Has it really been 6 years since Slipknot has released a record? I guess that makes sense but even in their hiatus, so much has happened with the band that kept them in the headlines on music sites around the internet that time has seemed to fly since the Des Moines nine have put out new material. Side projects, ousted band members, threats of a breakup, and the death of their bassist and key component to creative input have been much of Slipknot’s story since the release of All Hope Is Gone. Taking the time to breathe and mourn their fallen comrade, Paul Gray, has allowed the band to return to writing and finalize the grieving process. It’s only appropriate that their 5th album since 1999 is titled .5 – The Gray Chapter.

Slipknot, while their feet are firmly planted in the nu-metal world, has always done things bigger and better. They’ve been successfully able to incorporate elements of death, groove, and thrash metal to distance themselves from other nu-metal titans such as Korn and Limp Bizkit. With each album, the band experimented with their sounds and matured as song writers. While the foundation is still there, the band today is much different than their immature selves from the days of the self-titled record. When I reviewed All Hope Is Gone many moons ago, I praised the record as a culmination. The band seemed to learn from all their previous records and borrowed a lot of what made each individual record the best and compiled those ideas on one outing. In many ways, I still feel that way about that record but the initial shock of the album has since worn off. While the band did in fact put out a record that sound like the sum of all previous parts, it has since removed itself from being an album I can just put on and let ride from start to finish. It’s pretty much the only Slipknot album I can’t just let it be. Going into The Gray Chapter, I really didn’t know what to expect. If I felt that All Hope Is Gone was the best the band could offer in terms of song writing and capturing their entire career in one record and even that has lost its edge, I didn’t know how anything new, especially 6 years removed and down 2 key members was going to stand up.

It’s kind of amazing how a little regression can prove to be a huge step in the right direction. If I were to jump right to the point, I’d say this is the album that should have come out between Iowa and Vol. 3 – The Subliminal Verses. Due to the subject matter of addressing the death of Paul Gray, there is a dark and somber feel to the record that is similar to Iowa, the more mature song writing nature of Vol. 3 takes center stage, and there is even some of that ultra-anger from the first album that rears its ugly head. The biggest question was how was it going to sound sans Joey Jordison, who’s drumming was a very signature staple of their overall sound and would their song writing change without Gray’s creative input. Both have seemed to have been answered with positive results. While new drummer, Jay Weinberg is not Jordison and doesn’t have the metal background in his resume, he really holds his own on this record and his drumming style, while mimics Jordison’s performance on the self-titled at times, brings something fresh to the Slipknot sound. While he can be flashy at times, he has a more straight forward approach and it allows the rest of the elements to get their chance to shine. New bassist, Alessandro Venturella, slips comfortably in filling the big shoes that Gray left. He even gets a few moments to take center stage himself as his bass lines are critical in creating an atmosphere, most notably in the song Killpop, which combined with the drumming and atmospheric guitar background gives off a Careless Whisper vibe for the quieter parts of the song.

One noticeable difference I have found with this record than anything previous is a new take on the production. With all the previous albums, unless there was a solo for them, you rarely heard any of the non-traditional instruments. The turntable, while definitely there, was always in the background, the samples were minimal, and the percussionists were almost non-existent. Returning to work with Greg Fidelman, who previously worked with the band for Vol. 3 – The Subliminal Verses, was just the familiar face the band needed. Using his previous knowledge of the band, he was able to capture all nine members equally for this outing. It definitely took me off guard when the first real song, Sarcastrophe, kicks in because drumming just sounds off. It takes a second to realize that you are finally hearing Chris Fenn and Shawn Crahan do their work. Fidelman leveled out Sid Wilson’s scratching and Craig Jones’ sampling to the point that it would change the song completely if they were left out. That was something that was never able to be said on any of the previous records.

If you’ve paid attention to any of my other reviews, I’ve maintained the stance that I believe an album should be a bit of journey. The lyrics don’t necessarily have to coincide with each other but I want to feel like the music has told some sort of story. With The Gray Matter, Slipknot definitely tells their story as the albums progresses like a physical representation of the grieving process. While only two songs specifically address the death of Paul Gray, the fury driven Skeptic and the somber laden Goodbye, the album maintains the theme of depression and releasing of anger from start to finish. The album never lets that signature Slipknot temper never lasts for more than 2 songs at a time before it’s interrupted with something slower and more depressive. This record captures the emotional trek that a band went through in dealing with their feelings and forging on without their fallen friend.

With all that has happened to the band since they last graced us with new music, Slipknot has found a way to carry on and even reinvent themselves in many ways. Diehard fans can rest assured that what they’ve grown to love about Slipknot remains prevalent as ever but with new members and time to rest on writing, new sounds have been brought to the table to not allow them to remain stagnant. Slipknot is definitely back and just as good, if not, better than ever.