The 100 greatest metal albums of the 21st century

1) Slipknot – Iowa

It begins with anguished screams and a mounting sense of impending horror. And then it explodes, with vicious death metal blastbeats and a riff that sounds like a violent threat hurled from the depths of Hell. No, Slipknot’s second album was not just a sturdy follow-up to their classic eponymous debut: Iowa was a declaration of all-out war. Fifteen years on from its release, it towers over the 21st-century metal world as a unique and truly monstrous creation by a band that were taking on the world and proving that outright musical brutality was just what we all needed.

“I have a tendency to avoid everything I record immediately because I’m looking forward,” Corey Taylor tells Hammer. “Iowa is one of those albums I didn’t want to listen to until six years ago, maybe. But when I really started listening to it, it became this revelation that it was ridiculously heavy. We pulled off exactly what we wanted to do, which was to destroy the concept of the follow-up curse.”

“We started hearing about the ‘difficult sophomore record’ and how the sophomore is the curse,” Clown explained to Hammer in 2011. “But we were like, ‘Curse or not, we’re gonna do what the fuck we want!’ It doesn’t matter what anyone else needs. We’re gonna do what we want to do and no one’s gonna tell us any different.”

Recorded at Sound City and Sound Image Studios in Los Angeles, with Ross Robinson once again manning the desk and attempting to channel the Des Moines nontet’s intrinsic chaos, Iowa was pieced together as Slipknot came to terms with their rapid and startling rise to prominence. Tension between bandmembers was at an all-time high, not least because they had just spent 18 months together on the road with little time to adjust to their newfound status as metal messiahs and international rock stars. But rather than crumble under the weight of expectation, Slipknot grabbed the opportunity to make their presence felt again, and this time there would be no mercy and absolutely no fucks given.

“We’d just flown home [from being on tour] and Paul [Gray, late Slipknot bassist] and I took a day off and then went directly to his brother’s place, and we set up our gear and started writing,” now former drummer Joey Jordison recalled upon Iowa’s 10th anniversary in 2011. “We weren’t being selfish, it was just, ‘Let’s get another record done quick!’ We didn’t know how heavy it was gonna be. We knew in our souls that it was gonna be heavy as fuck, and we kinda wanted to piss people off and get that shit out of the way. That’s why the record’s named Iowa. It’s just who we are. We didn’t know how to deal with the fame at the time, so we decided to make it the darkest goddamn record we could do and just be ourselves.”

When Slipknot released their first proper album in 1999, the nu metal scene of the mid-to-late 90s was reaching its commercial peak but was, perhaps inevitably, running out of creative steam. Although nominally associated with nu metal, Slipknot’s sound never shared much with the jock-friendly simplicity of Limp Bizkit or the glossy sheen of Linkin Park. Instead, the band’s chaotic and remorselessly intense approach to modern metal drew heavily from underground extreme music, albeit with the added bonus of great melodies, and offered a new path that metal fans embraced immediately. Slipknot spent the next year and a half traversing the globe and winning over millions of converts with their eye-popping live show and a general sense that this was a band with axes to grind and a point to prove. What few people really expected, however, was exactly how disgustingly extreme the band’s next album would be. In collaboration with Ross Robinson, a producer renowned for drawing heights of emotional intensity from all those musicians he worked with, Slipknot were about to give birth to one of the few modern metal albums that truly deserves to be regarded as a game-changer.

“At that time, there were a lot of business people that were involved, and they all had agendas,” says Clown. “You could see all the angles, and people were dividing and conquering and really trying to manipulate the band into that commercial world. People would say, ‘You need to think about your future and what you can make from this…’ but I didn’t sign up for fucking cash. I didn’t sign up to be the most popular. I signed up to get salvation through the pain of playing. I couldn’t give a fuck what anyone else wants. We want what we want and we didn’t sign up for what you guys want.”

