The Terrible, Tragic and Terrific Life of Slipknot

The Terrible, Tragic and Terrific Life of Slipknot
Photo: Alexandra Crahan-Conway
To people outside of heavy metal, almost every band seems like a terrifying set of weirdoes raging out, but Slipknot truly fit that mould. Where most nu metal acts are looked at today as an outdated product of the '90s rap metal boom, Slipknot constantly evolved and became one of the genre's biggest acts through their highly experimental sound and one-of-a-kind imagery.
While a nine-member band wearing overalls and masks seems impossible to market to mainstream audiences, they did exactly that, without ever compromising who they were. "If you look at, even before I joined the band, there've always been tracks that had funk or stuff like that, so this band haven't ever really had any kind of rules," guitarist Jim Root tells Exclaim! "Everybody in the band, with all of our different personalities, brings so many different flavours to the music."
After more than two decades together, the nine have created their own little world within their dedicated fan base affectionately nicknamed the Maggots. Though they've had to defend themselves from negative perceptions throughout most of their career, they've overcome insurmountable odds and came out on top of the metal scene to this day.
1991 to 1994
The years before Slipknot comes to fruition involve a seemingly never-ending list of bands that see various members meeting and performing with each other at different times. Jim Root plays guitar with the biggest band in Des Moines, Iowa at the time, Atomic Opera, while Joey Jordison plays guitar in thrash act Modifidious. Modifidious open their first-ever show for Atomic Opera, leading to their guitarist leaving to join the more successful band. Shortly after, Jordison recruits Craig Jones to play guitar.
Paul Gray, having moved from Los Angeles to Des Moines, meets original vocalist Anders Colsefni and they start to jam together. They eventually form Vexx, along with Josh Brainard on guitar and vocals. At the same time, Shawn Crahan forms funk metal cover band Heads on the Wall and records a demo in 1992. Corey Taylor also forms Stone Sour along with other local musicians.
Colsefni eventually takes over vocal duties in Vexx, but the band never record. Crahan  meets Gray and Colsefni and start playing together with guitarist Pat Neuwirth by 1993. The band write songs titled "Painface," which Colsefni will later use for his own band name, and "Slipknot," which is rewritten into "(Sic)". Another new band called Inveigh Catharsis forms with Gray on bass, Brainard on guitar and Colsefni on drums. Jordison occasionally jams with them as well.
Brainard leaves Inveigh Catharsis to join Modifidious, along with Jordison and Jones, recording demos in late '93 and early '94. Colsefni and Gray then form death metal band Body Pit, and Modifidious stop playing, as death metal takes over the local aggressive music scene. Gray tries to get Jordison to join, but fails, eventually leading to recruiting local guitar teacher Mick Thomson.
1995 to 1996
Atomic Opera break up and Root joins Stone Sour. During the fall of 1995, Crahan and Gray form the Pale Ones, along with Colsefni on vocals and Donnie Steele on guitar. Shortly after, Gray brings Jordison in to experiment with different drum elements. Jordison then becomes the primary drummer, moving Crahan to percussion. Colsefni also takes up percussion while doing vocals. They then add Brainard as a second guitarist. Before performing their first show, they change their name to Meld and finally play live in December 1995.
Jordison works night shifts at a gas station, where the band make plans for what they want to do. He suggests they rename themselves Slipknot, and they decide to self-fund a recording made at SR Audio in Des Moines.
The idea of wearing masks begins with Colsefni helping Crahan move, when Crahan finds his original clown mask. He hangs it from his drums during Heads on the Wall sets and at Slipknot practices and then starts wearing it.
"He would not take it off the whole time," Gray will tell Revolver in an interview published in 2011. "At first, it pissed us off. You try to talk to him and he's got this clown mask on. You couldn't even see if he was serious. We were trying to talk about band shit, and we went, "Dude, please take that fuckin' thing off." And he'd sit there and laugh. After a while we're like, 'Man, that is actually kind of creepy.'"
Early in the recording of Slipknot's first demo, Donnie Steele, a Christian, leaves the band after discussing the lyrical content with producer Sean McMahon, who is also Christian. McMahon believes the band are Satanic because they watch porn and videos of people dying when they aren't recording.
