I’ve said it before, but Slipknot album releases aren’t just album releases, they are life events as memorable as major elections, weddings, funerals, graduations and the start of new jobs for me. They serve as a significant moment against which memories will be anchored and where eras start and end. They provoke large quantities of discussion with friends, and the sort of in-depth analysis on your own normally only seen with Metallica or Tool album releases.
Not counting their 1996 demo album; 2022’s The End So Far is Iowan metal band Slipknot’s seventh full-length studio album. It follows up 2019’s really excellent We Are Not Your Kind record, and compared to the band’s typical timeline of going on break for many years between records, does so fairly quickly.
In the media, the band had been talking previously about wanting to make a big departure in sound, however saving that for on the next album after this, so this album feels in part like a progression and also in parts like a nostalgic regression and farewell to their origins and legacy. That sort of oil and water contradictory set of aims (Hey, I guess getting nine people to agree to one vision involves a lot of compromise) basically summarizes the whole record for me. Its trying to do two quite opposite things at the same time. There are notable, blatant and really on-the-nose call-backs to the old days, moments deliberately written to please old fans and keep the band aligned with the (glorious) past, but there are also departures, progressions and evolutions designed to bring the band into the (different) future.
So, speaking of harkening back to the late 90’s/early 00’s; there are a lot of moments on this record that are clearly meant to evoke the sound or spirit of great moments from the band’s early days; there’s a little vocal tail here that is clearly meant to remind you of “Purity” and a drum & bass thing that is overtly trying to remind people of “Eyeless” and you may notice for a second or two, a drum part trying to remind you of “The Blister Exists” or a breakdown that is clearly meant to imitate that 3:11 groove from “Three Nil.” There’s a moment of creepy tinkling additional percussion that exists specifically to remind people of the intro to “Scissors” for a second. There’s also creepy churning guitar parts here and there that evoke “Gently” or “Iowa” for a second, although more subtly than the aforementioned things. Its usually only a couple of seconds each, but it often feels like the have written a really modern record and then went “oh no, it needs to sound more like Slipknot…” and then just thrown in some extra cheeky nostalgic icing on the cake to stop it sounding too different. Many songs that aren’t even so specifically hinting directly at specific previous songs, sometimes its just some extra DJ-scratching here, or keg smashes there. to remind people of the old days. The biggest thing however, is probably the entire song “Yen” which seems designed to give people “Vermillion” vibes (although maybe that’s not fair, perhaps its just continuing the tradition of those type of songs, which “Killpop” also did). Although Corey has said in the media that it is about his wife, the disturbing obsessive lyrics seem to be more in the vein of “The Collector” influenced “Prosthetics.”
Apart from the aforementioned very clear nods towards the early days, which feel like garnish rather than the main course, the actual song-writing feels more like a mixture between their two previous records, .5 The Gray Chapter & WANYK, than anything they made their name on way back when. Now don’t come at me with a history lesson, I know Slipknot have been putting clean vocals into heavy songs ever since their debut self-titled album (eg. “Me Inside” and even before that if you count demos) but there was a notable switchover at some point (possibly “Sulfer” from All Hope Is Gone?) where a song with a good start and heavy verse would be dominated by a big radio chorus that somehow makes the whole song feel safer and smaller and less blistering. The guitar lines here would usually also feel less metallic and more alternative-rock. (Around the time everyone on the internet incorrectly decided to say “sounds too much like Stone Sour” every time Slipknot did anything). With a few notable exceptions (“Sarcastrophe,” “Custer,” “The Negative One”), 2014’s .5 The Gray Chapter album was perhaps the worst offender of this stylistic decision where a radio chorus off-balanced the rest of the song, but it is also present in part on WANYK and present quite a bit here on TESF. You could take that thing as one of the dividing lines which could be considered the difference between classic and modern Slipknot song writing.
I know what you’re thinking. “That’s all very interesting and everything, but the quality of an album always lives and dies on the strength of the tunes.” I agree. A direction you like, or a direction you aren’t keen on will generate discussion, but what will make you decide if you like it or not will usually just be how much you like the songs.
