I felt a certain sickly dripping on the end of my nose on Thursday night. Grey blanketed the skies above. I’d seen about three shows in as many days, slumber in short supply while working a day job to pay the bills. Worst of all, my fucking (handsome, charming and ever so intelligent) editor sent me to review Trivium and god damn Slipknot of all of the bands on the Soundwave tour, scowling in the knowledge that my beloved Paradise Lost was playing their sideshow a mere five minute walk down the road.
Suitably miffed, I walked up to the ticket booth parked outside the stadium, wondering where I’d bear witness to this Roadrunner vanity cavalcade - Soundwave touring, much to their credit were most accommodating to us journalists, throughout all my review shows (including the festival) they really did make the experience of ticket collection painless. I’d be in the front pit. (More on that later in the piece.)
In full disclosure, I remember the first time I’d ever heard Slipknot. In Year 7, I sat in a cramped portable classroom with a (barely) reformed hippie teaching me the opening riff to Smoke on the Water yet again, forgetting he’d set me the same piece seven times in a row. Some loudmouth dickhead burst into the room and demanded he play a (genuine, store-bought) copy of Slipknot’s debut record - “It’s the heaviest shit you’ve ever heard,” he declared, the irony of a punky looking sixteen year old schooling a bloke who was most likely a roadie for Black Sabbath or Montrose lost on all of us. The eerie opening sample of (Sic) crackled into life, double kick drum flailing about, Corey Taylor’s excruciating scream of “Here comes the pain!” seared into my earlobes along with Jim Root’s aggressive, sharp down-tuned riffing attenuated by vinyl scratches - “where do I get the cash to buy this?” (Not where I could actually buy it - I think Target stocked copies) I asked myself while Taylor's relentless zombified chant of "You can't kill me/'cause I'm already inside you" wormed itself into my brain.
About five years later with my hair down to my shoulders, it was time to cash up big with my pile of adolescent crap I'd accumulated. There went Slipknot’s first record for $4 of store credit at the local record exchange. I think I bought an Oingo Boingo record instead.
I was, for lack of a better expression, a lapsed Slipknot fan. Their music no longer held currency for me. Whenever I would hear friends sing their praises, I would mutter invectives to myself and berate them for still being stuck in a moronic teenage past. I didn’t get it. Before Thursday, I would’ve said shame on you. Now, I realize I've foolishly dismissed Slipknot as overstaffed stupidity dressed in ludicrous boiler suits much to my detriment.
There is a level of adolescent adoration to Slipknot that beggars belief; grown men wearing these red boiler suits and custom made “freak” masks to garner a pre-fabricated identity might be a pill teens would gladly swallow, but adults? Come on, man. Girls dressed as Alice in Hell (well, they looked like her) drenched in blood, wielding plastic knives walked in tandem with men in long black trenchcoats and corpsepaint as well as curious onlookers who appeared they just walked off the street in search of something to do.
Trivium, heavy metal’s oft-parodied whipping boy with an largely unaccounted for popularity was up first, appearing on a minimalist stage - drums perched atop a raised platform breaking up swathes of negative space up and down the arena stage; it was as minimalist as you could get, save for a square banner depicting the cover of their latest record, In Waves hovering above them. Matt “I’m really into food blogging right now” Heafy was dressed in a grey v-neck t-shirt, no doubt picked up at Abercrombie and Fitch in the Village - thankfully he wasn’t wearing his thick-rimmed glasses, cementing his hipsterism totally, his scant metal cred all but evaporated at this point (despite standing in front of us, playing metal tunes.) Trivium fans stepped towards the front, but the front pit had that essence of minimalism running through it too, I could stretch out with no problem as the venerable Corey Beaulieu (sporting jet-black long hair) crunched out the title track of their aforementioned new record while Heafy’s annoying strangulated screamo death vocals grated on our skulls. In the bleachers, a girl who looked absolutely exquisite in tight leather had choreographed her own sensual moves to all the songs - it was a good distraction when the band’s running speed slowed down to pedestrian.
Oh yes, there were two pits. In Australia, we have this stupefyingly ridiculous tradition of carving up standing room to make tickets that much more affordable, since we’re paying at least triple to what fans in the UK, Europe or the United States enjoy. The “premium” price could be paid to stand in the front enclosure while the poor saps in “steerage” peered on about half way backward, cordoned off with security guards pacing up and down their own demilitarized zone. It was like I was in first class and I could see, hear and smell economy if I turned my back for a second. It makes no sense.
At the front, however, Heafy passionately told us to “do whatever we like” and to “top Sydney” dishing up a varied selection of other metal cliches as he geared up for “Forsake Not the Dream” treading a thin line between modern metal and corporate rock - but after about three or four rousing choruses, you begin to figure out where their following lies - in those catchy, lush refrains. Trivium is like the primer to something harder, heavier and more complex. Their mish mash of Metallica meets 90s post-grunge giving a wink to (or in some cases like A Gunshot to the Head of Trepidation, totally ripping off) 2000s Swedish melodic death metal has the “veterans” amongst us up in arms while those who don’t know any better (or are content just as they are, god forbid) rather content with their lot. Scurrying across the empty stage once every so often (even disappearing completely at one point), Heafy and co. turned in a rather standard set despite some devastatingly heavy moments in the “rarity” Dusk Dismantle. Heafy, at least to me, looked like a boy desperately trying to prove that metal is cool and hip and with it; that it’s intellectual as well as for the every man. For fuck’s sake, just let metal be metal, dude.
