MOUNTAIN VIEW — Back in 1999 it would seem insane to predict that nine jumpsuit-wearing maniacs from Iowa would tour America with Denmark’s groove metal export, French ultra-heavy environmentalists and Poland’s Satanic overlords. Twenty years later we found Slipknot kicking off its 13th iteration of Knotfest with Behemoth, Gojira and Volbeat at Shoreline Amphitheatre, proving once again that they can’t and won’t stop pushing themselves to put on the best metal shows of our time.
Slipknot’s cavalcade of insanity started with “515” off Iowa—famous for featuring recordings of DJ Sid Wilson literally having a nervous breakdown—before the curtain dropped on “People=Shit.” The fact families showed up to watch such a misanthropic spectacle of blast-beats and breakdowns showed how much the band has accomplished. The Maggots of the early 2000s have grown up and carried the legacy of good, violent fun to their children. And fun it certainly was, complete with constantly evolving imagery on the background screens and flaming baseball bats. The classic set-up with risers was present but the added human conveyer belts lended themselves to new onstage shenanigans.
The band’s energy hasn’t been this high since the Disasterpieces live DVD. Jay Weinberg and Alessandro Venturella have settled into their respective roles as drummer and bassist, as has the yet-unnamed replacement for ex-percussionist Chris Fehn. The new drummer is known as “Tortilla Man.” Perhaps because of his newbie status, he pulled no punches in his stage performance. Between his humorous interactions with Wilson and Shawn “Clown” Crahan, he brought back the head-banging intensity missing from choice moments like the “Disasterpiece” outro and the peg abuse at the end of “Sulfur.”
Slipknot knows how dedicated its fans are. Deep cuts like “Prosthetics” would seem like a risky inclusion for some, but even this genuinely horrifying industrial metal dirge got an enthusiastic response. Yes, hits like “Vermilion,” “Psychosocial” and “Devil In I” can’t be replaced—not to mention “All Out Life” and “Unsainted” from the upcoming album We Are Not Your Kind. But the fact Slipknot can still dig up obscurities is a testament to it exceeding establishment within modern metal.
Considering the band’s unorthodox lineup and wild stage performance, Slipknot’s cohesion and precision was astounding. Crahan and Tortilla Man provided surprising nuance to Weinberg’s grooves, while Wilson and sampler Craig Jones remained surprisingly present in the mix. Mick Thomson and Jim Root executed their riffs with cold precision while giving much more movement than in previous album cycles. What stood out the most was Corey Taylor’s voice, which sounds more powerful, emotive and diverse than ever before.
From the uninhibited impassioned cries of “Vermilion” to the screams of the closer “Surfacing,” Taylor’s push to adopt a healthier lifestyle brought new life to clean vocals while bringing his harsh notes back with a vengeance. It’s clear that Slipknot is approaching We Are Not Your Kind with a level of ferocity unheard of since the Iowa cycle. As one of heavy metal’s biggest bands, they continue to bring brutal metal to the masses. Every year Slipknot pulls this off as a middle finger to those who thought they were Ozzfest’s bad joke.
Slipknot was preceded by Volbeat.
“Did Behemoth steal your soul? Did Gojira rip your face off? Well, we like Johnny Cash,” Volbeat frontman Michael Poulsen said before jumping into a cover of “Sad Man’s Tongue.” The band fulfilled the dad rock quota for the evening. Accessible grooves, Metallica-worshipping riffs and classic rock flash won the day as these guys brought a more fun-loving counterpoint to the darker approach of the other bands.
Volbeat itself was all smiles throughout the set, even during the most gnarly half-time sections. The band’s bread and butter comes from writing music that just feels good. Have you heard riffs similar to these? Probably. Does it matter? Not unless you don’t like headbanging, shaking your booty and generally having a good time.
From the moment Jean-Michel Labadie played a note on his bass, Gojira was set to deliver the most crushing performance of the evening. The band members might be environmentalists at heart but their music may as well be an atom bomb. Opening with the harmonized two-hand-tapping of “Oroborus,” vocalist and rhythm guitarist Joe Duplantier and lead guitarist Christian Andreu showed off their natural chemistry—which melded alongside percussive powerhouse Mario Duplantier.
The grooves Gojira implemented were indomitable, with each instrument uniting into a juggernaut to low end rage. Mind you, there was still incredible musicality to be found even with the added noise of an outdoor venue. This band approached heaviness like a science while leaving room for compelling riffs and even a bit of atmosphere.
Ironically, the first band to take the stage would have benefited the most from the night. As Poland’s biggest underground band, Behemoth was tasked with braving every black band’s worst nightmare—sunlight. Yes, it is hard to suspend your disbelief when Nergal and company took the stage in skeletal, ritualistic masks before revealing their signature corpse paint. What got them over in a less-than-easy situation was their music—some of the best blackened death metal ever created.
Having released a solid followup to a standard-setting album last year, the band adequately delved into both albums while leaving room for some old favorites. Behemoth’s technical, abrasive style often becomes lost in translation when put in a large amphitheater. The fact the band’s eerie melodies and hyper-speed drum fills were clearly audible had just as much to do with their tightness as it did with the great live mix. It’s not easy to take a person seriously when he takes the stage in what seems to be a Satanic pope outfit, but Behemoth’s earnest devotion to the lefthand path and decimating music made it an early shot of adrenaline on a night full of ruthless aggression.