While recording samples for their demo, Colsefni wraps Crahan in duct tape. Before setting up a mic to record them pulling it off for "Killers Are Quiet," they realize how creepy it looks, inspiring Colsefni to wear electric tape on stage, while Crahan wears his clown mask. Jordison later suggests that if those two were wearing something like that, everyone should. Jordison's first one is an all-white kabuki mask.
The band's first show comes in April 1996. They don their masks before arriving at the venue, and walk on stage through the crowd. When they finish, they simply walk outside and put on normal clothes before re-entering to hear an unbiased perspective of what people thought. Corey Taylor attends their first show with some of his friends and recalls knowing he wanted to join them one day.
While mixing their demo, they bring in Craig Jones as a guitarist, but quickly realize they are adding samples to recordings they can't reproduce live. Jones shifts to his current role as sampler and they ask Mick Thomson to join on guitar. By Halloween 1996, they release Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat and celebrate with a show at the Safari, where the band hold a number of their early shows. The cover shows Jordison naked in a cage that Crahan welded together. It is limited to 1000 copies;  the final 386 are distributed through -ismist Recordings in 1997.
1997 to 1998
While they worked extremely hard and poured around $40,000 into Mate. Feed. Kill Repeat., Slipknot receive no label interest and little radio play. They play a battle of the bands with Stone Sour; the only negative comment they receive is about Colsefni's vocals.
The band go to a porn shop where Taylor is working and ask him if he will join the band. Members have claimed they scared Taylor when they ask him, but he tells a different story. "It was Clown, Joey, Craig and Mick, I think," Taylor tells Exclaim! today. "They came in and didn't come up to me at first. They kind of did a lap around the shop to cut the tension, and I'm sitting there staring at them like, 'What are you guys doing here and why do you look so weird?' I knew who they were, and they came up to the counter and they laid it out. They said 'We're not going to bullshit you. We want you to be the singer in our band.' I was really thrilled and stoked and nervous as hell after they asked me."
The band audition Taylor at their studio, intending to have him work with Colsefni together. They practice early versions of "Me Inside" and "Prosthetics"; Taylor comes in with lyrics he has written.
"According to what they told me, before the song was even done, they knew they wanted me to be in the band," Taylor says now. "The rest is history. There were some growing pains here and there, trying to figure out my place in a band, because I'd never done anything like that before, but over time, I really developed a style for it and it came out naturally."
They continue playing shows with both vocalists. During a set in fall 1997, Colsefni announces his departure on stage. Taylor says that after Colsefni left, a lot of local fans turned against him without realizing that the two were friends even after the split.
"The problem was that the guys kind of went behind his back and made this decision without talking to him. Me and Andy got along fine and actually still do now. You could see that he wasn't fulfilled artistically, that this wasn't what he wanted to do. I was really bummed that he left, and I can see why he did it, but immediately after the show I went up to him and asked him 'Is there any way I can change this and help make this better so we can make this work?' He told me, 'This isn't your fault. I appreciate it but it isn't your fault,'" says Taylor.
The band add Greg Welts as an additional percussionist to fill the gap remaining in their drum sound. They record a second demo exclusively for record labels. The band receive a lot of attention and get an offer from producer Ross Robinson to work on their debut in February 1998. Shortly after, Sid Wilson joins as their DJ, bringing the lineup to nine members.
By June, they are offered a $500,000 record deal for seven albums with Roadrunner Records. Two days prior, the band fire Welts, which they refuse to comment on to this day. Welts was replaced by Brandon Darner, who quits shortly after joining.
By September, the band bring in Chris Fehn as Darner's replacement before heading to Malibu, CA to work on their debut. During the recording process, the band go home for Christmas, and Brainard decides to quit. Slipknot bring in Stone Sour's Jim Root as their new guitarist to record the final two tracks for the album.
Despite signing the band, Roadrunner aren't happy about some elements,  including the number of members, the masks and the direction of some material.
