To be fair, no one could expect Slipknot’s sixth album to reach Iowa levels of heavy. Iowa, released in 2001, began with DJ Sid Wilson having a nervous breakdown and ended with frontman Corey Taylor stripping naked and cutting himself with broken glass—a headspace the Midwestern band left behind for the better.
Following the death of bassist Paul Gray and the departure of drummer Joey Jordison, 2014’s .5: The Gray Chapter tested the waters for a new Slipknot. Having recalibrated and refocused, the band dives head-first into new territory. We Are Not Your Kind does sport its share of Iowa-esque brutality, but its forward-thinking approach embraces a new era for the nine madmen.
“Unsainted” features a Stone-Sour-esque chorus but the rest brings unprecedented aggression through Jay Weinberg’s bludgeoning beat and Jim Root and Mick Thomson’s gnarly guitar riffs. The metallic clang of keg drums and the kettle drums’ low-end thud take more precedence in the mix, courtesy of Shawn “Clown” Crahan—and presumably Chris Fehn, before his firing.
What’s really impressive is how tastefully Wilson’s turntable effects fit into the breakdown, proving metal bands with DJs aren’t just ‘90s relics. Many have joked about Slipknot’s large lineup being unnecessary but this track hints at how We Are Not Your Kind incorporates every facet of this eclectic ensemble.
Closing cut and second single “Solway Birth” steals your soul with an ominous intro before dashing it against guttural vocals and unrelenting riffs. While it sports some melodic riffage in line with 2008’s All Hope is Gone, Taylor’s frenzied vocal performance and unrelenting percussion drag the song deeper into the pits of hell. His screams carry that balance of pain and anger largely absent after the Iowa cycle. The final breakdown alone makes it the heaviest cut on the record, but the songs in between also impress.
The multilayered rhythms and dissonant guitar lines at the start of “Birth of the Cruel” build to a bulldozing groove as Wilson’s DJ scratches take on a harsher, noisier timbre. At times it sounds more like metallic hardcore than nu-metal, evoking cuts like “Virus of Life” and “Diluted” in its hateful abandon while retaining Taylor’s expanded vocal range. Whether its because of his recent divorce or something deeper, his angry side hasn’t been this menacing in over a decade.
Longtime fans will recognize the destructive madness of uptempo numbers like “Red Flag.” Slipknot isn’t exactly famous for technicality, preferring devious catchiness and bared-teeth intensity. This album’s aggression can be felt as well as heard but Slipknot’s musical development remains central. “Orphan” locsk into a detuned double-bass barrage reminiscent of “Heretic Anthem,” but Root and Thompson spice things up with some anthemic leads alongside dramatic half-time beat changes.
Weinberg’s presence is more prominent throughout We Are Not Your Kind. On “Nero Forte,” he whacks the band through jagged syncopation, chunky chugs and a snare-driven breakdown similar to “Psychosocial.” Taylor tops the song off with falsetto singing and his classic scream-rapping. Slipknot makes a point of expanding its arrangements, like the organ-like synths underlying the chorus of “Critical Darling.” That song’s arrangement proves to be impressively robust, morphing the concussive chaos from massive bounce riffs to three-count tremolo-picked riffage—not to mention some spectral synth-scapes. These crowd-pleasing mosh anthems feel fresh and engaging—hinting at the major curve-balls.
Atmosphere plays a crucial role on We Are Not Your Kind, largely thanks to oft-overlooked sampler and keyboardist Craig Jones. The silent pinhead’s plunderphonic textures shine on the eerie industrial intro “Insert Coin,” hypnotic percussion and processed vocals of “Death Because of Death” and on acoustic interlude “What’s Next.” The nearly seven-minute “My Pain” is bookended by synthetic dissonance and warped beats, boldly expanding Slipknot’s gloomy, anguished side into lovesick drone music. The band’s attention to minutia makes for an immersive album, setting up deeper cuts for twists and turns.
The hauntingly dynamic “A Liar’s Funeral” begins with acoustic guitar chords, but quickly bucks alt-metal trends. The tender beginning only builds tension before dropping into dirge-like quarter-note riffing. Whether voice or guitar carries the melody, a melancholic vibe overarches the song’s numerous movements. Taylor wears his brooding heart on his sleeve with demonic growls and passionate crooning, inflating the unique arrangement rather than normalizing it. In this way, Slipknot’s melodic side retains a threatening austerity.
Taylor’s adaptable voice takes on a creepy baratone for the album’s strangest track, “Spiders.” Weinberg’s seven-count beat and Jones’ gothic piano arpeggios border on ’90s industrial rock—certainly the farthest outside the norm Slipknot has ventured. Alex “V-Man” Venturella’s bass also makes stronger contribution to the syncopated groove, an encouraging sign that he’s settling into Gray’s shoes. It may send old-schoolers running, but this experimentalism makes We Are Not Your Kind more than just another Slipknot album.
The combination of ambience, progression and beatdowns reaches critical mass on the apocalyptic “Not Long For This World.” Its ritualistic percussion and ominous soundscapes recall fan favorites like “Iowa” and “Gently” before giving way to a rapturous chorus in line with “Snuff” and “Vermillion.” Taylor’s voice succeeds in the most punishing and accessible environments, breaking hearts with his melodies before his tortured screams support some ground-and-pound riffs.
We Are Not Your Kind takes Slipknot out from under the shadow of its past. Where its predecessor exists as an admirable grieving process, this album sees a revitalized band rise to the occasion. Even after three member changes, Slipknot reinstates itself as one of modern metal’s most unique bands. This album’s metallic rampages absolutely obliterate, but it also breaks new ground for a band over 20 years into its career.