Revisiting Slipknot’s Monstrous Self-Titled Album 20 Years Later
Being a preteen from central Illinois at the time, Slipknot’s self-titled album spoke to me. It was the first album and band that I truly found on my own, which is an incredibly important moment of music discovery for me. This album changed my life, straight up. Released by Roadrunner Records on June 29, 1999 when I was nine years old and forever changing my music consumption and simultaneously my life trajectory. Nothing sounded or looked as extreme as Slipknot at the time and, to this day, the album resonates with me in some ways that it did and some that didn’t back then.
My father is to blame for my music taste. He fostered it from an early age, buying me CDs galore from “Buy-One-Get-12-Free” catalogs that were sent to the house (if you don’t remember this insane deal BMG would do, look it up). Some of my earliest memories of listening to music in his truck include The Cranberries’ seminal Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? and Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill on cassette before CDs became the common consumption.
My taste grew into its own through this mail order catalog, he would let me order half the batch of 12. I remember having a slew of CDs popular at the time, most of them being albums that I liked singles off of, but ending up enjoying the entire thing after delving into everything the band had to offer. From Green Day’s Dookie to Hanson’s Middle of Nowhere, my music taste was heavily shaped by radio, MTV, and my older sister.
By the late 90s, I was slowly being pulled in two directions. I was a huge fan of pop at the time when I was about 8 years old. I remember being super into Hanson, I even had a few CD singles from N’SYNC too, but something was bubbling under the surface that was ripe for explosion. By 1998 Korn’s Follow the Leader had come out and “Freak on a Leash” was all over the radio. I didn’t know what this kind of music was called but it was strangely attracting me — something that you could move to, that had a certain groove but was heavy at the same time. I remember Limp Bizkit hitting and Kid Rock and these were all things I was into via radio, but at the same time I remember getting Blink 182’s Dude Ranch as well, so I was not fully enveloped quite yet.
By the time I actually discovered Slipknot’s seminal, genre-mashing self-titled album it had been out for a couple years, as I vividly remember picking it up on a trip visiting family in Jarquez, Mexico in the summer of 2001. I want to say it was late July; a time before 9/11 when we simply walked across the border, right before their sophomore album, Iowa, had come out. The perfect “calm before the storm,” so to speak. I picked up the album through my dad at a flea market and, coincidentally, my grandpa had also bought me an acoustic guitar during this trip, even though I didn’t know how to play guitar at the time. I’m not sure if this is exclusive to me, but a lot of childhood vacations are closely tied to one specific album to me…my dad would buy me a CD at the start of the vacation and it wouldn’t ever leave my Discman during the duration of the trip. And, as oldtimer as it might sound, this was clearly before streaming or .mp3 players, so this trip I had Slipknot’s self-titled and that was it, so it was essentially on repeat for a week.
Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be involved with music somehow. I used to make my cousins be in “my band” at the time and we’d have everything from song titles, mock concerts, album art, and a band name — everything but a single note of music. I was too young to have learned or played any music and I guess my answer was never “music” when someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, but it’s that thing that’s always been there. Neither your parents or school or society will ever tell you that being a musician or being in a band is an acceptable answer when choosing a profession. It’s always “a lot of work” or “you know how many people want to be in a band?” Look at any band that has made it: they worked for it. Who knew that nine fucking freaks from Nowhere, Iowa would become one of the largest metal bands in history? To me, that’s inspiring to this day. The second I was able to learn an instrument (violin in 4th grade) I signed up. Anything I could get my hands on, I wanted to be a part of, before even knowing or wanting to learn or play the guitar.
The second I hit play on this album I knew it was special. I can’t recall if I was familiar with some of the singles off this album, but prior to discovering Slipknot audibly, my friend Kyle and I had talked about wanting to get into this band. He had an older brother who wore Slipknot shirts to school. Him being an 8th grader and us being in 5th grade, that style just seemed so cool to both of us. Their imagery and shirt designs just spoke a certain “DON’T FUCKING TALK TO ME” that innately fascinated my 11-year-old mind. I always knew that I was different from the rest of the general population of my school (at the time it was almost like I wanted to be different); a complete rejection of normalcy. This band was the perfect embodiment of that ideology.
I remember being so struck by this album’s production and immediately, like the flip of a lightswitch, I knew that this is what I was looking for without ever knowing that I was missing it. The attitude, the sound, the image…it said everything I was feeling and couldn’t have hit at a more perfect time for me. It was simultaneous, it was me against the world with this as my soundtrack. A fuck you to anyone and everyone; I am different and I don’t give a fuck. It was empowering, and all of this being still on this family trip, totally immediate. It gave face to literally everything I was feeling or wanting to express without knowing how to. Returning to 6th grade in a few weeks would bring quite the change. I was hated, different, and proud.
