Slipknot’s third record is quite possibly the biggest shark-jumper of the entire decade. Up to this point, Corey Taylor and co. would produce very grizzly heavy metal that incorporated groove metal riffs, industrial tactics, death metal growls, and nu-metal rhythms. On top of that, the tones and attitudes along with the lyrical content would fuel some harsh and disgusting songs, ones that just scream agony. Although this was boasted more on Iowa than the band’s first album, Slipknot made it quite clear that they were a dangerous group – one void of any kind of welcoming feelings. That all changed on their third album, Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses. And more importantly, that emotional roller-coaster of a record is now fifteen years old!
There are a lot of factors that went into this drastic change of sound in just three years. Iowa reflected the agonizing pain that many of the band members had been through with life in general, so Vol. 3 acted as rehabilitation, in a way. Love lives and relationships were being ripped apart, endless parties and drinking were wearing them down, and the members hardly got along with each other. In that time, Corey Taylor himself would begin sobering up and accepting the fact that his unhealthy relationship at the time was coming to an end. Side projects began to take off. Drummer Joey Jordison fired up The Murderdolls, Corey Taylor had revamped his original project Stone Sour, and Shawn Crahan began working on a video documentary through all of this. Such life occurrences naturally made for a shift in tone, which ultimately became the building blocks of Vol. 3.
Pairing up with Rick Rubin, the mastermind behind the production of Slayer’s Reign In Blood, would be the counterpart to the new path. Now, instead of focusing on being intense, heavy, and profane, Slipknot centered their music around different factors. Vol. 3 would see emotion, growth, experimentation, and softer playing tactics that include acoustic guitars and vocal harmony. Riding alongside were still dark and haunting passages, as well as some stomping heavy riffs that we had previously. If that isn’t enough, the focus on harsh or growled vocals drops significantly, and clean singing takes up a bigger portion of the vocals.
Actually, I believe that the more haunting moments are pressed within the softer tunes. “Vermillion Pt. 2” is an acoustic led number that just screams bludgeoning hopelessness and denial of emotions. The minor accents here give it such an unsettling feeling, which was previously established in the heavier electric lead “Vermillion Pt. 1.” Moreover, album closer “Danger: Keep Away” is completely built on harmonic singing with multiple ranges. Sounds harmless, but the low bass/synth-like rhythm behind everything sends shivers up my spine, and there truly couldn’t have been a better way to end the record. What’s even better is that it follows the noisy experimental track “The Virus Of Life” which is generated around primitive and hollow percussion. For those that think Slipknot’s extra percussion is unnecessary, give this one a whirl.
The other side of this is the angrier songs that rely a great deal on proper sequential layout and suspense. Looking at “The Blister Exists,” it starts on a booming note with crushing riffs and a trade-off style of screaming and singing. By the time you’re halfway through it, it lays on layers of percussion that couldn’t be fully achieved with just your standard drum kit. Corey then drops a melodic verse that’s backed by steady yet heavy rhythms by Jim Root and Mick Thompson. Another obvious one is “Pulse Of The Maggots,” using a spoken word intro that starts steadier and ends heavier. The progressive ascent to an incredibly fast solo gives way to some of the best lead and backup screaming I’ve ever heard. This style also makes its way onto “The Nameless,” except here it’s done in a verse and carries the momentum the whole way through until completely dropping off into a soft and acoustic chorus. Absolutely mind-blowing, especially with the tactical engraving of passion laced with cold surroundings.
And of course, with this being the first radio-friendly album, there are bound to be a few hits. The famous bangers “Before I Forget” and “Duality” follow a more alternative-rock driven template, the latter including some rapping. What’s nice is that despite their easier access, neither of them drop the overall feel that Vol. 3 was meant to give and follow protocol. What surprises me is that the only ballad I didn’t mention “Circle” didn’t blow up on the radio. Of all the soft numbers, it’s the least haunting and sounds just like any mainstream alt-rock hit. The layers and masterful production here save it from standing out of the mix, and in my eyes, it’s just as good as the rest.
Vol. 3 truly has everything the band could ever offer into a single, one-hour disc. Vocal harmony, melody, complex rhythms, experimentation, percussion layers, booming riffs, acoustic guitars, emotion, and accessibility; wowzer! It is extremely rare to come across a release that has that much to offer in one album, as well as make it flow so smoothly. Although I’ll never deny the level of fun from the debut record or the sheer brutality of Iowa, this is Slipknot’s masterpiece, and to me, it’s a flawless effort.
Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses came out on May 25th, 2004 through Roadrunner Records. There are various CD editions, including a special double-disc set with an alternate cover. Some cassettes were made as well, even though they’re a little harder to come across. There are a few versions in vinyl, but they’re even harder to find and cost into the hundreds. All can be found here.