CLASSIC ALBUMS REVISITED: Slipknot – “Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses)” Turns 20

The album that would become Slipknot’s third album, and the crucial masterpiece in their history, almost didn’t happen at all. Between the hard-fought success of Iowa (Roadrunner Records), the well-documented interpersonal relationship issues between the nine band members, rising fame and pressure, side bands like Stone Sour, To My Surprise, and Murderdolls, and “off the field issues,” you couldn’t blame this band if they imploded totally around this time. However, overcoming themselves and all of these obstacles; Slipknot’s Vol. 3 (The Subliminal Versus) (a great pun on Salman Rushdie’s controversial book, The Satanic Verses, is one of their best albums, along with their debut might be their finest hour. It is certainly their biggest hit album on a lot of levels. It yielded six singles and as we like to say on the Glacially Musical podcast (where we reviewed this album), an album has a bunch of singles if it’s selling and the band is doing well on tour.

Working with controversial producer extraordinaire Svengali and sometimes labeled as a do nothing hack, Rick Rubin is either the greatest producer to ever live, or a huckster who never helps bills at high rate. The anti-Steve Albini (RIP) if you will. More than half the band will tell you Rick’s contribution to the album did not help, including Corey Taylor. At the same time, Rick does have the secret sauce as he comes in and guides a band to get their best work onto wax. His CV speaks for itself, and shortly the results of Vol. 3 bear this out.

Posting up in Ruben’s legendary home studio “The Mansion” in Laurel Canyon, the entire band moved in together, lived together, and wrote together, and hurt together. This is how their best albums have all been made, and that is a fact. Well documented in Corey Taylor’s New York Times best-selling memoirYou’re Making Me Hate You (DaCapo Press), he was struggling with alcoholism at the time and felt very unproductive. While the band’s initial sessions didn’t yield much, they wrote so much material and challenged themselves to step beyond extreme metal, shed Nu-Metal even further at times, and just flat-out wrote beautiful songs, that I think even the band, along with their long-time fans were shocked at this album when it came out the way it did.

Some of this record was a reaction to Iowa and its blunt extremism, which itself was a reaction to the media and fans pigeonholing the band as Nu-Metal. Today the genre is loved, but weirdly not as much in some circles back then. With this many master killer musicians, working at a high level and at the peak of their powers, they came with their A game. Especially the founders Clown, Joey Jordison and Paul Gray, with amazing contributions from Corey, Jim Root, Mick Thompson, and the rest of our gang, You can see why this is as complete a record as the band has ever made.

There’s a sentiment among the press and fans that maybe the band went too soft with this album with too many ballads and chillaxed parts, reminiscent of Stone Sour. Still, the abject brutality and viciousness of some of the songs balance it out. And one of the reasons this record works so well is that it has a little bit of something for everyone, and that is the reason why Slipknot has become the biggest band in metal, however unlikely it was in 2024.

Opening with the avant-garde “Prelude 3.0,” this track sets the table for one of the most unusual records of its time. It’s a full song and not an intro track, even though this has served as their walk-on music at shows. “The Blister Exists” is nightmare made reality of a song! In a lot of ways, this track is a throwback right to the first album sonically, lyrically, and with all the heaviness. Besides Taylor’s great vocals, the highlight incredible drumming and percussion, the hallmark of the band.

“Three Nil” keeps the power up, despite its catchy chorus. What an amazing riff, reminiscent of Ministry and the Wax Trax label era of industrial metal. What can you say about “Duality?” It’s still the bands biggest hit song ever, an MTV staple in regular rotation and TRL favorite. This went far beyond metal radio and the resuscitated Headbangers Ball on MTV2. The full-band interview on the show with Jamey Jasta is one of the most legendary editions of the second incarnation of the show.

There is no soft underbelly of this album. “Opium Of The People” is a brutal screed against religion with top-tier riffs and drums. “Circle” is an experimental Pop song and what Jordison meant when he referenced a definite Radiohead influence. There is even a Moody Blues, early Pink Floyd, and Beatles demented pop jangle to it that is oddly infecting. “Welcome” dials back up the heavy including a shreddy guitar solo, one of many here.

Maybe the riskiest song here is “Vermilion” and its conjoined twin and fellow dual-single “Vermilion, Pt. 2.” the alt version may be better than the OG in this case. A great example of Corey’s prowess as a singer and storyteller, and really legitimized his ability to be a solo artist in the minds of many. At the same time the fan base was absolutely divided by this softer, standard verse-chorus-verse song. It’s outlasted the criticism to become a classic, although still hated by a few. There is a Terry Date (Pantera, Soundgarden, Deftones) remix of the main track worth checking out on the Special Edition version of the album, the calling card of all Roadrunner bands from that era.

Back to the anthemic metal bops with “Pulse of the Maggots” and “Before I Forget!” The former was a savage ode to the band’s diehard fans, and the later was as hard rock song as the band could make, and still make it a bit metal. More great lyrics from Corey, too, and a memorable music video.

Not slowing down at all, “The Nameless” is a late album highlight reel of dizzying riffage and vocals, except for the chill chorus. Cognizant of not going to the well too much, the track ends with sheer extreme metal. Dirgey and mechanical feeling, “The Virus of Life” also calls back to the debut and even before that to their Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat. One of the most uncomfortable feeling/sounding tracks in their catalog, in the best way. The album closes with another experimental track “Danger – Keep Away” another experimental track and ending to things here.

Thought at the time to be a rejection of their earlier selves with inventive risks, while still being hard as ever, the band thought they were pushing themselves and their fans to a new plateau. By comparison, their next album was even more out there, but this is the album that helped cement them at the top of the Modern Metal heap with the legends Metallica and push past peers like Korn, System of a Down, Deftones, and others.

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