he could be laying into those in the mainstream who still can't accept mask-wearing metalheads as functioning members of society. Or, he could be really mad because the supermarket was out of Spam. It's hard to tell from his verse, which is filled with vague metaphors and generic ranting even when it sounds good: "We are the new diabolic/ We are the bitter bucolic/ If I have to give my life, you can have it/ We are the pulse of the maggots" ("Pulse of the Maggots").
In "Welcome," one of the more articulate tracks, Taylor seems to be talking about drawing strength from adversity — but again, he lacks clarity: "You shouldn't wall us up with your apathy/ But you did, now you're only growing enemies/ This is the catalyst, the alpha, the first breed/ 'Cause you made damn sure — now we're everything."
However, when an electronic voice intones, "Do you understand?," and Thompson and Root tear into ripping thrash solos that are pure Slayer, it becomes clear that Slipknot's real voice is in their powerful sound. "Vermillion" features near-gothic vocals and processed, wobbly guitars, and "Opium of the People" includes a shredding dual-guitar harmony, a trampling metalcore rhythm and a chorus that could be Fear Factory.
For all the stylistic variation and musical growth on Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses), the disc is still very much Slipknot in all their corrosive, volatile, paranoid malevolence. They might be more structured, more developed and more interesting — but Slipknot are still programmed to kill.