Okay, fine: They’ve always been a bunch of guys in masks and jumpsuits singing about humanity’s demons and impending death. But the music still stacks up against much of the best metal released in the last three decades, and Slipknot remain as one of the most unforgettable live acts in rock today.
You need further convincing? Allow us to change your mind.
10. “Unsainted” (We Are Not Your Kind, 2019)
Let’s begin with the band’s latest single, the addictive hellraiser “Unsainted,” which returns fans to the Slipknot’s patented merger of anthemic choruses rising from verses that hit like a ton of bricks. While “All Out Life” (we’ll get to that tune in a moment) was the first new song to usher in this latest album cycle upon its Halloween 2018 release, “Unsainted” is nearly as effective as a reintroduction. It's surely more radio-friendly, too, bolstered by a high-flying choir to neatly contrast Jim Root and Mick Thomson’s incendiary guitars and drummer Jay Weinberg’s double bass.
9. “Scissors” (Slipknot, 1999)
Many fans, lovingly called “Maggots,” will argue stranger is better when it comes to Slipknot, and it doesn’t get much more unhinged than “Scissors,” the macabre, 19-minute opus that finishes off the group’s indelible debut. Technically, “Scissors” comprises only about eight minutes of the recording, which then features about five minutes of silence before the band is heard having a conversation while watching a graphic porno, followed by a secret song called “Eeyore,” which, in turn, has become a fan favorite.
The main track keeps the listener uncomfortable as Taylor muses about “playing doctor” and seeing someone splayed open -- whether he’s discussing self-mutilation, dismembering someone else, or both, is never truly revealed. As Slipknot hurtles along, its first fans wondered just how far this manic new band would push their hellish universe, and “Scissors” takes us right to the edge, peering down into the psychotic abyss. Needless to say, it kicks ass.
8. “Sulfur” (All Hope Is Gone, 2008)
The best part of “Sulfur,” the propulsive fourth single off All Hope Is Gone, is the presence of restraint, particularly in the chorus. Whoever decided that Taylor’s searing vocal would cut off in the middle of the hook, allowing that guttural, syncopated guitar part to earn its momentary spotlight, deserves a pat on the back, or maybe a ticket to the Museum of the Weird. The band has said on record that Gone is their least-favorite record -- largely due to the rushed production schedule and their dissatisfaction with producer Dave Fortman -- but there’s plenty that holds up, especially this electrifying jam written by Root and ex-drummer Joey Jordison. For those who lost track of Slipknot after the early ‘00s, this is a killer hard-rock track to get you back on the hellbound train.
7. “All Out Life” (Non-album single, 2018)
“Old does not mean dead! New does not mean best!” Taylor fervently shouts on “All Out Life,” a bazooka of a statement single that announced Slipknot’s return to the heavy-metal fold last fall and is surely referencing how freaking hard the band still hits, even after two decades in the spotlight. It’s a bold, thrashing tune, and a bolder move by Slipknot to have chosen to omit “All Out Life” -- perhaps the most arresting song from the new cycle -- from the album itself, especially considering it scream-chants the album title, "We are not your kind," in its bridge. But wherever it appears, “All Out Life” is bulletproof in the Slipknot canon, from Taylor’s frenetic performance to the scratchy lead guitar that doles new texture. (And if you listen closely you can definitely hear the familiar sound of Shawn “Clown” Crahan hitting a keg drum -- or something metallic -- with a baseball bat.)
6. “The Devil in I” (.5: The Gray Chapter, 2014)
Before diving into “The Devil in I,” a quick proclamation: the three-times-Grammy-nominated .5: The Gray Chapter deserves to be recognized as one of the decade’s best hard-rock/mainstream metal albums. The band continues to soldier through and deliver razor-sharp recordings -- Gray was the first album after both the death of founding bassist Paul Gray in 2010 and the departure of founding drummer Jordison in 2013 -- and “The Devil in I” is a banner example of how the band has reshaped itself without disposing of its hectic core. Here, the sung verses are somewhat subdued before unleashing the doom-like chorus and its titanic melodic descent. The tune sizzles before the full blaze of its blast-beat bridge seals the deal, on a clear highlight from an album that absolutely shreds.
