Hell Awakes: Slipknot Make Their Return

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Obviously, there are more difficult jobs in journalism. It’s not like we’re getting tear-gassed by riot police and threatened with arrest, forced into exile for telling the truth or, God forbid, being taken hostage. It’s not even as if there are any restrictions on what questions are asked, and the famous Sunset Marquis, just off LA’s Sunset Strip, is hardly Guantanamo Bay – although our subject, Slipknot and Stone Sour frontman Corey Taylor, is more than familiar with orange boiler suits. He likes to talk, too, as long as he can smoke – something he asks permission to do even though we’re in his room.

There are, however, some difficult questions to be asked. It’s been an interesting year for Slipknot (when isn’t it an interesting year for Slipknot?) and, having healed enough from the death of bassist Paul Gray to begin making their first new music in six years, the band shocked their fans around the world by announcing on December 12 last year that their drummer of 18 years, Joey Jordison, had been removed from the band, against his will, and that the nine were down to seven. Perhaps this plush hotel room would be more comfortable if we first addressed the large elephant that’s making a mess of the carpet. Namely, what the fuck is going on?!

“I can’t talk too much about it because we’re going through the legalities of everything right now and settling everything,” says Corey, “but it’s when a relationship hits that T-section and one person’s going one way and you’re going the other. And try as you might to either get them to go your way or try and go their way, at some point you’ve got to go in the direction that works for you. This is me speaking in the broadest terms, with respect to Joey. I guess to sum it up, it was one of the hardest decisions we ever made. We’re all happy right now and we hope that he is. I’ve known him since ’91, and that was before we were in bands together, and he’s incredibly talented; he’s just in a place in his life, right now, that’s not where we are… in the nicest terms.”

There’s been a lot of rumours that his leaving was drug-related. Can you comment on that?

“There’s only so far that I can give an explanation. For me, that has to be a sign of growing up, because before I would’ve just railed at whatever I thought the supposed evil was, but now it’s like, how do you explain to the fans? And that’s the hardest part, because no matter what explanation you give, it’s not gonna make them happy. I’m sure there are fans out there who have their own theories about it…”

Not just theories, but conspiracy theories! You caused 911, too!

“Oh, I know!” sighs the singer. “And it all seems to be coming towards me, which just sucks! It is what it is, and it all kind of amplified after that Jim thing went down as well. Which, again, is just one of those cases where you have got certain people who want to do one thing and everybody else wants to do something else. What do you do? You can only try to make things work for so long before it becomes necessary to make a decision. It sucks and I know I get blamed for a lot of it, but if that’s the way it is, then so be it.”

The “Jim thing” to which Corey refers is the dismissal of guitarist Jim Root from Stone Sour in May, something that must be particularly awkward given that he still plays for Slipknot. Certainly, Jim himself wasn’t pleased, posting on social media: “I’m not in the band any more. Not my decision. Not happy about it.”

“That lead to a confrontation, to put it nicely,” admits Corey. “But literally, it flared up and then it was gone because we knew we had this project to work on. I didn’t want his focus split and I didn’t want my focus split, so we sat down and talked for 20, 30 minutes – and we were at the studio – before we even started. We hashed it out. He felt terrible and I felt terrible that he was going through it. It’s just one of those things where you’re gonna have to make decisions in life and you’re not going to like them, but at the end of the day you have to do what’s right for the greater whole.”

It seems, from the outside, like it was musical differences with Jim and more of a personality thing with Joey. Is that fair comment?

“No, not really,” replies Corey. “Jim is one of the most incredibly gifted people I know. It was a difference, not of direction, but just in the goal of things, y’know? There’s not a lot I can say about it right now because we’re firing [Slipknot] up and the last thing I want is to have him read something and take it the wrong way. Anything I say here I’m gonna say to his face as well, so it’s hard to do this, harder than any fan understands. There are times when it does flare up and we have to sit and talk and figure it out. Basically, when your friend’s not happy you have to find a way for him to be happy, no matter what, and if it takes making a difficult decision like that so he can move on, it’s just what you’ve got to do. It sucks and it takes a lot of the joy out of this shit, and that’s what this whole fucking thing should be about!”

Are you still talking to Joey?

“I haven’t talked to Joey in a while, to be honest,” he admits. “That’s how different we are. It’s not because I don’t love him and I don’t miss him. And it is painful; we talk about him all the time, but at the same time, do we miss him or do we miss the old him? That’s what it really comes down to. It’s just a fucking shame.”