"They weren't [yet] signing us at the time, it was one of those things where they kept coming to us and saying, 'You need to take the masks off, you need to get rid of at least two or three members' — they kept trying to change us and we kept saying no. There's a reason why we have what we have, and there's a reason why we want to do it this way," says Taylor.
1999 to 2000
The band complete the record by February 1999; the label remain hesitant until hearing "Spit It Out" and "Wait and Bleed" and later the new batch of songs.
"I don't think they realized what they were getting into. They got us for a steal, because they didn't give us anything. We were living off of dollar blocks of ramen and $20 a week for the entire time we made that album," says Taylor.
They have to remove songs "Purity" and "Frail Limb Nursery" due to copyright claims. The tracks are inspired by a supposedly true story written on a website called Crime Scene, which presents fictional works as real stories. The band pulled the tracks from the album to avoid issues, replacing both with "Me Inside." "Purity" will later be included on a number of releases; "Frail Limb Nursery" is never released.
The band join the Ozzfest 1999 lineup for their first-ever tour, during which time their self-titled full-length is released. They make a mighty impression through their chaotic live shows, which result in members frequently injuring themselves from fighting on stage, lighting themselves on fire and causing self-inflicted pain.
They record music videos for "Wait and Bleed" and "Spit It Out"; the latter spoofs classic horror flick, The Shining. They release a home video titled Welcome to Our Neighborhood, with live videos, interviews and more, in November 1999. While videos gain some traction, they are getting more popular through touring and word of mouth.
They tour throughout 1999 and 2000 across several countries to promote the record. By early 2000, the album is certified platinum — a first for Roadrunner. In October 2000, Gray and Jordison begin working on a followup record.
2001 to 2003
Anticipation for Slipknot's sophomore record is enormous. They are nominated for their first Grammy for "Wait and Bleed," but lose to Deftones. They work at Sound City and Sound Image studios in Los Angeles with Robinson again; extensive touring and recording wears on members, causing a lot of fighting and tension.
Drug and alcohol addictions, on top of issues with management, make this the most strained time in their career. Taylor struggles with alcohol addiction, while Gray's writing process involves cocaine. The majority of the band party every night to cope with the increasing turmoil.
During recording, Robinson fractures his back while riding a dirt bike, but returns to work after one day in hospital.
Sid Wilson's grandfather passes away during recording; he doesn't get a chance to say goodbye. He has a breakdown during a session; the band keep recording and use the audio for album intro "(515)."
Iowa is initially slated for June, but is released on August 28, 2001. A co-headlining tour with System of a Down is delayed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Their imagery, as well as song titles like "People = Shit" and "The Heretic Anthem," means plenty of bans of Slipknot material: schools don't allow students to wear Slipknot shirts; radio stations won't play their music. They pass up numerous touring opportunities because of this negative public perception, despite the fact that shows they do play are their largest yet.
The band are struggling financially, and by mid-2002, Slipknot go on hiatus, due to internal conflicts. Their manager at the time, Steve Richards, is later found to be unfairly distributing money. "He wrote us into a bunch of different corners, legally, that took us a long time to unravel," Taylor says. "It took us a long time to get back; not only did he bill us for a bunch of money, he left us in debt, because he ran that debt up in our name. That was one of the reasons we toured as much as we did on Vol. 3. We didn't make any money really on Vol. 3, because we were all paying back all of the debt.
"The long and short of it was we settled just to get away from that situation and that company. We kept all of the rights to everything that we had, we had to pay him money, sadly, but at the same time, we kept our stuff. We fought to keep our rights, our brand, our name, everything. It was salty for a while, but it taught us the right kind of lesson about how to do business. We've used that to this day."
The members work on various side projects during their time away: Taylor and Root restart Stone Sour; Jordison creates Murderdolls with Wednesday 13; Crahan forms experimental rock group To My Surprise; and Wilson performs as DJ Starscream. Speculation begins over whether or not there will be a third album.
They released Disasterpieces, a live DVD with all of their music videos to date, in November 2002.
Gray is arrested in June, 2003, after getting in a minor crash with another vehicle while in possession of cannabis, cocaine and drug paraphernalia.