5. “Vermilion Pt. 2” (Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses), 2004)
What’s that, a cello in a Slipknot song? You bet your ass! As further showcased in his later band Stone Sour, Taylor has the dynamic vocal range to pull off an acoustic number with ease, and in “Vermilion Pt. 2” -- now recognized as the quintessential Slipknot ballad -- he sings softly for a change, warbling through the troubled psyche of a desperate, jealous lover. The song, written by Paul and Jordison, remains an indelible moment in many of the band’s live performances, taking a step back from all the sonic bedlam for a tune that smolders in its simplicity. A quick shout-out to the song’s first half, the far-heavier “Vermilion,” which appears earlier on the album, is warranted here as well.
4. “Psychosocial” (All Hope Is Gone, 2008)
“Psychosocial” is a total crowd-pleaser with its “and the rain will kill us all” mega-hook and raging verses, but it’s a pair of instrumental performances that truly define this Grammy-nominated single. First, the second chorus bleeds into a speed-of-light guitar solo from Root, which in turn gives way to Jordison’s almost militant drum break, which rips the tune from its 4/4 comforts and plunges it into uber-technical math rock. “Psychosocial” was another Jordison and Paul instrumental co-write, with Taylor adding the memorable lyrics -- if you ever need something to yell as you quit your job, just scream the song’s opening declaration: “I did my time and I want out!”
3. “Before I Forget" (Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses), 2004)
Listen, there’s no shame in admitting you were late to the Slipknot party and didn’t latch onto the band until you yourself started shredding “Before I Forget” in Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock in 2007. Consequently, this galloping ghoul -- which won the band its only Grammy Award to date, for best metal performance in 2006 -- is the song many fans know best, from the trigger-finger riff and razored chorus to the more atmospheric bridge, which almost feels like a totally different tune. A few fun facts on this Slipknot staple: the song’s main riff is swiped from a 1996 demo called “Carve,” which never made the band’s ‘99 debut. And as for that huge hook that pretty much every metal fan now knows? While working on Vol. 3, celebrity producer Rick Rubin reportedly argued with Taylor that the start-and-stop pace was “dumb” and would never work. Good one, Mr. Rubin.
2. “Wait and Bleed" (Slipknot, 1999)
Ah, the song that started it all. “Wait and Bleed” was the first single from the first album, the first Slipknot song to gain traction on rock radio, the true introduction for most lifelong fans into the band’s crimson-coated realm of calamity. Taylor’s famed chorus is hypnotic, wedged tightly between the screamed verses that announced to the rock world: get used to us, we’re not going anywhere. The song’s lyrics address humanity’s thin veil between civility and animalistic tendencies -- hence “I've felt the hate rise up in me” -- but again, “Wait and Bleed” has meant so much more to Slipknot and its fans, many of whom would’ve first discovered the group slamming through sweaty afternoon parking lot sets at OzzFest ‘99, their first major tour.
1. “Duality” (Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses), 2004)
It’s no contest. “Duality” is from another damn planet -- one of the most galvanizing hard-rock anthems of the last 20 years -- and unquestionably the greatest Slipknot song of all time. For further proof, we beseech you, please watch this live performance of the song being performed at the 2009 Download festival in the U.K. If it doesn’t give you chills, check your pulse. The song’s build, from Taylor’s whispers into full-on seething immensity, is a thing to behold, and while we poked fun at Rubin’s judgement on “Before I Forget,” whatever additional shepherding he provided for “Duality” to give it that transcendent edge is worthy of recognition here. But truly, this is a full-band production, loaded with chugging grindcore guitars, explosive percussion, exciting keyboards and more. “Duality” is Slipknot with the barrels full, ready to unload on crowds across the U.S. this summer and remind everyone of their endowment as one of the most astounding -- and genuinely unique -- rock acts of the 21st Century. Long live these agents of sonic chaos.