Nobody expected Slipknot to have a successful album. Nor to actually stay together long enough to make a second record. The band were generally expected to disintegrate under the corrosive inference of their own angst, pain, fury and sheer bile. However, 1999’s self-titled debut had confounded all, by not only selling vast quantities, but also getting the band mainstream media attention. Not since the arrival of Guns N’ Roses in the late 1980s had a genuinely dysfunctional band captured the media’s imagination in such a manner. This wasn’t an image, it was a war against the world, raged against ignorance and indifference.
But how do you follow up such a phenomenon without caving in to the pressures of compromise or repetition? Easy, if you’re Slipknot. You refuse to listen to anyone, and go your own way, which is what happened when the band met up again with producer Ross Robinson on January 17 2001 and started work on what was to be the Iowa album at Sound City and Sound Image Studios in Los Angeles.
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Singer Corey Taylor explained their philosophy. “If we make it, we’re making it on our terms. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t make a lot of money doing this. When you have a band as big as this, size-wise, it’s not like having a three-piece that writes a good pop single and they’re automatically millionaires. There’s so much shit that goes on in the band that we just don’t make enough cash. We make enough to live obviously, but we don’t make nearly enough as a band half our size.”
Perversely, it helped that relations in the band were already at boiling point – if not beyond. Percussionist Shawn Crahan admitted: “When we did Iowa, we hated each other. We hated the world. The world hated us.”
Perhaps the world didn’t really hate Slipknot, but there was a sense of being wary around a group of nine men constantly on the edge of mental disintegration. They were like a volcano ready to erupt and send out waves of dystopian intensity.
There was a first here, though. Guitarist Jim Root had only joined the band towards the end of the recording sessions for the self-titled debut, replacing Josh Brainard, who’d quit because he was unhappy with some of the decisions being taken. What you hear on the Slipknot album is mostly down to Root’s predecessor (in fact, the only song Brainard doesn’t appear on is Purity). Now, at last, Root had the chance to get fully involved. “It was so exciting as well as scary,” he said in 2001, “to be part of this huge process.”
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Robinson painstakingly set out to capture not just the energy and spirit of the band, but also their technical prowess. If the debut was about reflecting Slipknot’s hatred and sheer incandescence at the world and its cruelty, this time it refracted such thoughts, making what the band had to offer even more vicious and viscous.
Just after Iowa was released, Robinson gave an insight into three members of the band who had seemingly become a major part of the core. It was instructive, to say the least:
On Corey Taylor: “He loves women. He’s getting married soon. He fell in love and found an awesome life through the band. Corey was a pretty tortured kid and his father was never around. He gave a lot out to the listeners.”
On Joey Jordison: “Joey is pure genius in all ways. One of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and he can play everything. He and Paul (Gray, bass) have written almost everything musically on the new album. I totally respect him.”
On Shawn Crahan: “Shawn lives, breathes and eats psychotic fuckin’ thoughts. He has the world on his shoulders. He feels like he has to take care of the world, maybe because he’s not taking care of himself. He’ll learn to ease up, though. It’s a lot to take, because they got so huge all at once. He seems to be some place else, but his heart is pure and beautiful.”
The producer had the ability to draw and drag out the real passion and talent of Slipknot, in doing so keeping their rage pure, while accentuating the fact that this wasn’t a mere incoherent rambling, but a consistent force determined to expose the hypocrisy of the society that hated and feared the band.
A lot was said upfront as to what we might expect from Iowa. It all led to the conclusion that they, at least, believed this was something fresh, different and dangerous. Said Taylor: “I don’t know if we’ve matured, but we’ve definitely become more comfortable with what we know we want to do. The first album was written when we were very young – young as musicians – and trying to do it professionally. It had all the anxiety coming from that background.
“We hadn’t recorded the album yet; we hadn’t gone out and toured yet; we didn’t know how people were going to take us. So we’d just written the songs for us,” the singer continued. “There was really no audience until then. But two years later, after the last show on the tour, we were getting ready to do the next album. And it was weird. It was a totally different mindset, because we’d done all this; we’d come so far. It was time to kind of figure out which direction we wanted to go in for our second album. We decided to go very dark, really get brutal with it. We weren’t going to take the easy route and write just a shitload of singles and be done with it. We knew how we needed to go naturally. And it was basically us standing behind every word that we’d said in the media.”
