Album Review : Slipknot - We Are Not Your Kind (2019)
For twenty years, metal fans and music enthusiasts at large have been debating whether or not Slipknot is a nu metal band. This question has no clear-cut answer. They have a lot less to do with nu metal than what people give them credit for, but they have a lot more to do with it than they claim. If anything, their new album We Are Not Your Kind self-consciously reaffirms that this awkward in-between is their home. Because it really, really rocks in their own unapologetic and counterintuitive way. Not that it means much, but it’s their best album since their 2001 classic Iowa.
What makes Slipknot so beloved by their fanbase and reviled by metal fans in general is that they’re not purists. They won’t hesitate to be shamelessly catchy, melodic or thrown in completely unexpected if it fits what they’re trying to do with a song and it couldn’t be any clearer than on We Are Not Your Kind’s opener Unsainted, which was also their first single. It begins with a choir of children that sing the chorus, not unlike the beginning of The Rolling Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want, before kicking into the band’s trademark angry, downtuned guitar riffs.
It’s one of the two genuinely great songs on We Are Not Your Kind because it a celebration of all these jagged pieces only they can fit together so well: the pop and classic rock influences; the relentless guitars and the odd stuff like breakdowns or eerie piano, which they manage to never overdo. Of course, there are classic adrenaline pumpers on the record: Red Flag and Orphan being among the most scorching they’ve ever released. They’re pretty straightforward and kind of indistinguishable for the first few listens, but deliver plenty of the righteous anger Slipknot is known for.
Nero Forte is another enjoyable, angry banger, although it gets bogged down by the goofy chorus where Corey Taylor sings in an uncomfortable falsetto. Critical Darling is also a fun one, although it lacks a bit of personality compared to the others. Otherwise, there are some odd surprises on We Are Not Your Kind, like the song Spiders. It features a creepy horror movie piano, clean guitars, overblown bass and is sung entirely clean by Corey. I know this seems extremely weird, but it fits. That’s what’s makes this album so cool, it is going for a mood as much as it is going for a sound.
The very best song on We Are Not Your Kind is the closer Solway Firth. It has an eerie and graceful intro that’s bound to become a fan favorite moment during live performances; a multi-segmented structure that gets everyone involved and one of Corey Taylor’s signature performances. I don’t know exactly what the lyrics are about, but it seems to be a collection of painful conversation fragments and even more painful thoughts. It’s clear enough to understand it’s Corey dealing through personal shit and it’s abstract enough for you to help you deal through yours.
It’s one of these songs you’ll play loud to blow off steam when life isn’t going your way.
Speaking of lyrics, they’re sometimes a weak link on the album. A band like Slipknot is primarily concerned with songwriting and musicmanship in their own non-purist way. Sometimes the lyrics suffer from it, because they have to fit the music and not the opposite. For example, Spiders has a great mood but a goofy chorus that almost ruins the song: Spiders come in side by side/Two by two and night by night sounds like something Dr. Seuss would write. The delivery is on point, but the lyrics make it sound like a twelve year old attempt at being creepy.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Corey Taylor’s singing, but he could scream “Gurgh, Gurgh, Gurgh” for all I care and still communicate fiery fuckin’ anger. Also, I don’t need much from Slipknot in terms of lyrics. They’re most efficient when writing variations on “I’m bad” or “I’m sad” and never really lose the plot of they stick to these primal emotions. Anyway, Corey sings more clean segments I’ve ever heard him sing on We Are Not Your Kind, which is both great and terrible. If you don’t understand what I mean, the song Birth of the Cruel is pretty much a microcosm of that.
We Are Not Your Kind is a great Slipknot record. It goes overboard sometimes with the theatrical delivery and the juvenile brooding stuff, but it delivers amazing songwriting, gutsy experimentation that never really gets out of tone with the band’s overall aesthetic and passionate performances. I would’ve shaved a few songs off to make it a heavy metal classic, like: My Pain, which doesn’t really add anything; Not Long For this World, which really is a Stone Sour song and the interludes Death Because of Death and What’s Next.
I feel like 10 songs instead of 14 would’ve made the album more relentless and would’ve given the best material more room to shine. But it’s Slipknot. They paint with a broad brush and embrace the trial-and-error method. And it’s good to have them back.