It may seem strange to suggest this, but for Slipknot, Vol 3: (The Subliminal Verses) was arguably a crossroads album.
Despite, or maybe because of, the enormous success they’d enjoyed with the previous two albums (1999’s self-titled debut and Iowa three years later), the band seemed on the point of disintegrating. The sheer intensity of their lifestyle was threatening to tear them apart. They needed the space and time to gather thoughts, and got this through taking a comparatively lengthy break from one another, getting involved in other projects. Vocalist Corey Taylor and guitarist Jim Root revived old band Stone Sour, drummer Joey Jordison picked up the guitar for the Murderdolls, and percussionist Shawn Crahan started up his own project, To My Surprise.
All of which meant that when the nine men finally got back together to start work on the follow-up to Iowa, they should have been immediately focused and ready to fire on all cylinders. But things didn’t quite turn out that way.
Slipknot had decided to work with producer Rick Rubin on the record, and elected to do the work at a location called The Mansion in Los Angeles, a house once owned by Harry Houdini that was supposedly haunted – but we’ll get to that later. Initially, problems arose because there seemed to be a sluggish atmosphere to proceedings, not helped by reports that Taylor was drinking heavily, as the singer himself would later reveal:
“I would drink from the moment I woke up, until the moment I passed out.”
Jordison admitted earlier this year that the process was initially fraught.
“We didn’t talk to each other for three months. All we did was waste money in that fucking Houdini house.”
But, slowly things began to come together, as Jordison told Metal Hammer early in 2003:
“So here we are, all living together for very the first time in a couple of years and it feels like a family again. As far as the progress of the record goes, we have all the main tracks done and are in overdub mode currently. I know that all bands say that their new record is gonna be the best, but in all sincerity this is gonna show all the new bands how it’s really done. We’re comin’ back to reclaim the crown of the world’s most brutally honest and insane band. Twenty songs have been written for this record and that’s something we haven’t done before, there’s no settling for anything sub standard…
“I think the time away has only rekindled the spirit that we had in the beginning. Everything you’ve loved about us is in place, and a shitload more.”
Taylor felt that it was the commitment of the nine to each other and to the ideals of Slipknot that would ultimately overcome any petty differences between them. In the end, it needed all of them to be fully interactive.
“At the end of the day, who have you got? You’ve got your band and you’ve got your family. And we’ve got each other. We watch each other’s backs 100 per cent. It’s now at the point where record sales don’t matter, radio doesn’t matter, MTV doesn’t matter. The question is, ‘Are you happy with what you’re doing?’ I can sleep at night now, because I’m making something that I love.”
The choice of Rubin was crucial to the whole exercise, as he brought an extra dimension to the project, as explained by Jordison:
“We wanted someone with a different opinion and a different perspective. We wanted Rick’s take and taste on what we do. He really helped us open up as far as our talent was concerned, building on everything we’re known for and taking it to the next level.”
Rubin himself explained his approach to the album as being more about getting the band to deal with each other rather just concentrating on the mechanics:
“What I tried to stress from the beginning is that Slipknot are a bigger idea than a sound. They can’t be limited by what they think Slipknot’s supposed to sound like. What draws people to the band is how extreme it is. But extreme doesn’t have to always be extreme in the same way. Sometimes extreme can be fast; sometimes extreme can be slow. Extreme could mean extreme musically.
“It was absolutely insane. I had no idea it would be as much of a challenge. If you’re with a group of four people, and one of them is moody or has a problem with something, you can usually read it. Even if they don’t say anything, you can just sense something’s up. But when there are nine people there, it’s very difficult to sense anything.”
Once the band got into the groove, and it may well be that facing their own personal demons helped in this matter, they sensed this was to be an album that would take them to the next level. Never shirking the desire to be brutal, all of them realised that you didn’t need to be ultra-heavy to get across extremities. In fact, sometimes by varying the pace, it actually increases the eeriness and effectiveness of the overall atmosphere of the music.
“It’s great that all of our previous releases went platinum (selling over a million copies),” said Root. “But I think that in life you have to set goals and I don’t think we try to set goals on things like big sales. If it happens, it happens. We’re lucky that we did something really great. I think that the only goal that we try to set for ourselves is to evolve musically.
