It's hard to believe that Slipknot's self-titled album is over 20 years old, and it's even harder to believe that — after all the chaos, tension and tragedy that's beset the band over the past two decades — they're still together.
We're not complaining, though, especially since the 'Knot's latest album, We Are Not Your Kind, is such an adventurous, forward-thinking gut-punch. It's without question one of their best, but where does it rank exactly? Read on to see how we rate the Iowan juggernaut's full catalog, live albums, demos and all.
Original CD pressings of Slipknot's self-released 1996 debut fetch big bucks these days, but the album's more of a collector's item/musicological artifact than a bona-fide classic. Far less focused and way more experimental than the 'Knot's subsequent output, Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat. is worth tracking down on YouTube if you want to hear what Joey Jordison, Paul Gray and Clown were up to before Corey Taylor and the rest of the masked maniacs joined up.
Recorded at the band's first-ever Mexican concert performance — the 2015 Knotfest in Toluca — Day of the Gusano was released in 2017 as a dual DVD/CD (or DVD/2-LP) set. Over half of the 17 songs on the audio-only portion previously appeared on 9.0 Live (albeit in earlier recordings), but the track listing is at least freshened up by the presence of one track from All Hope Is Gone ("Psychosocial") and three from .5: The Gray Chapter ("Sarcastrophe," The Devil in I" and "Custer"). The performances are all excellent, but you really need to watch the DVD to get the full effect.
Compiled from performances recorded during seven different stops on the 'Knot's 2004-'05 tour supporting Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses), the ferocious 9.0: Live captures the band's classic lineup at arguably the peak of its live powers. The 24-track album contains crucial recordings of songs rarely included in Slipknot set lists — including "Skin Ticket," "The Nameless" and "Iowa" — and the intensity of the performances is absolutely blinding. However, between the overall lack of nuance and Corey Taylor's mask-muffled vocals, 9.0: Live is ultimately doomed to the fate suffered by most live records. It's awesome to have in your collection, but you probably won't pull it out very often.
Though infused with some wonderfully creepy atmospherics and studded with flashes of bleak brilliance — including "Psychosocial," "Dead Memories" and "Snuff" — too much of 2008's All Hope Is Gone sounds cluttered, confused and uncertain of its direction. Touted at the time as the first 'Knot album to feature serious artistic contributions from all nine band members, it turned out instead to be an unfortunate case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.
In many ways, 2014's .5 – The Gray Chapter was the album that All Hope Is Gone should have been — the songs were possibly even more diverse, stylistically, but the band's renewed sense of purpose made them work together as a cohesive whole. Sadly, much of that sense of purpose stemmed from the loss of bassist and co-founder Paul Gray, whose premature death gave his surviving bandmates a cause to rally around. But with dark and emotional tracks like "Sarcastrophe," "The Devil in I" and "The Negative One," Slipknot charted compelling new directions forward while saluting the spirit of their fallen comrade.
The 'Knot's 1999 album caught the metal world by surprise — so much so that it took a while for many listeners to focus on the band's impressive songwriting chops instead of just their freaky masks and pummeling aggression. Though the album reached no higher than No. 98 on the Billboard 200, it left a wicked bruise on the musical landscape. The nu-metal residue in Ross Robinson's production might make the album sound somewhat dated, but tracks like "Wait and Bleed," "Eyeless" and "Surfacing" still rip as powerfully today as they did when first unveiled.
Slipknot's 5: The Gray Chapter saw the band in transition, reeling after the death of bassist Paul Gray and the group's split with drummer Joey Jordison, and solid as the LP is, it sounded like it. On the album's follow-up, We Are Not Your Kind, the Nine found themselves again — and then some. Everything their loyal Maggots have come to love — gritty guitar riffs, unorthodox percussion and electronics, Corey Taylor's voice — is present and maximized. What takes the album next level, however, are the new tricks up the 'Knot's jumpsuit sleeves, from John Carpenter–esque synths to trip-hop vibes to the choir on "Unsainted." It's the sound of a band comfortable with their new members and in their new masks, unafraid to take risks and reaping great rewards.
The closest thing to a Led Zeppelin IV in Slipknot's discography, 2004's Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses found the band confidently striding out in new directions, adding more musical and conceptual nuance while losing none of their skin-flaying intensity. Tracks like "The Blister Exists," "The Nameless," "Pulse of the Maggots," "Opium of the People," "Duality," "Before I Forget," "Vermillion" and "Vermillion Pt. 2," practically make Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses a "greatest hits" album in its own right.
The band's 2001 breakthrough (which sailed all the way to No. 2 on the Billboard 200) tapped deeper into the well of darkness, anger and despair that fueled 1999's Slipknot, while attaining even more impressive degrees of technical precision and arena-quaking heaviness. "People = Shit," "My Plague," "Disasterpiece," "The Heretic Anthem" and the scarifying title track remain some of the most essential tracks in the band's catalog, and the album as a whole still leaves us blistered and breathless. If we had to pick just one Slipknot album to take with us to that fabled desert island — or if a 'Knot newbie asked us which record they should buy first — Iowa would unquestionably be it.