“Everyone and their mom was trying to get us to write 10 more Wait And Bleeds, but fuck you, we’ve already done that! Why would we want to do it again?” Corey muses. “For us, it was really about being rabid, being wasted, and still being young enough to back it up. Our whole goal was to go in and make this dense, destructive album. We had no idea how destructive it was going to be. You can hear the bile in it, you can hear the frenetic passion for what we were trying to do. I think we overshot it… I think we bypassed what we were trying to do and achieved something completely different, which was to create the heaviest album that would be picked up by a popular audience who didn’t really know what they were getting themselves into.”

“It was pure adrenaline at all times with that record,” Joey said in 2011. “That’s what it is. We were just listening to ourselves. We weren’t trying to please anybody. We got off the road and we went right into ultimate hatred for fuckin’ everything. Listen to that record, man. I don’t get scared by my own shit, but fuck! We were out for venom, just ready to go. We had a lot of battles during that time, because everyone wanted to just fucking destroy. We were back home and we were kids in the garage again and we just went for it. You can hear it very clearly. It’s one of the most forceful pieces of music you’ll ever hear.”

It is a testament to the raw fury that drove Slipknot through the recording process for Iowa back in 2001, that the album still sounds utterly demented and terrifying today. It was released on August 28 of that year, and went straight to Number One in the UK: undeniably the heaviest and most extreme record to ever achieve such a thing. From the opening, hyperspeed attack of People = Shit and the marauding riff riot of Disasterpiece, through to rampaging rabble-rousers like Left Behind and The Heretic Anthem, Iowa was an assault on the senses like no other. If one track sums the whole gruesome experience up, it’s the slithering, hellish title track: 15 minutes of horrified sludge that sounded like humanity eating itself from the inside, it boasted a vocal performance from Corey Taylor that could hardly have been more indicative of the album’s pitch- black and furious overall aesthetic.

“The biggest memory for me was recording Iowa naked, cutting myself up with a broken candle,” Corey recalls. “That was probably the one memory that comes out. It was the one time that Ross didn’t come in the vocal booth with me. He probably wouldn’t have had a good time in there with me naked!”

“I remember Corey doing it because I was sitting right there in the room as he did it,” Joey reminisced in 2011. “I can run my mouth real quick, but in the middle of that zone? I’d get the fuck out of there and listen from another room. When someone’s in a zone like that, they don’t wanna be interrupted. In my opinion, that’s probably the scariest track of all time.”

Given their obvious confidence and intensity at this point in their career, Slipknot had good reason to assume that their second album would be a big success on some level, but as Corey explains, the way Iowa hijacked the upper echelons of the charts in the autumn of 2001 came as a huge surprise.

“We had high expectations, but not that high,” he laughs. “Obviously 9⁄11 knocked the cherry off that a little bit, and it was a hard sell after that because nobody wanted an album that dark. But in retrospect, as people started coming back to Iowa, they respect it even more because of the things they’ve gone through, as victims of 9⁄11 or victims of violence. It’s an album that lets you deal with these dark things and encourages you to let it all out instead of sitting on it and letting it fester. I wouldn’t change what happened, because that album is there for people when they need it.”

It’s hard to imagine the current metal landscape looking the same without Iowa’s colossal impact. Although the album still stands out as something of an anomaly in terms of huge commercial success for such an extreme piece of work, its power and allure have exerted an enormous amount of influence over huge swathes of bands that have followed over the last 15 years. More importantly, it was an album that cemented and noisily affirmed Slipknot’s collective refusal to pander to mainstream tastes, paving the way for their triumphant but uncompromising march through the 21st century.

“It proved our point that we weren’t a nu metal band, we weren’t a shock band, because so many people wanted to label us,” Corey states. “We wanted to prove that we were just a really great heavy metal band. Why does it have to be about a label? Why can’t it just be about being Slipknot? Yeah we wear masks, yeah we came out of the nu metal scene, but this is where we’re going. Just when you think you can put a label on us, we change the product. We want to keep music exciting, not just for fans but for us, and this was the first blast across the bow of the industry saying we won’t let you limit us because you’re scared of us. We’re going to do exactly what we want to do and fuck the consequences.”

What We Said: “This is a fantastic record, the Sergeant Pepper of negativity. It’s a benchmark that everyone will be measured against for years to come.”

Metal Hammer

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