When pressed further on the “Jim thing”, and who exactly fired him, Corey, understandably, prefers to stay tight-lipped. “This is the most I’ve spoken about it, I’ve told you more than anyone else,” he confirms. And, let’s face it, they still have to work together, and the last thing Hammer wants to do is cause additional problems in that particular department. Instead, we move to a similarly difficult subject: the trial and subsequent acquittal of Paul Gray’s doctor, Daniel Baldi, on malpractice charges, and the accusations by Paul’s wife, Brenna, that Slipknot didn’t do enough to help their friend.

“I wish it would have had a different outcome,” says Corey. “I wasn’t happy with any of it, but it comes more down to the prosecution’s side of things. They were able to turn the trial into something about Paul instead of something about Baldi, and that’s fucking unfortunate because he had so many charges of malpractice against him. There are things we can do to alleviate musically, but what about the families who can’t do that? What about the [other] families who lost someone? Not only were we unable to get some closure, but those families didn’t.”

Remarkably, from under these dark clouds has emerged some light and, in typical Slipknot fashion, it’s a fucking flamethrower. On August 1, following months of recording with producer and previous ’Knot collaborator Greg Fidelman at Sunset Sound, Sound Factory, Westlake Studios and in Jim Root’s garage, the ’Knot released their first new music in six years. It’s a blistering track entitled The Negative One with a suitably gruesome video directed by none other than Shawn ‘Clown’ Crahan, and is their first new music since Paul died.

“There’s a reason it took four years,” says Corey. “It wasn’t just because we weren’t sure we could do it without Paul. It was, did we want to do it without him? One of the great things about Paul was he just loved playing. He loved his band, he loved everything about it, and he’d get you excited about it. Not having that presence in the studio, which can be a very calming thing, was hard to think about. We knew we didn’t just want to rush in and do something just because we felt we had to or the fans felt we had to; we knew we were gonna take our time and put something together when it felt right. And I’m glad we did – it allowed us to kind of let go of that breath we’d been holding.”

And gave you time to heal.

“Exactly. And there’s some heavy shit on this album! There’s a song which is about the day it happened – not about his death so much as our reactions. The day after it happened, we were all over the place, and we all kind of made our way to my house. It was the first time the whole band had been in my house together and it was a very surreal moment. There’s a song on there about that. The album is a story about everything: it’s about our self-loathing, about loving Paul and being fucking really pissed at him – because it’s natural to get pissed at your friends when they die – and there’s acceptance and that moment where you’re like, ‘OK, we’re gonna carry this on, not only because he would’ve wanted us to, but because we want to.’ Even though you can be honourable and gracious and be like, ‘We’re gonna carry on without him,’ sometimes that doesn’t work because your heart’s not in it. That’s what this grace period was: to find out if our hearts were still in it. The minute we felt like not only were we doing it for him, but for ourselves, that’s where it really came from.”

Corey admits that it was it daunting approaching new Slipknot material without Paul, not least because they had no idea what it’d sound like. But it seems there was no initial call to set the wheels in motion: it starts with a small core and that grows with its own momentum, the way they’ve always done it. In this case, both Corey and Jim had been writing independently, specifically for Slipknot.

“He and Clown got together while I was on the road with Stone Sour,” explains the eternally busy frontman, “and they started putting the foundation together for this in a big way. Those guys deserve a lot of the credit, those guys and the guy who was playing drums.

Ah, the Big Drummer Question. Perhaps inevitably at this stage, Corey remains tight-lipped about the man who replaced Joey behind the kit for the recording of .5: The Gray Chapter.

“I can’t tell you, so don’t even ask!” he laughs. “But those three really got a lot of it rolling. Not only were they working on stuff independently, but they took the stuff that I wrote and made it better. Then when it came to getting everybody on this stuff, it just opened up! Suddenly we were going, ‘Holy shit! This is really good!’ It got all of us excited again and it’d been a while since we felt that. We didn’t feel that on All Hope Is Gone because there was a lot of tension going on, which we usually thrive on because we’re all so different and so creative. I think that’s why The Negative One sounds so vibrant. It feels like the old us because we found that place inside of us that loved to make Slipknot music again. It was fucking righteous! Those three were working on demos and sending me songs, and every fucking song was like, ‘Wow!’ I was literally writing lyrics on the Stone Sour tour in January/February, pretty much up until showtime.”

Speaking of lyrics, there are conspiracy theories that The Negative One is about Joey, especially considering the fact that Joey’s number alias in the band was One…

“I didn’t even put that together! That’s just how fucking crazy people are!”

