REVIEW WRITTEN BY AUDIO
Slipknot - "Iowa": Saving metal one burlap mask at a time?
What most people call metal these days is awful. Linkin Park is awful. Staind is worse. Drowning Pool make me retch. Disturbed are bad and, thankfully, already nearly forgotten. Papa Roach? Jesus. And the less said about Limp Bizkit the better. I feel dirty just mentioning the names.
So I was tempted to greet the commercial success of Slipknot's Iowa (it hit Billboard's #3 slot last week) with unbridled, lusty praise, declaring its mere presence on the charts as a victory for real metal, a blow struck against the mediocrity of the above-mentioned bands. I'd read earlier reviewers doing pretty much the same. But after spending some time with the album, and mulling it over a bit, I find myself leaning towards a more measured response.
It's a good album, with some genuinely great moments. It's better than Slipknot's first album, mostly because there's far less of the choirgirl falsetto that was such an ill-fitting attempt to accessorize songs which God never intended to have melodies. Here it only surfaces a couple of times, and after the third or fourth listen I stopped cringing at "Left Behind"--though it still hurts me that they used it on "The Shape," otherwise one of the two best songs on the record. Generally, Iowa delivers on the band's claim that it's more raw, more aggressive than the first album.
At its best moments, it's also genuinely funky, in a surging, body-surfing kind of way that provides the perfect proportion of fun to rage. They don't strike the same pose as some of their competition, but these guys have definitely absorbed some of hip-hop's lessons on rhythm. I would almost describe "People = Shit" as danceable, and I would definitely call it the best song on the album.
The use of turntables actually adds to the record, rather than being a gimmick. The little spastic stabs of rhythm counterpoint the distortion squelch and tribal pounding of the rest of the squad, taking everything to that next level of insanity. The tribal rhythms of the first record are as strong as ever, paying tribute to Sepultura at every turn. And the vocals are great, both brutal and with occasionally subtle inflections. The lyrics themselves, though, are fairly uninspiring. Stories told from the murderers point of view, metaphorical depictions of rage and desperation as drives to torture. Standard stuff for metal, and thus a little underwhelming. They are genuinely angry, which is what makes their music head and shoulders above the manufactured, glossy angst of bands like Limp Bizkit or Drowning Pool, but the words do not show this nearly as effectively as the music.
I'm saying this next part out of a sense of responsibility and not because I enjoy saying it or because I think most people need to hear it. But as you listen to this album, remember that Slipknot are artists. As in, they are not murderous clowns or demon-possessed torturers or even particularly bad guys-these are personas they find useful in dealing with their own experiences. I hope that all of their legions of fans realize what discipline, drive and skill it took for Slipknot to turn the potentially destructive forces inside them into something positive, into art that helps both them and millions who feel like them to cope in a world they despise. In other words, do what they do, not what they say. Don't just wallow in the misery of your circumstances-find a way to deal with them, rise above them, maybe even change them.
Allright. Lecture over.
If I sound a bit reserved about the album as a whole, it's because, while this is definitely a good record, there are a few too many people out there calling it a great record. Sepultura's Arise is a great album. Metallica's Ride the Lightning is a great album. Slayer's Reign in Blood is a great album (actually a masterpiece, but who's counting?). And I think it's entirely possible that Slipknot's next one will ascend to those heights. But while Iowa is undeniably above-average, and hopefully will kick the door down for some real metal to make it on the charts (pay attention to System of a Down), it's not a classic.
Now that I've burst your bubble (sorry), I encourage all of you kids out there to enjoy this album thoroughly-your friends are probably into it, too, and you won't often find a record this good that that is true of. But go back, figure out where Slipknot came from and the truly incredible bands that inspired them. Sepultura. Slayer. Mr. Bungle. Black Sabbath. Napalm Death. Then you'll understand my reserve a little better, and maybe even thank me for it in the end.