“There’s a lot of stuff on this album that’s really breaking down some barriers as to what Slipknot are as a band. There’s a lot of acoustic guitar on this album… who would ever have thought that would happen on a Slipknot record. There’s not just sampling and DJ work, but there’s actual keyboard work. If we heard a noise in our heads, we tried to emulate it.”
But how much of what is heard on the album is down to the rumour that The Mansion was haunted? And, is this story actually true? Inevitably, Slipknot did nothing to dispel this legend – quite the opposite. However, Jordison was at pains to suggest the vibe was more to do with the architecture of the building rather than specific apparitions.
“It was good for the album, and the vibe of the place was great!,” explained the drummer. “It was really reflective on the way the album came out – it was more of a commune thing, with the band living together especially after our time off and everything. But, as far as the scary thing…
“I think we just fed off the vibe and the weirdness of the place; it really helped with the record, it was cool.
“The house was built in 1918. It’s very desolate, but very beautiful at the same time. Unless you were there – it’s very hard to put into words. You don’t want to short change it. It’s very open ended and it’s like a fucking maze! And what better place to make the new Slipknot record than an old abandoned mansion in the Hollywood Hills? A place where my door will open at 9am every morning, no matter what I put in front of it to stop it from happening?”
However Taylor was much more explicit on the subject:
“Oh, it’s haunted.”he says. “You can put the rumours to rest, because I’ve seen it and dealt with it for six months. I’ve got some stories that would raise the hair on the back of your neck — and that’s no bullshit, that’s not just for press. It’s so weird, I don’t even like talking about it.
“Me and Shawn shared two adjacent rooms, and written on the phone jack box was, ‘In case of paranormal activity, dial…’, and it had a phone number, ‘Or 911’. That’s the level of insanity we dealt with. But we loved that vibe. You can really feel it on the album. There were ghosts in the machine, in the equipment. Things would freeze and things would loop for no reason at all. It was very strange, dude.”
The album, called Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses), was finally released in May 2004, to a generally strong response. You could immediately appreciate why Jordison had referred to the record as being, “Slayer tapping into Radiohead”. There were even tracks like Circle and Vermillion Pt. 2, where it was acoustic guitar that led the way rather than electric. And the songs Blister Exists, Three Nil and Opium Of The People astonished with the manner in which concussively cruel riffs were linked with daring melodies – this was a band who refused to conform and were out to confound expectations, a band who would not stand still and just re-hash old values. This was a force of nature.
“It’s very difficult because you have nine different people, nine different personalities, nine different ideas,” says Root. “But we do have the same goals. Even like the overalls and shit like that, we decided that we’ll come up with a common theme, or at least let everybody do their own theme. That’s one of the things that we’ve all learned after stepping out of Slipknot, and then coming back to it after a while.”
Amazingly, this was the first Slipknot album not to get a ‘Parental Advisory’ sticker, as Taylor studiously avoided liberal use of profanities, something that had coloured the previous albums. But, by using metaphors and more extensive language, if anything the singer carved his anger, disaffection and alienation into even more stark edifices.
The commercial success of the record is astonishing to chronicle, even now. It got to number two on the US and Australian charts, number five in the UK, and also charted on the Top 20 in ten other countries, while Duality, Vermillion and Before I Forget each made the Top 40 singles chart over here. All of this marked out Vol 3… as the most successful record of the band’s career to date, and put them firmly into the major league. Not bad for a project that was born out of a band who were disillusioned with one another, with a drunken singer and consummated in a haunted house!
“We believe in hope, and we really wanted to believe we were the band against the world,” concluded Root at the time. “So we made Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses) and everything opened up again like the way it did in 1998. But at a different level. We can’t re-create anything we did. It’s impossible. We ourselves are all insurgent. But there was a feeling, kind of like 1998 where we’re talking again and there’s kind of a little hunger. Things are going on. People are getting on. And all of a sudden, boom, it just all happened again.”
This article originally appeared in Metal Hammer Presents… Slipknot And The Story Of Shock Rock.
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