Let’s delve into the original tracklisting, track by track, because 20 years later this album still absolutely rips:
Sampling a clip from a documentary about the Manson Family murders, this was my first time hearing noise without realizing it. The perfect unsettling tone to the rest of the album, I realize now that Slipknot had a subconscious influence not only preparing me for a future of listening to noise, but also making it.
This is the song that started it all for me. Once this kicks in after the intro, it’s such a statement. I was headbanging immediately and blown away at how fast the double bass is in the intro. From Craig sampling Carlito’s Way to Corey’s maniacal laughter towards the end, this is definitive Slipknot. It’s easily one of their staple songs still to this day.
This might have honestly been the first time I heard the Amen break in a song, of course not realizing what it was at the time. That alone shows the breadth of various influences Slipknot brought together, having nine people in the band everyone is bringing something unique to the table, especially with DJ Starscream (aka #0 Sid Wilson) who knew what was up with underground jungle music. Everything experienced when you’re younger seems without influence. Being so sensitive to everything around you, it’s not until later in life that you realize where and how and what.
The lyric “Insane. Am I the only mother fucker with a brain?” always resonated with me, as I always thought of myself as an outsider to most forced environments; work, school, etc. Bringing back the breakdown at a slower speed in the end of this song is absolutely crushing, to this day.
Wait and Bleed
I may have heard this song before purchasing the album, I’ll add that Slipknot didn’t used to be a band played on the radio. This song may have been played on 99X, the local Peoria hard rock radio station at the time, but I’m not sure if they would have played this song until the band became more popular. This song sounds MUCH different to the Slipknot I know and love. Still a very sick song, but definitely the most accessible song on this album.
Slipknot not being played on the radio was a plus in my book at the time. It’s similar to Insane Clown Posse in that way — everyone has seen the merch and the fandom, but it was still very underground in that way, where it was too extreme for radio play, but mainstream at the same time. A unique, specific time and place thing, especially when the music industry was still intact. Nu-metal in general, when you think about it as a whole 20 years removed: insane to think that such heavy music was mainstream, ever.
An anthem from start-to-finish. “Fuck it all, fuck this world, fuck everything that you stand for. Don’t belong, don’t exist, don’t give a shit, don’t ever judge me.” I have not, nor will I ever, forget these lyrics.
Spit It Out
While “(sic)” might be the perfect opener to the album, “Spit It Out” is probably the perfect Slipknot song. Everyone is bringing their own to the table, but let’s be real for a second. Slipknot has nine members, but could easily pass with seven, especially now that their sound has become more and more typical metal/rock sounding (I have to admit that I checked out when Vol. 3: came out). There really isn’t a reason to have two percussionists and the sampler & DJ could be the same person, but this song here is an example of where all nine members shine; to the samples in the beginning, scratches throughout, backing vocals, unique percussion, and the sampled interlude that sounded like nothing I had ever heard at the time.
I remember banging on metal pipes with sticks in the backyard of a distant cousin’s house in El Paso, TX, trying to mimic the break in this song. Quintessential.
Tattered & Torn
This song always reminded me of Korn, maybe it was the high-pitched warped carnival sounding guitars and maniacal laughing or the devistatly heavy ending when all the guitars play the bass part.
Random side note, but I’d like to throw in that I had numerous tattered & torn photos of the band from various magazine subscriptions I had, particularly Circus, up on the walls of my childhood bedroom.
Frail Limb Nursery
Another legit noise track. I’m including this because the copy that I got in Mexico happened to be an original pressing and this track along with the next one was included. This track has sparked some controversy throughout its existence because of its use of copyrighted material. The story goes that Corey Taylor apparently had discovered a true crime case on CrimeScene.com and thought it to have been real. This 45-second song uses clips from the website’s archive of a story surrounding the case of Adrianne Purity Knight, a young woman apparently abducted and buried alive. Taylor didn’t realize that the website was a place for true crime junkies to coalesce and discuss fanmade cases, aka fictional stories, to the point where staged photos were taken and even fabricated documents were made.
Thus the voice heard during this incredibly disturbing track was the work of fiction done by voice actors, and unfortunately the material was copywritten so Slipknot had to take this off the album after the initial production was sold off. The next song “Purity” was also taken off, because I’m assuming without the context of this track the band wanted to reorder the album entirely.
Real or not, the story of this is fascinating and this song, to me, is essential to the tracklisting as it seamlessly runs into “Purity.” You can still hear the beginning of “Frail Limb Nursery” at the end of “Tattered & Torn” too. It’s a perfect break for the album and builds a darker tone for the remaining songs to come — not to mention it might be the best song title Slipknot has ever came up with.
Originally titled “Despise” on a demo that came out a year prior to their debut, this song was slightly changed to encompass the theme of Purity Knight and the previous song “Frail Limb Nursery.” The verse in this song has some of the most interesting drum parts on the album, which by the way Joey Jordison’s drumming and snare tone on this album was unmatched to me at the time.