The band work on Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses) with legendary producer Rick Rubin, their first without Robinson since Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat. They stay at Rubin's L.A. home during recording, although some members feel the producer isn't present enough during recording.
"The best thing that came out of that Vol. 3 experience was our relationship with [engineer] Greg Fidelman, because to be honest, the people who produced that album were Greg and us. Rick would have been an executive producer, because I think [he showed up] six times," says Taylor. "I was at his house and only saw him twice, so you tell me if we enjoyed the experience with Rick Rubin. I will never say anything bad about his legacy or the work he did prior to us, and I respect the man, but I would never work with him again."
Rubin's home, nicknamed the Mansion, is also supposedly haunted. Members report numerous ghostly occurrences; Jordison claims his door would swing open at 9 a.m. no matter how hard he tried to shut it.
The album goes in a much more melodic direction and shows massive growth in their sound. Members attribute their hiatus as part of the push to experiment with their sound.
"Vol. 3 was a return to trying different sounds and different textures. Experimenting," Taylor says. "Still having that heaviness and that attack, but when you've got some of the best musicians in the world, and arguably a really good singer, why not use those things to your advantage? That to us was the only way that we were going to stick around."
Taylor is drinking heavily during recording; Jordison and Gray work in shifts, with input from Root and Thomson.
"I was severely depressed because, after Iowa, we were sick of each other and there was so much hate going around," Gray will tell Revolver in a 2008 interview. "I didn't feel that way. I wasn't mad at anybody, but everyone else was. And I kind of felt like, 'Oh, fuck, my family is moving away from each other. I thought the band might break up.' I'd hear someone say, 'Fuck it, I'm quitting. I'm out,' and that would fucking freak me out."
The album is released in May, 2004, reaches #2 on Billboard charts. Vol. 3 spawns six singles — "Duality," "Vermilion," "Vermilion, Pt. 2," "Before I Forget," "The Nameless" and "The Blister Exists" — with the iconic video for "Duality" arriving first. The band hold a house concert and, along with the countless rabid fans they invite, tear the small home apart.
2005 to 2007
Their first live album, 9.0 Live, comes out in November 2005. The two-disc album was recorded throughout their 2004-2005 tour cycle and includes tracks that rarely get played live, like "Skin Ticket" and "Everything Ends." Touring ends shortly after the album's release, leading to a second hiatus.
They receive a Grammy nomination for "Vermillion" in 2005, but lose to Motörhead. The following year, they are nominated for "Before I Forget" and finally win Best Metal Performance. The band release a video for the track showing them in plainclothes with their masks next to them as they perform, although they don't show their faces.
Several members participate in the Roadrunner United project; the label brings together artists they've represented for an original album. Jordison is designated as one of four "team leaders" to write, record and later perform the album.
They release DVD Voliminal: Inside The Nine in 2006. Crahan began filming during the Vol. 3 recording process and continued until the end of 2005. The film features backstage and studio footage, live performances and interviews. Reception is mixed, due to its choppy editing and indulgent feel.
The members return to various side projects: Root and Taylor to Stone Sour; Wilson as DJ Starscream; Crahan founds Dirty Little Rabbits; and Jordison tours with Ministry, Korn and more, as well as producing 3 Inches of Blood's Fire Up the Blades.
2008 to 2010
Slipknot begin recording All Hope Is Gone in 2008 with producer Dave Fortman in Iowa, to get away from distractions in L.A. Unlike previous albums, all nine members write collaboratively; from most than 30 songs, 12 appear on the album and 11 more are saved for a later release. Many band members feel that All Hope Is Gone is their weakest release and was rushed to fit a schedule — to headline the first-ever Rockstar Mayhem Festival.
During the first stop on the Mayhem Festival, Wilson breaks both heels jumping off a platform and performs the rest of the tour in a wheelchair. When Jordison breaks his ankle at the end of that tour, European dates are cancelled. They continued an extensive touring schedule that keeps them on the road for close to a year. During their first headlining set at Download Festival in the UK, Fehn breaks his hand after losing a drum stick and hitting something in frustration.
