They are the stuff of nightmares.
Nine men with faces obscured by sinister masks. Their sound explodes from the stage with growls and screams, and wails. They fling themselves around the stage aggressively, like worship leaders for a congregation screaming its pain, grief, rage, and confusion at the heavens. In this godforsaken scene, they are partaking in a strange communion. The stage leaders lead the crowd to remember the worst of their struggles; alienation, depression, and despair. They give voice to the worst and darkest impulses and anxieties that linger in the human heart and share them. Whether that communion will lead to some redemption seems questionable at best.
The band is Slipknot, and the scene is every concert venue they have played since they first emerged from the cornfields of Iowa more than two decades ago. So no one is more surprised than they are that they just released their sixth album.
It takes moxie to light yourself on fire – sometimes literally – for more than 20 years, and Slipknot has it. Here’s how:
It takes moxie to seek fame by staying anonymous.
For most performers, part of the allure of performing is being seen, being recognized, and becoming famous. They want to see their name in light and their face on the screen.
Not so for Slipknot. From the earliest iterations of the band, the performers have obscured their identity with masks. They also wore uniforms, each assigned a number from 0 to 8. The scheme is both a statement on individuality and commercialization and a device that gives performers the freedom to express themselves.
“That mask for me has always been a physical representation of the person inside me who never had a voice,” said number 8, Corey Taylor, in an interview with Rolling Stone.
The masks and uniforms have become a vital part of the performance. They are as much a part of the presentation as the lyrics being sung or the notes being played. They send necessary signals to the audience and serve to underscore the band’s messages.
As a bonus, the masks offer band members some degree of anonymity and allow them to carry on with everyday life without being readily recognizable.
It takes moxie to bare your soul.
Like many artists in the metal genre, Slipknot has given voice to the disaffected and the alienated. However, they don’t explore safe themes in safe ways – not many love songs here – but big, dark, complicated emotions.
For the latest album, “We Are Not Your Kind,” singer Corey Taylor delved deeply into the personal to create a shared experience.
“Even though this album is deeply personal, dealing with a lot of the s— that I went through a few years ago — the last four or five years of my prior relationship and dealing with that toxicity — the album is a kind of rallying cry about getting people to let go of the anxiety, of the fear and hiding in the shadows, of being different, of being allowed to feel like themselves, and coming together in a place that Slipknot built to ensure that they could feel good about who they are,” said Taylor in an interview with Vulture. “In many ways, that’s a reflection of what I was writing about, getting away from a situation where I felt like I couldn’t be myself and coming back to a place that felt familiar but was completely foreign.”
Taylor and other members of Slipknot have been transparent about their struggles with depression, substance abuse, and relationships. As a result, their lyrics and style feel painfully raw and honest.
They might mask their faces, but the men of Slipknot don’t mask their feelings. If anything, they use those masks as a device to set themselves free.
It takes moxie to persevere after a tragedy.
As with far too many rock bands – and far too many of the rest of us – Slipknot has experienced profound loss. On May 24, 2010, bassist Paul Gray died in a hotel room due to an overdose. The shocking loss shook the band to its core.
But they channeled their grief into their album.5 The Grey Chapter, which was released in 2014. The album’s songs are infused with references to Gray, who had been a founding member of the band.
Nearly ten years after the loss of Gray, the band continues. That takes moxie.
What would you ask the guys from Slipknot if you had the chance?