And apparently the song contains all the letters that spell out Joey Jordison…

“Oh my fucking God!” gasps Corey. “People need to fucking unplug every now and again. I did hear some shit about the video for it, like it’s supposed to be Joey, but it’s so fucking funny.”

Is the song about anyone in particular?

“Here’s the thing,” he responds. “The album is a story – not in a certain order, it jumps around – but it’s a story of this band for the last four years, from the moment Paul died to the moment we stepped out of the studio. So, there are certain songs that deal with, not Joey in particular, but about the tension and trying to deal with the ugliness that we all have in us. The Negative One was about me, not about Joey, and that’s why the song says, ‘Your choices are the negative one and me’, which is the two kinda colliding together. The Devil In I is the same, which you’d think would be fucking apparent. I love the fact that our fans are that passionate but, Judas Priest, get out of the fucking basement once in a while! Log off of fucking Twitter and go smell a flower, and just let yourself get back to a point where you go, ‘Y’know what? That’s a little crazy!’”

Take the tin foil off, then?

“Exactly!” laughs Corey. “The Negative One is about me, and not just me but everybody in the band. We all have so many different sides to ourselves, but especially with this band, when we get together there’s something about the music we make that really unleashes the crazy, dark shit inside of us. And that song in particular is about basically embracing it again, giving into it and letting it have its say. Because if you don’t, then you sit on it and you repress and it blows up in really negative ways. So, that song is about freeing it.”

Not surprisingly, none of Joey’s material made the album, Corey revealing that what little he heard of it ended up as songs for the drummer’s newest band, Scar The Martyr. He will, however, admit that there were some nerves in the Slipknot camp prior to the release of The Negative One and that there was a collective “Thank fuck!” when the feedback was positive. One can’t help wondering what Paul would have made of the new material.

“I think he would love it,” grins Corey. “I think he’d really enjoy what we did and he would be the first to go, ‘This fucking rules!’ Some of Paul’s favourite stuff was the crazy shit, y’know? Surfacing is a perfect example because it’s so unhinged, but after the crazy bridge section it breaks down so hardcore that it grooves! And there are moments like that on this, not emulating ourselves, but just doing what feels natural. There’s a song on this album that has six different music types in it, which is gonna fuck people’s heads up, but it’s so cohesive that you’re just like, ‘Holy shit!’ It’s one of my favourite songs on the new album and I think Paul would really love it. I think we did our best to fill in his blank, but he had an ear for nuances that I don’t think a lot of people understood. He could listen to something and de-construct it in his head and go, ‘You know what? Try this!’ I think we all learned from that so we were able to try to do that without him so it doesn’t feel like a block of riffs from one to the next. Everything moves very musically but it’s still got that fire.”

Corey has already made it clear that he won’t name the new drummer and bassist at this juncture, and while this may be frustrating for fans desperate to get a clearer glimpse into the next chapter of this most fascinating of bands, it’s worth remembering that rumours of Paul’s replacement went on for months after his death and, perhaps more pertinently, there has always been an aura of mystique about some facet of the band’s make-up throughout each and every stage of their career. There is, however, one tantalising bit of information that the frontman is willing to part with. At this point, at least, Corey will reveal that there will be nine people on stage. Yup, nine. It’ll be weird, he says, having someone onstage who’s not Paul (his space having been filled in an off-stage capacity by former guitarist Donnie Steele up until this point), but that it’s time, and it’s what the fans want. Officially, the two newcomers are not technically members, but given that Slipknot famously all had their own replacements lined up when they first formed the band, doesn’t that at least leave that option open now?

“Well, a lot of that was just keeping people in check,” says Corey. “I can remember Clown looking me in the face and going, ‘You act up and we’ll get [Acid Bath mainman] Dax Riggs to replace you!’ And he’s one of my favourite singers! But that was just a way for us to fuck with each other, we never thought we’d have to do that! It was the last thing on our minds. The only thing we can do is move forward and that means having nine onstage, whether that person is a member of the band or not.”

In a way, it’s also in keeping with Slipknot’s original anonymity that we don’t know who they are.

“Exactly!” Corey grins. “Back to the old days! And we’re not gonna tell anybody unless we absolutely have to!”

So it’s not Lamb Of God’s Chris Adler?

