15 Years Ago: Slipknot Self-Analyze in ‘Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses)’
As Slipknot gathered in 2003 to begin work on what would be their third album, they were surrounded by speculation as to whether they had a future. Internal tensions had increased following the arrival of 2001’s Iowa, to the point that, when the nine members settled in the 10-bedroom Mansion studio in Los Angeles, they were barely talking to each other.
Frontman Corey Taylor’s drinking was by now an all-day activity. He and some of his colleagues had turned their attention to side-projects, leaving bassist Paul Gray and drummer Joey Jordison to the lion’s share of writing tasks – while both pursued their own drug addictions. “I was severely depressed because, after Iowa, we were sick of each other and there was so much hate going around,” Gray said in 2008. “I didn’t feel that way. I wasn’t mad at anybody, but everyone else was. And I kind of felt like, ‘Oh, fuck, my family is moving away from each other. I thought the band might break up.’”
Taylor – who was enduring the collapse of his marriage along with behind-the-scenes industry issues that he didn’t discuss – recounted that he’d come so close to quitting he was making a call to buy a plane ticket before percussionist Shawn “Clown” Crahan persuaded him to change his mind. By that time, three months of almost no achievement had passed. As Crahan said in 2009, “Eventually we got sick of waiting for shit to happen. We got together, had a few beers and wrote a really artsy, fucked-up song called ‘Happy Ending.’” At some point during that period, the band seemed to agree that if there was an end in sight, it should feel like it had a purpose. They set about creating an album that built on their previous two releases but also sent them in new musical directions – and for Slipknot, that meant more slightly more accessible material than the all-out sonic assaults they'd delivered before.
Roadrunner Records had paired the band with iconic producer Rick Rubin, but not everyone regarded it as a good move. Guitarist Jim Root referred to Rubin as a “big brother up on the hill,” admitting that, even though he wasn’t physically present during all recording sessions, the suggestions he made were usually valid. Taylor disagreed strongly, saying he’d only encountered the producer in person four times as the album was made, that he appeared to do nothing but lie on a bed in the mixing room when he was there, and stated: “He is overrated, he is overpaid, and I will never work with him again.” The frontman instead called engineer Greg Fidelman the “unsung hero” of the project.
See Slipknot's ‘Before I Forget’ Video
“Rick Rubin famously told me I needed to change the chorus to ‘Before I Forget,’” Taylor recounted in 2015, “because he said it wasn’t a strong chorus, and I told him that’s just not going to happen. I agreed with him on a couple of occasions, but when it came to that song, I knew it was powerful enough that the chorus would carry it. And then we won a Grammy for it, so y’know.” (In 2016 Taylor said he wanted to apologize to Rubin for his earlier comments, taking the blame for the disconnection between the two.)
Not only did Slipknot secure a Grammy, they also secured the No. 2 position in the U.S. chart while also doing well elsewhere in the world after Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses) was released on May 25, 2004. The sales success may in part have been to do with the marketing advantages associated with the absence of a parental warning notice on the cover: Taylor had purposely avoided strong language as a result of hearing accusations that he couldn’t express ideas without it. What he had done, though, was take lyrical inspiration from the trials and tribulations he and his colleagues were experiencing, with the result being that even though much of the music was more melodic than in previous outings, the emotional message carried a new level of authenticity. The most highly-regarded tracks alongside “Before I Forget” include “Duality,” – often listed among their best ever, with a video Roadrunner regarded as their finest at the time –“Vermillion,” “Pulse of the Maggots” and “The Nameless.”
It was clear that, despite all the negativity, their determination to create something worthwhile from their problems had shone through. “We wanted to keep expanding our range so it wasn’t just the same album over and over again,” Taylor said in 2015. “And that was a huge step for us with Vol. 3, and it enabled us to really see what we could do and do well.”
See Slipknot's ‘Duality’ Video
Guitarist Mick Thomson believed there was no great ambition behind the work, no matter how good it was. “People always say, ‘Oh, that record was so different. Did you want to do something more experimental or more melodic?’” he recalled. “No, shit just happens, and at that point that’s what came out. There’s no rules. Our musical scope is very vast.” Crahan’s opinion: “It’s spiritual. I love it. The best way to describe it is salvation and rejoicing in working again.”
Taylor, however, branded Vol. 3 his second least-favorite Slipknot release. “There’s so many great songs on that album that it’s hard for me not to love it,” he allowed. “But because of what I was trying to do vocally, and because of a lot of the shit I was doing in my own life – that was the album I got sober during, it was when I was really trying to pull my head out of my ass, and it took me a long time to figure out who I was and I think that took away a lot of confidence in my vocal delivery. It was weird. I’m proud of that album, but not so much proud of what I did with that album. I think everybody else was fantastic on it, and we were really able to do a lot of cool things with it, but taking myself out of it, it’s my least favorite vocal performance.”
Despite that, with Vol. 3 and its associated tour, Slipknot proved to any remaining doubters that they were a major-league force. It was the beginning of the end of their association with the unpopular “nu-metal” label – and while the members may have had differing views on the results of their labors, they were surely united in satisfaction over that.
See Slipknot's ‘Vermillion’ Video