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Despite the suggested personal problems between the band members in the studio, the writing process went quickly and smoothly, at least according to Taylor.
“It’s a lot easier than people think,” the singer said. “We wrote the whole second album in about three-and-a-half weeks. Some songs will be done in a day. Others will take us two weeks to figure out because they get stuck. You have to get away from it and then go back. Once that song plays, once everything’s added, then I come in and listen to everything and write the lyrics. I may also be doing a little arranging here and there to make it a little more like a song, more unified.
“You see, a lot of the lyrics are things that I write on the side, and then if I hear something, I go, ‘Fuck! I have something like that at home that’ll fit with that.’ I’ll go off with that and take it from there. So, yeah, it’s really, really easy, especially if you’ve got nine people doing it.”
Such was the determination from everyone involved to ensure that the new album would be as good as possible that the release date was eventually pushed back. Due out in June 2001, preceded by a five-date warm-up tour, the mixing process took longer than expected. So that tour was scrapped, with the release date sent back two months, to the end of August.
However, when it arrived, nobody had any doubts that Slipknot had delivered what was promised – or threatened. The first song to be heard, The Heretic Anthem, set an ominous tone, attacking targets with a scatter gun approach, spraying out the vitriol.
“It’s about everybody,” said Crahan. “It’s all the critics, all the people in the record industry that want us to fail, all the people that we have to deal with at our record label that just don’t get it and want to treat us like a product instead of artists. All the detractors. It’s like, ‘Say it to my face and see what happens.’”
Much of the record punched straight and hard, being searing sermons on humanity’s depravity, solipsism, dealing with psychoses and also dismissing a society riddled with guilt and self-doubt, as well as personal crises. It wasn’t so much the dark heart of nu metal, as the band ripping out its collective soul and feeding it on nightmares.
“It’s a mood album,” insisted Taylor. “You put it on when you’re frustrated, angry, working out, you need something in life to vent. It’s not an album that you just leave on and let it play all the time, like Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. That’s a great album to just put in and listen to. We knew it wasn’t going to be like that. I have to say that I wasn’t surprised at how well it did, but I know a lot of people involved with us who thought it was going to be much bigger.”
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This time, the band decided to pay ‘homage’ to their home state, by titling the album Iowa. It’s not so much a tribute to their birthplace, more of an indictment.
“Slipknot is all about reacting to Iowa, which is why we called our last album that,” explained Taylor in 2002. “Iowa is a very bitter, bleak place, basically the worst part of the Bible Belt. It’s run by old people who make sure that there’s nothing for young people, so they end up fucking and taking drugs for something to do. By the time I was 18, I was messed up on drugs and booze, and had a kid I wasn’t ready to deal with.”
“Iowa is my thing, dude,” added Crahan. “It’s where I’m at, where I am, my imprint, my Petri dish. I was bred, cultured and married there. Shit, I had a wife and three kids there a long time ago, and I still got them. Even so, I always knew Slipknot was going to blow up huge like this. I always know what’s going to happen next. Things happen if I will them to.”
It seemed the metal world empathised with what Slipknot were trying to achieve and foment. It topped the UK charts, while also making it to number three in the US, selling over a million copies out there.
“It’s probably the heaviest album that ever hit the Top Three in the States,” said Taylor with pride. “That’s saying something – it was just us. And it’s always been just us.”
The band even picked up Grammy nominations for songs Left Behind (in 2002) and My Plague (2003). The establishment were embracing them, even if they were hardly moderating their style. “There was a lot of very untapped, pure rage right on that record,” admitted Taylor. “It was brutal. We just went out and ate everything around us. So now the great thing about Slipknot is that we’re a resource for kids like us to take solace in. They can tell that we know exactly what the hell they’re feeling – that reality can be a serious kick in the crotch.”