I’m the first to admit that I haven’t always listened to the best music in my life. My first CD purchase was 14:59 by Sugar Ray, the one with all those singles you could still sing along to if you’re approaching your thirties like I am. I also won’t deny that I own two albums by Matchbox 20, one by Semisonic, and that I once paid money to see 3 Doors Down in concert.
Halfway through high school, I moved away from all friends and family, and while packing to leave everything I’d ever known behind, I happened to hear the song Schism by Tool during its first week on the radio. Upon reaching my new home, one of the first things I did was pick up a copy of Hit Parader with an article about Tool in it. The internet wasn’t very interested in music yet in 2001, what with Napster on its way down, BitTorrent completely brand new, and YouTube still four years away.
Anyway. So Hit Parader is talking about Tool, but also the upcoming albums by System Of A Down and Slipknot. I didn’t know who the hell these bands were, but a few hours of downloading on Napster later that night and I had three terrible-quality songs I could listen to, to kind of suss out amongst the static and loss what I could expect from these bands.
Now, we’re not here to talk about Toxicity and the unfortunate downward spiral SOAD took afterward, before Serj Tankian started singing about the Armenian genocide over Godspeed You! Black Emperor songs (or whatever the hell he’s doing now). It might be worth pointing out, though, that my own interest in politically/socially-charged music like SOAD took a similar downturn in the following years. Maybe it was just part of growing up.
Iowa found me in the middle of rural Wisconsin, a place I’d only ever visited in the warm, inviting summers, at the outset of autumn, as the fields are cleared, the trees fall bare, and the temperatures plummet. Iowa found me in the violent throes of puberty, surrounded by strangers who weren’t interested in the same things that I was, too busy learning peoples’ names to figure out what the hell was going on in my body. And that all kinda sums up what Iowa was: I’m in the middle of nowhere, and it sucks, and there’s nothing to do and I don’t know what to do but fuck you stop telling me what to do.
Fast forward. MySpace music happens, out of which Dragonforce happens; bands begin embracing the internet as a positive vehicle for their music, getting over what I’ve just now decided to call the Metallica Complex; that knee-jerk reaction of I suddenly can’t control how you’re getting my music, and maybe this means you won’t pay me for it, and that scares the hell out of me. BitTorrent begins to spread, and Youtube similarly explodes. Facebook begins drawing everybody else to computers, and now it’s the future and we’re all just internet people. Spotify has 99% of all the music I’ve ever wanted to hear in my life (making me far less of a weird-taste elitist than I thought I was), so for $10 a month I can hear new albums the second they go on sale.
Bringing us back to Slipknot. If you’re remotely interested in the band, you already know the story: bassist died, Corey sad, new “mystery” members, big emotionally charged album. Google it. I didn’t think I’d care, my metal tastes having gone more extreme, my general tastes having become much less so. I’ve spent most of the last week digging Modal Soul by Nujabes, the now-deceased DJ whose work you’ve hopefully heard in every episode of Samurai Champloo. The Subliminal Verses underwhelmed me, though Pulse Of The Maggots and Duality are pretty cool songs, and after that I just stopped caring about Slipknot, just like I stopped wearing Tool shirts (lie), just like I stopped writing poetry every night (lie, though the tone has changed (lie, somewhat)), just like I stopped dreaming about true love (lie(lie(lie))).
This is definitely Slipknot I’m listening to right now. They’re not just here to say Fuck You, though there are more than one of those moments in here. This is also not just the much-hyped postmortem tribute to the tragic death of their friend, though arguably every song on the album brings up that spectre. What I’m hearing is a group of guys who have grown up together over about the same time frame that I’ve grown up; they’re not broke and bored and stuck in Iowa anymore, just like I’m not broke and bored and stuck in Wisconsin anymore. They’ve moved on, realized some dreams, lost some brothers along the way.
The Gray Chapter sounds to me like an old friend calling you up to say, hey, remember Paul from high school? And you chat, and reminisce, and while you’re sad that a part of your childhood died, you reconnect with that person through the ones still living, you reconnect with your youth, when things weren’t as bad as you maybe thought they were at the time.
There are some great tracks here, some things I don’t expect to hear when I put on a Slipknot album, and there are some songs that don’t sound out of place dropped into the middle of Iowa. I’m not going to give you a track by track breakdown, because you can find that elsewhere, and I generally hate those anyway. If you care about the album, you’ve probably already heard it, as it’s been streaming on Slipknot’s website since yesterday morning, and it leaked via file hosting website and BitTorrent about a week ago.
I’m here to tell the rest of you that, if you had a stormy adolescence full of slamming beers and listening to metal while agreeing with your friends that life sucks, and you’re not opposed to a bit of gray-tinged (sorry) nostalgia, The Gray Chapter is a decent way to spend an hour. Four Mikeys out of five.
Somewhere in Chicago
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.