The songs have pros and cons. Cons: The lyrics aren’t great at times. It feels like it is missing one more fast song. It is probably their least heavy album to date overall. Some of the experimentation doesn’t work so well. If you can’t get over how pandering it feels, some of the fan-service feels distracting. It isn’t as instantly gratifying as most Slipknot albums. While many songs are quite satisfying when they’re on, few leave the sort of lasting impression that older Slipknot albums did and you get a bit of a sense that in a few albums time, the songs from this will be a bit forgotten. You can’t imagine much from this record overtaking classics from Joey’s era in the setlist live or on compilations and playlists.
Pros: It is concise and succinct compared to some of their previous albums. It features arguably the best lead guitar / guitar solos of any Slipknot record to date. Jay Weinberg’s drumming is unrestrained and much more confident than back in 2014. Some of the experimentation works well, and you certainly can’t say its devoid of ideas or creative spark. If you can get over how pandering it sometimes feels, on a gut level all the keg smashing/DJ scratching/double kick and blast beating stuff is just great fun. It gets better with repeat listens. With the exception of the opening track, the album sequencing works well so there are highlights throughout, so its not frontloaded and there’s no dip on the second half.
The one song unarguably generating the most discussion on the whole record is the opener “Adderall” which stylistically is the most unique and un-Slipknot moment on the record, coming across as some sort of mixture between Radiohead’s The King Of Limbs with QOTSA’s “Autopilot” and The Beatles’ in general. It seems a very clearly political decision to make it track 1 on the record, in a deliberate attempt to make this album stand out in their discography. Quite interesting since some reviews had been saying this album isn’t so much its own entity as just “WANYK-Part-2,” and there is a prominent interview circulating at time of writing with a key band member suggesting that the album was rushed, and that Shawn had said just to get it over with and that it wasn’t a real album, just an extension of the WANYK touring cycle. Of course, I guess that interview could be a) incorrect, or b) Shawn could have changed his mind later, or c) it was just a passing comment out of context. Whatever the case, sticking the very out-of-character jangly prog-pop song first seems like an identity-creating decision. The song probably wouldn’t have generated such large volumes of discussion had it just been track 10 like “Spiders” was. The album might flow better though. Then again, maybe opening the album with “The Dying Song” would then have been too close to “Unsainted” and thus fueled more “WANYK-Part-2” critiscisms. Who knows?
As much as some diehard fans may feel otherwise; for me the album as a whole isn’t flawless, and not every song is utter timeless gold …but it isn’t a poor album either and there are some nice highlights. If you like the band at their heavier, then “Hivemind,” “Warranty” “Heirloom” and “Hell” are going to be enjoyable. I certainly enjoy them. If you like the band being moody and dark, you’ll enjoy “Medicine For The Dead,” “De Sade” and “Finale” (with its memorable choir section part). I’ve seen people online saying these are the finest moments on the album, and I don’t disagree.
Ok. I misspoke earlier. Its not always 100% all about the songs. While not as important; Little things like the artwork, the reputation/reviews and the production can play a part in your opinion and enjoyment of albums too, even if maybe they shouldn’t. The artwork is the same usual thing they’ve been doing since Vol. 3. Unremarkable really. Unlikely to affect your opinion one way or the other. The reviews have been mixed, there’s a lot of “bold new direction” comments and yet also a lot of “same old, same old” comments, and basically every song has been called out as the best or the worst one. Tough record to pin a consensus on. There’s as many different views of the record as there are listeners of it. I think the only thing people are in agreement on generally is that it isn’t as good as the first three records (but realistically “what is, right?”). The production job is ok. The previous album was produced by Greg Feldman with co-production credits for the band, whereas this album is produced by the band with coproduction credits from Joe Barresi. Part of that was due to the pandemic and the difficulty of getting a nine-person band and the production team in one room at the same time. It is better than the somewhat thin production of .5, but not as clear and well-balanced as WANYK which I feel set the standard of what modern mature Slipknot could and should sound like. The production job here really lets you know there are nine members, its quite layered and rewards repeat listens so you can figure out what Craig, Sid or Shawn are doing at any given moment, when last time you were only focusing on the drums and guitars, but it can be a bit cacophonous, messy and slightly overwhelming at points and could give a bad first impression.
The band are so incredibly important and popular that I don’t need to recommend you get this album, but my one recommendation would be not to trust any gut reaction or first impression, and give it some serious dedicated no-distractions time to get in multiple repeat listens before forming an opinion. I’ve been listening to it basically on repeat since it was released at time of writing, and my opinion of it has changed and evolved numerous times since then. This is a grower for sure, and its biggest charms aren’t necessarily readily apparent on first listen.