News of Paul Gray's passing hit me pretty hard. Slipknot made an unforgettable impact on me with their debut 12 years ago and I've been a fan ever since. Wow. Twelve years. Hard to wrap my brain around the fact that it's been so long. I'm listening to the aforementioned album while I'm writing this down and it doesn't sound a day old. The impact isn't colored by nostalgia one little bit. It still has force, momentum. Relevance. As do all the albums that followed it.
I got a chance to interview Corey Taylor back when Iowa was released and remember vividly how impressed and taken aback I was by his sincerity. I was just a twentysomething buck from some Finnish metal magazine with a busted tape recorder, but he had no reservations and spoke openly about anything and everything. Painful and comedic subjects alike, all was fair game. Aside from him only Kris Rygg has made a similarily resonant impact across the proverbial push-pull table. As I recall that's the way I've always viewed the band, both in terms of their output and their demeanor (as far as one can perceive that from a distance). Brutally honest. Candid 'til it hurts.
They're also a prime example of sincerity gone awry. I'm still amazed and bewildered how many people think of their music as childish or tied down to adolescence because of its raw, uncompromising and honest nature. Not because those people don't have the right to think so, but because they're under 50 and generally speaking in a mindframe that should be well distanced from that old Everything after The Beatles has sucked line of bullshit. Being a dismissive, disconnected and hogtied little lemming in line with the others is something that always gives me chills when come upon in people of my generation or younger.
It's easy to be sarcastic about the band. Slipknot always hit stage in their trademark masks and overalls, rarely touched upon subjects outside the far end of the negative spectrum, all the while exuding a level of threat and aggression rarely experienced, pulling everything off with zero irony. They inspired a following that must've been off-putting in its intensity to anyone on the sidelines. They were and are an easy target for those who aren't equipped to handle that level of intensity without diluting its effect by introducing levity. Being a 9-piece big band with masks, overalls and assigned numbers is a wealth of chinks in the armor for anyone willing to poke through. Let's be honest here: most fuckers simply can't process another's passion - never mind their quirks and obscurities - if it isn't followed by a wink and a nudge.
The fact also remains that they became a huge phenomenon and that, if anything, divides people easily. Opinions gravitate to either extreme to become alignments, points of assault, beachheads. Reactions and responses compete to topple one another and before you know it, you're spewing rhetoric and cheap shots in a pothole on either side of the barbed wire fence. We've all seen this story arc play out.
I speak of the band in past tense not because I believe they're done for but because this is the end of an era. I doubt their path is at an end, but certainly an unmistakable staple of the sound is now gone. It may tint my view of their future releases, as I'll no doubt pick up on something being amiss and potentially be unable to look past that. Gray was an essential part of the band's songwriting nucleus, more often than not the primus motor, and the imprint he left behind may be irreplaceable.
Rest in peace.