Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Slipknot - Iowa

The most important avant-garde death metal album ever

You're gonna think I'm crazy, but hear me out when I say this: Slipknot's second album, Iowa, is a fucking masterpiece of avant-garde death metal.  We metal fans, as a fandom, owe the existence of bands like Portal, Ulcerate, Deathspell Omega, and pretty much any band who has decided to buck convention and take a path of twisted morbidity over the beaten path over the past decade or so to Slipknot.  Everything music was, Slipknot wasn't.  They dared to take the harsh tones of Morbid Angel and the groove of Bolt Thrower, blended with the harsh groove of Jungle Rot, slather it with a prominent and important aesthetic (not unlike so many pioneers of black metal like Mayhem and Dartkthrone), an outlook of sheer nihilism and a creative use of percussion, and just put it all together with a craftmanship yet unseen.

I mean really, think about it.  This gets pegged as yet another casualty of nu metal all the time, but how many nu metal bands sounded even remotely like Slipknot?  Even on their first album, the Stainds and Mudvaynes and Linkin Parks and Alien Ant Farms and Papa Roachs and yadda yakkity yoo of the world were sonically worlds apart from the ground Slipknot was treading.  They were heavier than anybody in the mainstream at the time, and they used that visibility to push the envelope straight over the edge of the cliff.  I mean really, how many platinum selling, grammy winning albums can you name that start off with a cacophony of blast beats and incomprehensible screaming like the beginning of "People = Shit"?  Everything about this just screams "We will not conform, we will not be consonant or pleasurable.  We are here to sonically decimate your eardrums and you will all buy it and enjoy it like good little maggots".  This is abrasive and confrontational to the point of utter genius, while at the same time retaining a powerful groove that entrenches every last note into your memory, burrowing into your consciousness like a cerebral bore, fragmenting everything you thought you understood about music into a morass of negativity and hatred.

All nine members of the band are fully utilized, with there being creative and well-placed turntable scratches and samples all over the place in tandem with the creative rhythm section.  The drum production is over the top and nothing short of genius.  The snare has a really sharp *pop* to it and it just stands as a metaphorical razor piercing the band's musical skin as often as possible, much like the mentality the band was surely going through at the time. Tensions between members were very high at the time, and it shows in how dark, abrasive, and nihilistic the entire ordeal is.  Listen to something like "Disasterpiece" or "Heretic Anthem" and try to tell me that that isn't pure, genuine hatred spewing out of Corey Taylor's mouth like a bile hydrant.  So much of the album's runtime is spent barreling through droves of nihilistic fervor, beating down every living being in your way, slitting throats and fucking wounds.  Not only is this far, far too antagonistic for logical mainstream radio play (even in 2001, arguably the height of nu metal's popularity), but it's just simply too heavy, too out there, and too bleak to be called anything other than "avant-garde death metal".  And I'm sticking to that claim.  Not only is Iowa precisely that, but it's also the best album the genre has ever seen.

I mean really, what other metal band at the time could so brazenly pummel listeners with clearly Sandoval-inspired drumming while at the same time maintaining scalpel-sharp hooks and then throwing in the occasional knee buckling curveball like "Gently", "Skin Ticket", and "Iowa".  Those three songs lend the most credence to my claim of avant-garde death metal.  Would a band that was allegedly so mainstream and kid-friendly really throw in not one, not two, but a whopping three extended, atmospheric tracks that focus on an oppressive, suffocating aura like that?  Those tracks, most especially the title track, are some of the least accessible things I've ever heard.  Rumor has it that while recording the vocals for that track, Corey was curled up on the floor of the studio, naked, cutting and vomiting on himself in order to get the proper amount of anguish for his part.  Really, that's fucking dedication, and the result is more than worth it.  You know how much I adore In Somniphobia by Sigh for being such a brilliant representation of insanity during a man's last moments?  "Iowa" is exactly that, but eleven years earlier.  I can't praise it enough, it's the band tearing down the walls of convention and taking a big smelly shit on people's expectations.  How can fans of metal, fans of spectacle, fans of anything not adore this?

I can point to any song to make my point.  Iowa has a little bit of everything. Catchy hooks in "Left Behind", blistering extremity in "People = Shit", powerful grooves in "New Abortion", skull squeezing heaviness and heart melting insanity in "Iowa".  Just... everything they do strikes bullseye, and Celtic Frost's resurgence owes everything to this album.  Take the best parts of War Master, Altars of Madness, Music for a Slaughtering Tribe, and pretty much everything else that fucked a boundary with an iron spike, and you'll end up with this, the album responsible for Monotheist, Hangman's Hymn, In a Flesh Aquarium, Eparistera Daimones, Miss Machine, and countless others.  It's hard to go on at length about why the popular opinion on this album and band within the metal scene is so unbelievably fucknuts wrong, so all I can really do is hope you take my word for it.  Listen again, listen for the subtleties, the variety, the bravery, hooks, aggression, nihilism, everything.  Throw your preconceived notions out the window and let Iowa sweep you away into the land of one of the most influential death metal albums of all time.

I'm not joking, don't be a fool.

RATING: 100%


  1. How is this death metal?w.t.f.

    1. I feel like I gave a pretty good explanation...

  2. First I was going to say this: Either I have to seriously re-evaluate my relationship with Slipknot (early teen angst years, zero knowledge of metal at the time) or Bastardhead just got a little weirder.

    Then I saw the date.

  3. Deftly done, Sir. The craftsmanship of a master and the ethics of a debating society.