“No, it’s not!” laughs Corey. “I love Chris, but it’s definitely not him! I loved the way that he played that off in interviews – I was gut-laughing! But, yeah, I caught some shit from some of the fans – and I guess I’ve got to get used to the fact that I’m always going to, no matter what I say – because I wanted the music to stand for itself rather than telling people who the drummer is.”

Corey gets his fair share of flak online, but insists that it doesn’t bother him too much. Twitter, he says, is a tool for “shameless self-promotion and/or to tell tasteless dick jokes”, but it’d be amiss to assume that the man, much like the band as a whole, is not extremely savvy when it comes to the ol’ social media usage. Slipknot got the hype machine for the new album rolling in smart and subtle style with a much-analysed and debated “media blackout” back in February – something which Corey insists was the perfect way to officially bring things back to the start.

“Basically, we shut down the Slipknot site and people were freaking out,” he explains, “but that was almost like a hard reset for us. For a year it was basically the same site and, going into the studio, we knew that we wanted to start at ground zero and start building excitement for it, so we took everything old off! It caused quite a fervour, but it also got people talking.”

Like we said, the guy’s no fool. And make no mistake about it: despite Slipknot’s lengthy downtime, Corey Taylor is still a busy man. During Slipknot’s recovery he’s revealed himself to be a distressingly good writer and spoken-word performer. There’s also been the double Stone Sour album, the Dio tribute, the Sound City tour with Dave Grohl, and still he found time to make his acting debut in a forthcoming horror movie called Fear Clinic, starring Robert Englund. Filmed in an old church over 18 days of an Ohio winter, Corey plays “a weird, creepy orderly named Bauer”. It’s unlikely to be his last acting role.

“I didn’t do that movie for the paycheque,” he says. “I just wanted to fucking do it. That’s something I can show my kids later on and go, ‘Look at this! I was playing clubs 30 years ago and because I stuck with it, look what I got to do!’”

It’s cool that you’re using your position to do something good, too, rather than going all Gene Simmons and telling the poor to fuck off!

“Oh, Christ, that guy!” hoots Corey. “Just when I think I’m gonna be crucified for opening my mouth, I look at Gene Simmons and I’m like, ‘I’m gonna be fine.’ I’ve always done a lot of charity work, whether it’s one-offs for cancer research or doing stuff with Drop In The Bucket [an organisation providing clean water in Africa]. I get a lot from what I do so the least I can do is try to do more. I’m not gonna sit in my cave and worry about whether one of my assistants is bringing me Taco Bell. And luckily I’ve got a lot of great friends in the industry, like if I called Duff McKagan today and said I’m putting together a punk covers band and we’re doing a show and all the money’s going to AIDS research, he would do it!”

You heard it here first, folks. And speaking of gigs, there’s a little thing called Knotfest coming up next month. A weekend of metal madness in San Bernardino, California, bigger and better than ever, promising to take over from Ozzfest as the pinnacle of metal festival culture in the US (not to mention a Japanese debut in November). Perhaps the most impressive thing about the first one was how well the band translated the European festival vibe, something that has been sorely missing in the United States.

“The closest thing America has to something like that is Coachella, which is very shit,” states Corey. “It’s just embarrassing! Every once in a while you’ll get great acts, like when Refused did it, but that’s really the closest thing and it’s so fucking corporate. And we’re not overdoing this. We could easily turn this into the whole tour, but you’ve got to be careful what you do because, again, there were a lot of people that were pissed that we’re not doing it in Iowa. We’re not playing outside in Iowa in October and that’s when we’re doing this. You try to do something cool and there are always gonna be people who show the negative side.”

Indeed, it seems there will perhaps always be a “negative side” shadowing Slipknot. Throughout their entire lifespan together, be it through unimaginable tragedy, inner-band turmoil or the controversial rumours and gossip-mongering that followed them in the early days (and no, they did not sacrifice a goat onstage, ever), there is always something dark, unsettled and, even now, quite frightening at the heart of Des Moines’ most successful export. Quite how far that darkness will spread before it consumes the band for good is anyone’s guess, but for now, they remain a force back on the up, fired-up and ready to roll into another inevitably chaotic and controversy-filled new chapter. Yes, Slipknot is a fully fledged franchise now and the band are much evolved from the devastating force they were back in 1999, but it seems that even a period as harrowing as these past few years cannot destroy the Iowa Hate Machine. And even Corey Taylor, superstar celeb and buddy to the stars, is refusing to take any of that for granted.

