It was, of course, Slipknot’s lynchpin Clown who came up with the idea of their masks. It was shortly before the band’s first ever gig, on Halloween in 1995, and the band were rehearsing.
“We were all going around the room asking, ‘What are you going to wear?’” remembered Clown. “I pulled up the clown mask I had and said, ‘I’m wearing this’.” It did not go down well with his bandmates.
“A few of them were like, ‘No fucking way. You can’t be the only guy wearing some stupid mask’,” he recalled. “So I said, ‘I really don’t care what you think, this is who I am and this is what I’m going to do.’ So here we are all these years later …”
Iconic, terrifying and, sometimes, quite funny: the Slipknot masks became such a part of their early legend that the photographer Paul Harries, who shot the band countless times in the early days, recalls being stopped by fans outside shows and asked if he’d seen Slipknot without their masks. “Do they have real faces underneath?” he was asked once. And with that, a legend was born.
**Featuring dreadlocks poking out of the top and an expressionless, ghostly face, singer Corey Taylor felt his first mask allowed the band’s music to be purer. “Music then was basically a template for a bunch of hot guys to sell a bunch of shit that didn’t mean anything. We put a mask on and we’re not about our fucking faces. It’s always gonna be music first.”
**Guitarist Mick Thomson’s first mask was a store-bought hockey mask, which he later changed into a black leather gimp mask. “Roadrunner didn’t like the masks,” said Clown later. “They also didn’t want nine guys in the band but I can’t tell you how many millions of dollars that label has made from us. I take pride in knowing that they were wrong and I was right.”
**Guitarist Jim Root inherited his first mask from his predecessor in the band, Josh Brainard. A black bondage mask, he found it too uncomfortable to play in so adopted a jester’s mask as he thought it reflected his personality better.
The band’s most enigmatic member initially simply wore a pair of knickers over his head, before he got an old crash helmet, hammered long nails through it, and added a flashlight to the top.
**The band DJ, Sid Wilson’s, mask was ever-changing, frequently altering drastically from album to album. His first was a simple gas mask, a basic but futuristic look.
**Shawn Crahan’s iconic clown mask was the one that started the whole idea. “I was in the mall with a girlfriend and walked into a Halloween store. There was a clown mask there and when I put it on, I became another thing. It was $49 and I had $50 in my pocket. I was supposed to be buying my girlfriend lunch and she got all pissed off because I spent all my money on this mask. Well… she’s gone but I still have him downstairs.”
**Essentially a gimp mask, with a mouth that could be zipped up and a long, phallic, Pinocchio nose that percussionist Chris Fehn would ‘masturbate’ frequently while onstage. “It reflects my comic personality,” he said. “Plus I chose it for the bondage factor.”
**Bassist and songwriter Paul Gray would initially simply wrap tape around his head, before deciding on a Halloween pig mask for the band’s debut – the band had told him it reflected his self-indulgent nature. He was criticised by rival band Mushroomhead, who claimed he had stolen the idea from them.
**One night, when he was a kid, Joey Jordison’s mother came home from a Halloween party wearing an utterly blank, and thus eerily terrifying, Japanese Kabuki mask. Its emotionless stare stuck with him and he adopted it for Slipknot.
**Taylor’s Iowa mask was virtually the same as the one for the band’s self-titled debut, except it was blacker to fit the band’s mood at that time. “I was drinking like a fucking fish. It was bad, it was a scary fucking time to be in Slipknot because we did not give a fuck and not in a good way.”
Thomson wore the same mask for Iowa as on the band’s debut. Now painted to look metallic, it featured a grill across the mouth – a nod to the old hockey mask – and would be something the guitarist would more or less stick with forever more.
Root’s mask barely changes throughout the band’s history and by Iowa, it was simply a more detailed version of its predecessor – a jester’s face, with zipper mouth and menacing red eyes. “The guys chose this mask to tame me,” he said. “I was a timid guy before I joined this band. Now I’m a freak.”
**By Iowa, Jones’s crash helmet had become a bondage mask but it still had the porcupine-like nails protruding from it. He added a mouth zipper and, during interviews, the notoriously quiet sampler would delight in slowly drawing the zip closed whenever he was asked a question.
**The DJ’s mask evolved rapidly from the simple gas mask of the band’s debut, to a more skull-shaped gas mask for the band’s follow up. Wilson had nine of them made, giving each its own name.
**Clown’s mask developed quickly from the traditional (if spooky) clown face of the debut to the sinister Iowa incarnation. Still a clown, this one featured an upside down pentagram, two horns and a portion of the scalp torn back to reveal a bloody brain.
**Fehn’s Iowa mask was virtually the same as the one he wore in the self-titled album, but for one difference: “The smell gets worse, it smells like puke, sweat, and piss!”
**Gray was one of the few members of Slipknot to enjoy the Iowa period – “Hell, I had a great time,” he said – and wore an updated, slightly more human latex version of the pig mask he used on the band’s debut but this one had slits across the mouth.
Jordison added black corpse paint to his Iowa Kabuki mask, and still enjoyed the inscrutably blank nature of it. “You feel however you want to feel; scary, evil or perverted,” he said. “All those things held in one mask”.