What most metal bands save for the “super majors” like Iron Maiden or say, I dunno, Manowar can’t boast is a real, tangible community built up around it. I saw many maggots walk up to each other, embrace, trade battle stories and intimately converse as if they were life-long friends despite tyrannical distances between them tempered by forums, social media and Skype. Deena Weinstein could write a whole new chapter in her definitive cultural study about it if she wanted. Back inside the arena however, the excitement was palpable; buzzing, electric.
Curtains peeled back revealing the ouija board styled backdrop and a row of styilized “S” forged in steel, the stage marked with a veneer of insanity. Joey Jordison’s kit loomed large, as did the “custom percussion” of toms and beer kegs on each side of the stage - the front pit squashed to the limit with the most devoted of devotees. Funnily enough, a buddy used his phone to scan the barcode of another maggots’ boiler suit. It was all in good fun, but sadly nothing came up (though for some reason, I still knew that their barcode referred to the one found on their first EP - Mate.Feed.Kill.Repeat - which sounds rather Pattonesque if you ever manage to track down a copy.)
Howls tore through the arena as the the “S” in the centre was set ablaze, tension building as horror movie samples played...the band really knew how to make an entrance. Corey Taylor in his mask modeled on the one Jason Voorhees wore stared at us for a good five minutes as the entire audience descended into delirium, lapping up his “contempt” for us, flipping the crowd off before huge pyrotechnics literally blew up in front of us for their first song, (Sic).
Seriously, writing notes for this gig was probably as close as I’d ever get to real war correspondence. The moshpit thunderously swirled around, elbows and heads flailing about as if chaos and panic fled through the crowd. Shawn “Clown” Crahan beat his beer kegs with baseball bats realizing this was merely the first few minutes of this incredible spectacle of terror played out.
Slipknot “works” within the premise that the performance is total; it transcends the stage. Everyone is acting - you aren’t simply watching them, you too are part of the show. At work or home you’re a generic face in a crowd with an anonymous number to match, or whatever, but at a Slipknot show, you’re standing proud as one of the maggots, a twisted Slipknot acolyte who’s wilfully “rejected by society” existing solely so outsiders can shake their heads in disapproval.
Band and mosh alike just did not give one solitary shit - bruises, stomping and running battles with one another during Wait and Bleed punctuated by blasts of fire feeling like we were all marching to the drums of the army from hell. Arena lights went dark as a green glow covered us all, a lone “S” burning, piercing the still as Corey emerged solo for The Blister Exists. Guitars sounded low in the mix and the bulk of their solos were either shoehorned in and/or completely terrible.
But that - the music, I mean - wasn’t an important ingredient in a Slipknot show.
No one watches say, generic horror films for their production values and nuanced plots. They pay (or wait for the download to finish) to have the shit scared out of them. Insofar as Slipknot and their fans are concerned, what they pay for is a space through which to channel a destructive fury that resides behind our civilized selves in a wanton expression of mayhem.
A mammoth circle pit opened up for Pulse of the Maggots, the best sounding song of the night even though the guitarwork sounded patently horrendous. Corey was giving away “gifts” as if he was the insane heavy metal Oprah, playing the ballad (of sorts) Dead Memories. The drum tech had his work cut out for him as the Clown threw off his kegs for him to fetch, even clocking him one before hoisting himself above the stage on his ridiculous crane. The tech looked at him derisively, flipping him off. The Clown and DJ Starscream in long “demented Pinocchio” mask launched themselves into the crowd and did a “tour” of the bleachers, fans clamoring to get but a touch of their psycho-heroes in the flesh in a ferocious rendition of Psychosocial, really feeling the “pulse” of their amorphous sound that filled so many extreme music niches - “necro” rap, deathcore, breakneck electro - it was hard not to headbang along. Clown and Starscream invaded the back sections, maggots swarming around them, their tour at the stadium stopping as they leaped from the wings, serving as a distraction us from those fucking awful solos!
A massive black flag with a white, encircled “2” dropped on stage, the hall reverentially hushing down as Corey paid tribute to former bassist Paul Gray, tragically found dead after overdosing on opiates in a hotel room in 2010. Giving thanks for his presence and service, the guitarists played a lounge break - why? To fuck with us of course. Spit It Out lit the already volatile tinderbox in the mosh, igniting pyro again before retiring for two “encores” - the highlight People = Shit, sheer awe in seeing Joey Jordison’s rig rotate upward until he was drumming at vertical, fireworks blasting off in a hail of light and fury. Corey commanded his legion to crouch down and “jump the fuck up” in a paroxysm of concentrated energy, jumping around, horns raised while violently moshing until our last shreds of energy in Surfacing burned brightly and then away.
The show was stage managed as hell - anyone with scarcely an ounce of perception could figure that out. But that didn’t matter. For a band that entertaining, a performance “troupe” which could engender a real sense of fury and energy throughout over ninety minutes is to be commended. They’ve won awards - fucking Grammys - while “true” metalheads tut-tutted in disbelief. It wasn’t for their music - let’s get that straight. In their videos, they’re never shown just “playing the song (in a warehouse, probably.)” They’re giving you just a veiled abstraction of what their intense live show could feel like. Cynically (rather, realistically), that’s where the money is. But who cares? Slipknot put on an incredible piece of theatre. Don’t make the excuse that you’re yielding to marketing - you’re already a hypocrite reading from your Dell computer drinking a Carlsberg, probably the best beer in the world. Did you ever consider that buying into the hype might actually prove...enjoyable? If you’re a metal fan and haven’t caught the Slipknot arena spectacular yet; do it. If you still think Slipknot are stupid, shit or some combination thereof, then you’re just missing out.