“To this day, when James Hetfield walks up to me and calls me by my first name, I’m 14 again,” he laughs. “Maybe when I lose that, it’s time to stop.” And then, maybe, it’ll be time to relax into a nice, early retirement, watching over Slipknot’s festival-led empire from afar?

“One thing I want to do is take my son to Knotfest, when he’s old enough,” reveals the singer. “And we’ll go and do Download like that, too, just throw a tent up for the weekend. And yeah, sure, it’s gonna smell like piss and vomit, but you’ll be living it!”

Sounds rather a lot like being in Slipknot, if you ask us. Welcome back, boys.

.5: THE GRAY CHAPTER IS OUT NOW VIA ROADRUNNER

‘KNOT YOUR AVERAGE FESTIVAL

Corey’s guide to this year’s bigger, better and more badass-er Knotfest extravaganza!

It’s having it large!

“We’re expanding! The one that we’re doing in San Bernardino is actually a three-day thing. There’s a pre-party thing on the Friday night so that people who are camping can come in and set up, and then obviously we’re headlining both Saturday and Sunday nights.”

It’s Euro-tastic!

“This is very much like Download weekend, we’re trying to recreate that. It’s much more about the metal side of it, and trying to capture the spirit of how much people in Europe love metal.”

It’s fan-friendly!

“We have great security that runs with us, three of the top guys in the business, and they know how to talk to local security and local police to make sure they let people get on with it. Just make sure nobody gets hurt and don’t hurt anybody in the process.”

It’s 100% Clown-approved!

“Clown does a lot of the curating. I just come in and go, ‘Yeah, that’s great.’ He puts the real festival vibe together, he puts together the freak-shows and all of these killer things to really make it different from anything else.”

It’s more than just a music festival!

“We’ve got everybody from the stilt walkers, to this fire-dome thing, to rides, to the Slipknot museum, which the fans love and we love doing for them… letting them see where we came from and the actual shit that we wore back in ’99 in Reno, Nevada!”

It could be UK-bound?

Editor’s note: Alright, Corey wouldn’t be drawn on this one (dammit, we tried!), but with a Soundwave date locked in for early next year, Slipknot are officially on the road in 2015, so could we see Knotfest make a stunning appearance on these shores? We guess we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, cross your fingers, toes, legs…

Knotfest takes place October 24-26 at the San Manuel Ampitheater, San Bernardino, California. For more info, head to www.knotfest.com

(RE)SURFACING

The dizzying six years since All Hope Is Gone exploded…

AUGUST 2008

All Hope Is Gone, Slipknot’s most expansive outing yet, lands to critical acclaim and a US Number One.

JUNE 2009

The Des Moines icons cap off a stunning album cycle with a generation-defining debut headline set at Download.

MAY 2010

The heavy metal world is stunned by the sudden death of Slipknot bassist and founding member Paul Gray, due to a drug overdose. “The world will be a different place without him,” remarks Clown. The band is effectively put into a forced hiatus.

JULY 2011

After surprising fans with festival announcements for the summer, an emotional showing at Sonisphere marks the perfect tribute to Paul, with Donnie Steele filling in for the bassist behind the scenes.

JULY 2012

More dates and the release of Slipknot’s greatest hits compilation, Antennas To Hell. Rumours of a studio album surface – Sid suggests they’ll be “back in the kitchen” in early 2013.

AUGUST 2012

History is made with the inaugural Knotfest taking place across two states – Iowa and Wisconsin. Deftones, Lamb Of God, Gojira, Machine Head, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Cannibal Corpse and more play in a blinder of a weekend.

JUNE 2013

With no new music yet in sight, the band chalk up another headline stint at Download. Fans continue to wait for what comes next.

OCTOBER 2013

The first concrete confirmations of new Slipknot music approaching are dropped, with Corey hinting that the new material is sounding like “a cross between Iowa and Vol. 3”.

DECEMBER 2013

In one of the most shocking turn of events of the year, Slipknot announce that they have parted ways with drummer Joey Jordison. “Personal reasons” is the official line offered, though Joey later insists that he “did not quit” the band. The future looks uncertain.

APRIL 2014

Paul Gray’s doctor, Daniel Baldi, is held on trial under nine counts of involuntary manslaughter. He is ultimately found not guilty.

MAY 2014

In yet another curious twist, guitarist Jim Root leaves Stone Sour, openly admitting that he is “not happy” at the situation.

**AUGUST 2014 **

Despite the various controversies and following a series of cryptic messages and clips via their website, Slipknot finally release some new music in the form of The Negative One! The mighty machine is officially rolling again.