Albums do not come more menacing than Slipknot’s 1999 self-titled debut album. To understand why the record is so important, it’s essential to analyze it in context with the music that was being made around the scene at the time. In 1999, Korn and Limp Bizkit ruled the nu-metal roost. Linkin Park was a year away from exploding. Deftones had already started to turn away from the genre, but there was still room for more bands to enter the fray. The genre was a massive commercial success, with any rap-metal knockoff pretty easily getting a major label deal – remember when this happened with glam metal and then grunge? Same. As our friend Holiday Kirk noted, after the year 2000, most bands were lucky to get a sophomore album. You can thank fast-selling debut albums like Hybrid Theory, Infest, The Sickness, and especially Slipknot for causing record labels to stop developing those bands instead of giving them at least two records to achieve success. Maybe things would’ve been at least slightly different for bands like American Head Charge and even TrustCompany, who both shined on their breakout albums (the former on their sophomore effort produced by Rick Rubin, the latter went Gold). But that’s not Slipknot’s fault – after years of toiling in the Iowa underground, their big break had arrived thanks to producer Ross Robinson.
Let’s get this out of the way quickly: the first six songs (including the intro) are absolute classics, pushed to the front of the record in sequential track listing for maximum effect. And it takes Slipknot just 37 seconds to establish the sort of sound they’re going for here – that’s 36 seconds of an unsettling electronic intro and the first second of “(sic)”. Unlike later Slipknot albums, just about every song on here has a quality that will grab your attention immediately (instead of, say, 30 seconds into the song). Massive single “Wait And Bleed” accomplishes this out of the gate, with the iconic guitar riff and melodic chorus that almost immediately pulls a 180, establishing the fact that Slipknot would also write killer choruses. It also has a number of similarities with Linkin Park’s “One Step Closer”, believe it or not. The latter is just 10 seconds longer, with both tracks serving as the breakout singles for each. They became arguably the band’s biggest early hits as well as live staples, and showed that they could both pack in accessible material for the masses in even less than 3 minutes. Kinda follows Blur’s “Song 2” formula, where adding 30-60 seconds might not have made these songs quite as effective.
On their debut full-length album, Slipknot immediately established many of the buzzwords associated with their music – musical intensity, a nihilistic atmosphere, and an unsettling collage of sounds overall. If their goal was to force everyone to pay attention to their attention-grabbing live show and also bang their collective heads doing it, it’s clear Corey Taylor and company did so with flying colors. One of nu-metal’s most percussive bands (and albums overall), it’s a Joey Jordison clinic that shows the late legendary drummer flying all over with a flurry of destructive fills. “Surfacing” rings out like an alarm to the head, replete with the requisite turntable scratches and enough profanity and rage from vocalist Corey Taylor to kill a horse. Do you like bounce riffs? A ridiculous amount of profanity that would make any normie blush? DJ scratches and unsettling electronic influences? This is the ONE, baby.
For having a staggering nine members in the band, it’s shocking nobody really gets lost in the shuffle. Percussion, Sid Wilson and Craig Jones’ unsettling DJ, electronic, and keyboard samples, the late Paul Gray’s bass, and especially the guitars all have a place throughout the record. And unlike almost every other album in the genre at the time, Slipknot was not a record that entertained any notion of pop accessibility. Actually, scratch that – it does appear, however briefly, on the deceptively catchy “Wait And Bleed” and in the chorus of the incendiary “Spit It Out”. The extended melodies and hip-hop flow on “No Life” are also pretty notable for how the former would appear in greater detail on future records and singles (“Duality”, “Left Behind”). But there really isn’t much in the way of actual singing here – only rage, both directionally inward and outward.
“Prosthetics” might well be the track that carries prominently all the band’s influences – and their individual contributions. Extensive percussion? Check. A slow build-up that explodes near the end as Corey Taylor seems convincingly unhinged and insane? Yes. It’s a song that keeps taking left turns and when you realize what eventually comes next, the effect is even greater. Tracks like this and the ambitious, 8+ minute long “Scissors” that showed Slipknot could expand their songwriting into something you’d call, perhaps…progressive? It sounds strange to label these kinds of songs with that tagline, but it’s not a misnomer either. And not simply because of their length compared to most of the 3-minute tracks here, either. They both encapsulate the intense kinds of pressure Slipknot were under when it came to establishing an identity for themselves – and introducing them to a world who had never heard them before.
Full of the kinds of moments that would create intense notoriety for the band both onstage and off it, Slipknot’s self-titled debut album set the stage for an explosive career to come. And there’s no doubt that Slipknot became a household name because of the word-of-mouth that surrounded it.