Slipknot matures on its new album, but will faithful maggots eat it up?

To Be or 'Knot to Be 

Slipknot matures on its new album, but will faithful maggots eat it up?

Joey Jordison loves touring, but he hates the fans. Not all the fans, mind you. Just the completely deranged ones. And that's the problem: dividing the everyday weirdos from the true freaks.

It's a tough task when you're the drummer for Slipknot, one of the more psychotic bands around. With its ghoulish masks, Orwellian stage uniforms and spooktacular thrash metal, Slipknot puts on a rocking horror picture show that's high in entertainment value but low in IQ points.

Critics are intolerant, but that hasn't stopped the 'Knot from attracting hordes of rabid devotees -- affectionately christened maggots -- who do just about anything to prove their dedication.

"These guys, there must have been like 12 of 'em or something, they spelled out People = Shit," Jordison recalls grimly. "They carved it -- each guy had a carved letter in their back. They were standing outside our buses with their shirts off, bloody as shit. I think a lot of kids just want to show their appreciation, and sometimes they think that's the way to get our attention, which it obviously does. But at the same time, I don't want people going out harming themselves like that."

Slipknot is putting the finishing touches on its third full-length, The Subliminal Verses, due out May 25. Verses marks a new direction for the nine-piece outfit, a turn away from the unyielding heaviness of its first two releases. According to Jordison, the new album contains "melancholy, haunted, freaked-out, really eerie" music that owes a greater debt to Pink Floyd's space rock than it does to Slayer's head-banging.

Whether longtime maggots will accept this new musical direction remains to be seen, but Jordison and company look forward to the inevitable showdown.

"It's a ballsy-ass move for a band like us, and we like that type of challenge," the drummer says. "Nonetheless, there's blast beats, fucking shredding guitar solos and metal up your ass all over the record. It's heavy. It's very heavy. The heaviest songs we've ever done are on this record. But it's not linear heavy -- it's dynamic."

Jordison says the new sounds were influenced in part by Stone Sour, a side project helmed by Slipknot vocalist Corey Taylor.

At times resembling the chest-swelling anthems of Creed and Nickelback, Stone Sour's material alienated many of the maggot faithful, who were astounded that Taylor had dared to expose his soft underbelly. Maggots were only slightly more accepting of the Murderdolls, a glam-metal throwback formed by Jordison and Static X guitarist Tripp Eisen.

Largely because of such side projects, rumors circulated that Slipknot was on the verge of splitting. This gossip was fueled by Taylor's December 2002 Web posting that Slipknot was "eating itself" and would break up before it sank into self-parody, à la Gwar.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and the intraband turbulence seems to have quelled for the time being.

"We're going to make it through this tour," Jordison says. "And I'm thinking we're going to make another record. I know Corey probably said some things that were a little bit misconstrued at the time, and he doesn't feel like that anymore. We're getting along really well, which is a little strange. There's always been really distinct personalities in the band. We all love each other, but at the same time, it's like, 'I'm gonna kill you, dude.' It's just like that in our band. It's just tension, and if it wasn't for that type of mentality, we wouldn't have the band that we have and we wouldn't have the sound that we have."

Slipknot is headlining in front of Fear Factory and Chimaira on a Jägermeister-sponsored package tour booked mainly in theaters and ballrooms. After that, the band will head to Europe for a string of stadium dates opening for Metallica before returning to the States to play Ozzfest alongside Judas Priest and Black Sabbath.

Slipknot is a grizzled Ozzfest vet, having played the tour twice in the past. Though it could easily do well in the main arena, the band insisted on returning to Ozzfest's smaller second stage this year, where it will have to prove itself once again.

"[Ozzfest's organizers] don't want us over there," Jordison says. "But, man, it's just so stale over there on the first stage sometimes. Since we're sort of getting back into the band and we've got a new record that we feel really strongly about, it's like, let's humble ourselves and see if we can still go over there to the second stage and fuckin' blow it up like we did in '99. I think it's really special for a kid to be able to see us at Ozzfest and pay $30 to slam instead of standing around in the heat."

But can Slipknot survive more than six months of intense roadwork as afterthoughts? After all, this once-hungry unit now consists of nine rock stars with separate musical interests, fanbases and managers. The relentless touring is precisely the key to Slipknot's success -- but it could lead to the band's eventual undoing.

"It's very exciting, but also at times it makes you want to have a couple of beers and chill the fuck out," Jordison says. "[But] it's not just playing live. It's trying to stay healthy. It's the press interviews and radio interviews and in-stores and traveling on the bus. And it rules. I wouldn't have it any other way."

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