Absolutely phenomenal track that has atmosphere, and quite literally might have planted the seeds for my true crime obsession throughout my life regardless if the story was a work of fiction or not. I remember being obsessed with the story and felt so strange and weird learning about how sad and tragic it all was, especially at the time not knowing it was all made up. The lyrics to “Despise” were essentially the same minus Taylor screaming the word “Purity” at the end. So, in their defense the song was written long before the discovery of the story, but making the song about the fictional case makes it that much more meaningful to me.
“Purity” made its return to the tracklisting with the 10-year anniversary re-release, but “Frail Limb Nursery” did not (probably due to copyright reasons).
I remember having to look up the meaning of the word liberate, but once I knew what it meant, this song spoke to me. When I became a Slipknot fan (aka a “maggot”), I essentially was putting a target on my back. I remember wearing my first Slipknot shirt to school and getting called a freak, “gothic,” and weird. Wearing that shirt was a badge of honor — a “fuck you” to my school and the world at large. After declaring myself a maggot, I also started to become interested in going to shows and this song was the perfect descriptor to moshing. “Liberate my madness,” a healthy way of getting all your frustrations out and enjoying the music at the same time.
Another song heavy on additional percussion and the eerie pitched-up screaming sample makes this sort of a sister song to “Tattered & Torn.” This song is also on the slower side, but showcases the band’s ability to write a varied album that takes you places.
Not going to lie and say this is my favorite track, but the outro and Texas Chainsaw Massacre-esque noises solidify this track as being one of the most atmospheric.
One of the best intros on this record. Twenty years later and I still know every word. Corey spits rhymes better than any other metal group around at the time, and this intro is the best example of this. Taylor exhibits a hip-hop influence without being corny, feeling unhinged in a way that mainstream rap & hip-hop at the time did not.
With a chorus begging for some sort of escape, “This is no kind of life!” immediately into a post chorus that showcases Taylor’s singing ability. A standout track for vocals alone, but the groove happening in the rhythm section make it outstanding.
“Diluted” has an incredible opening riff that’ll get you headbanging in no time. Once again, the samples in this song just elevate it. I can’t imagine the song without them. Speaking of, after buying the album I used a family member’s dial-up Internet to access Slipknot1.com, probably one of the very first websites I visited. All I remember is the website playing eerie sounding samples, possibly the intro track on this album.
Slipknot was perfect at crafting this demented, heavy, and unsettling world they controlled. Even down to the album cover, everything seemed like some sort of twisted portrayal of hell, but where it all made sense, definitely more so than the religion I was being taught at the time. I’m not sure if this band ever resonated much with anyone from bigger cities, but god did they capture growing up in the Midwest on this album — absolutely void of anything “cultured” where Slipknot said fuck that, this is what we look like, this is what we sound like, and we’re here to destroy your idea of the American Dream: serial killer music.
“Only one of us walks away.” Surprising that a song this good would be placed towards the back half of the album without it being the album closer. This song is another classic example of Slipknot incorporating so many different influences and styles all into one song. Taylor goes off before exploding into one of the best riffs on the record. “Every reason is a right to hate,” some of the best lyrics come from this song as well, on top of some of the most unique and insane sounding drum breaks in any Slipknot track to this date.
A creepy, plodding song, aptly because this is the album closer. This song is built on additional percussion, one of the best examples of Slipknot’s ability to showcase their full scope of different instrumentation; having two floating percussionists allowed them to use varied sounds, whereas a typical band’s drummer is limited to being behind a kit, and nothing is more cornball than a vocalist who stops to also do additional percussion on one song (i.e. all indie bands of the early 2000s). I’m still unsure about what was used as an instrument to get this sound, and I find it all the more unsettling not knowing.
“Biding my time until the time is right.”
“Eeyore” is a bonus track that appears after a good chunk of silence. Bonus or “secret” tracks don’t really work in the realm of streaming or vinyl for that matter. It was a good technique for cassettes and CDs though, especially cassettes, where the tape is cut to be equal lengths on both sides of the cassette. Most musicians would write music and edit down an album and try to split it up equally by side as best as they could, but sometimes on the b-side there would be a lot of extra tape, thus where the “secret” track would come in.
After minutes of silence, if you were still listening and hadn’t rewound or fast forwarded you’d be treated to a secret track, usually unlisted in the tracklisting on the back of the album. In the age of CDs there was also a thing where you could be treated to specific intros or outros to songs only if you listened in succession (no skipping), it was essentially negative time on where the next track starts.
Anyways, this song is much faster and sounds a little different from the rest of the album (there’s blast beats!), thus probably why it’s a bonus. It honestly sounds like it could have easily fit right in on Iowa, Slipknot’s sophomore album. It’s a ripper and live fan favorite of a song no less.
That was Slipknot’s self-titled album, track by track. Leave a comment below if you also hold this album near and dear to your heart. I still cherish it, and like I said before, it was a hodgepodge of influence that sewed the seeds for me delving deeper into everything that Slipknot brought together for my Midwest, preteen ears.