Vol.3: (The Subliminal Verses) (2004)
The dreadlocks were gone by Vol.3, replaced by multicoloured hair, but the stitched up, skinless face remained as Taylor battled personal demons behind the mask. “I was pretty much drunk from the beginning of Iowa until three months into recording Volume 3.”
**The Vol. 3 version of Thomson’s mask was a relatively simple evolution of the first mask that had served him for the first two album cycles. “If you know who you are, you don’t need change. I think I pretty much nailed it with this one for being able to get across how I am,” he said.
**Again, Root’s mask does not change much. His is still a sinister jester’s face but by Vol.3 the diamonds around the eyes are darker and the face paler.
**By Vol. 3, Jones’s mask is slightly bigger and the nails protruding from his head are slightly longer, but the general look remains the same: a bondage Pinhead.
**For Vol.3, Wilson’s mask changed again and became an out and out skull, a traditional skeleton with blackened nose and filthy teeth.
**Like some kind of horrific post-operative patient, Crahan’s Vol. 3 Clown mask was a mass of bloody bandages wrapped around his face, featuring a macabre red nose out front. He ripped the top from it after a while to let his hair hang out, making him look all the more like a serial killer.
**A similar mask to his first two, Fehn’s Vol.3 mask essentially just changed colour – starting to rust then eventually turning red – but remained broadly the same: the long nose and zipper mouth.
**The pig face had gone by Vol. 3 and was replaced by a more human, Hannibal Lecter style mask, with nails acting as a grill across the mouthpiece. Also included a bullet hole because why not?
**Jordison’s Kabuki mask remained relatively unchanged, but was updated with various different designs and claw slashes for Vol.3. “It’s very difficult to play in the masks sometimes,” he said. “You feel like you’re locked in hell.”
All Hope Is Gone (2008)
**In some ways Taylor’s scariest mask is the scariest of all in this period. It featured no hair at all, and had an almost entirely featureless face that appeared stitched to his skull. Eerily blank.
**An angrier, more menacing update on the same theme: Thomson’s mask broadly remains as the same metallic-looking, futuristic visor throughout the band’s history.
**Again, not much has changed: Root’s mask is still the same jester’s face as before. The black diamond still features around the eyes, and the zip is still drawn shut between black lips.
**The mask becomes more metallic and the nails are a little longer, but Jones’s look does not really change from Vol. 3.
**By All Hope Is Gone, Wilson’s mask had undergone another radical change: now his face resembled a Transformer – he is a fan of the TV show – and featured controllable eyebrows to allow him to change his expression.
**Clown’s All Hope Is Gone mask was probably the most technical: a patchwork of black leather, thick red and white stitching and zips that was both sinister and brooding. “I don’t want any of it to look human – there are no human elements to it,” he said. “The mask is actually made of steel, so I can rip it off my head and use it as a weapon. It’s not some plastic bullshit.” He had an alternate one too: a more human face but one with a such disturbing lack of features that it looked like the plastic dollface of your nightmares.
**Still featuring its long nose and zipper mouth, Fehn’s All Hope Is Gone mask no longer included the hood that covered the back of his head.
**Gray had two masks for his last years in the band, both of which were very similar to his Vol.3 Hannibal Lecter mask, but with the slight additions of small cracks in one and a paint smear on the other.
.5 The Gray Chapter (2014)
Taylor’s most human mask: an almost realistic two-piece human face but one that appears riddled with disease and disgust across its cheeks. “People like me, Clown, Sid change our masks drastically,” he said. “Because, for me, the mask is a representation of the person on the inside, and nobody stays the same over time.”
**The mouth is as distinctive as ever – a five-bar grill across the teeth – but for Thomson’s latest mask, the forehead features more detailed frowning and angrier eyes.
Root’s mask remains similar – though the zipper mouth has gone to allow room for the long beard he grew for The Gray Chapter.
Jones wears practically the same mask as he has done for the last three album cycles: a black, metallic-looking bowl with zipper mouth and huge spikes protruding all round.
The Gray Chapter brought another change, and Wilson’s mask was now a black leather hood, with circular metallic eyes and terrifying teeth that could be covered by a mouth protector.
**A return to a more traditional clown face, though one that looked like it had lost a back alley fight to a wolf, had been living rough ever since and was all set on tapping you up for a can of Tennents Super.
By The Gray Chapter, the hood was back and the mask was coloured a metallic gold. Though the long nose and zipper mouth remained, the eyes were droopier and sadder than before.
**Gray’s replacement on bass, Alessandro Venturella, and Jordison’s replacement on drums were initially going to both get the same mask so as to include them in the band but not disrespect past members. In the end, though, Venturella was given a slashed-up, patchwork ogre-like mask
The band’s new drummer was given a heavily textured mask, featuring a pentagram on the forehead and zip across the mouth.
Slipknot will return to the UK next year. Catch them at the following venues:
February 8 – Cardiff Motorpoint Arena
February 9 – London Alexandra Palace
February 12 – Birmingham Genting Arena
February 13 – Leeds First Direct Arena