Root and Taylor return to Stone Sour while Taylor forms Junk Beer Kidnap Band. Crahan returns to Dirty Little Rabbits while Jordison restarts Murderdolls and joins Rob Zombie full-time. Fehn forms metalcore act Will Haven and Wilson starts a project called Sid.
On May 24, 2010, bassist Paul Gray is found dead in a hotel room from an accidental overdose. The band hold a press conference the following day, alongside Gray's widow; it's the first time Craig Jones has ever appeared publicly without his mask. There's doubt internally about the future of the band.
They released their fourth DVD, (sic)nesses, in the fall of 2010, containing the band's entire set from the Download Festival. along with a 45-minute documentary, and serves as a tribute to Gray.
2011 to 2013
They play a number of European festivals in 2011; original member Donnie Steele plays bass. Touring continues in 2012 in support of greatest hits album Antennas to Hell. Production on their fifth album begins at end of 2013. On December 12, the band announce that Jordison has left the band for personal reasons. On his own Facebook page, Jordison claims he did not quit, and was blindsided by the announcement. Both parties agreed to release statements at a later time. Taylor says Jordison will not be appearing on the upcoming album, since he did not participate in songwriting sessions before leaving.
Jordison will later claimed his departure was due to a neurological disorder he suffers from. During the Metal Hammer Golden Gods Awards, he tells the audience: "I got really, really sick with a horrible disease called transverse myelitis, I lost my legs. I couldn't play any more. It was a form of multiple sclerosis, which I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy."
Taylor offers his perspective: "That's not the reason that he was let go, and that's all I'm going to say about it. Here's the problem: it's a personal issue that has to deal with Joey, and until Joey embraces it and talks about it, it's not for me to say anything about it. I can say that it affected all of us in a lot of different ways, a lot of negative ways. As much as I love him, and I wish him well, until he can figure those things out, I worry about him."
2014 to 2016
Stone Sour announce that Root will be focusing on Slipknot; it's later revealed that he was let go, and though he's initially mad, he's softened on the situation since then. "When you're sort of blindsided by something like that, it makes you wonder what the motivations or intentions are, or why it has to be like that, when really all that needs to happen is a Slipknot record, then we could go back to business as usual later," Root will tell The Des Moines Register in 2015.
"For whatever reason, it happened and it sort of lit a fire under my ass to realize that it doesn't really matter who you are or what your role is. You always have to be on top of your game, because you never know what is going to happen. It definitely made me want to put my nose to the grindstone and hone my skills a little more. When something like that happens, it's like getting dumped."
The band announce that .5: The Gray Chapter will arrive by October. Two unknown members are added, on bass and drums, with similar-looking masks. Taylor reveals they were given the opportunity to create their own, but the results were too cartoonish. Steele is also involved to record on the album, but declines to start a family. Obsessive fans uncover the new bassist's identity as Alessandro Venturella of Krokodil, from his unique hand tattoos.
After Jordison's departure, they audition Against Me!'s Jay Weinberg, the son of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg. He had been a fan of the band since he was a child and is offered the position after a few practices. Weinberg is identified by fans after a road crew member posts a photo of a tour personnel list once they hit the road.
.5: The Gray Chapter is recorded in Hollywood and Root's garage, with Fidelman returning as producer. After touring for months, the band take a break in March 2015 when Thomson is hospitalized after a drunken knife fight with his brother before resuming. On August 2, Venturella is rushed to hospital in the middle of their set due to dehydration. They continue playing without the bassist, and for the following three shows, Venturella performs from backstage.
2017 to 2019
Another break, and Taylor returns to Stone Sour, who release a new record. Crahan appears on Hatebreed vocalist Jamey Jasta's podcast, where he reveals that the next Slipknot record might be his last.
On March 4, 2019, the band announce We Are Not Your Kind will be released on August 9. On March 14, Fehn files a lawsuit against the band, specifically alleging that Crahan and Taylor had set up various business entities to profit from Slipknot. On March 18, the band announce that Fehn is no longer in the band.
"Slipknot's focus is on making album #6, and our upcoming shows around the world, our best ever," reads the online post. "Chris knows why he is no longer a part of Slipknot. We are disappointed that he chose to point fingers and manufacture claims, rather than doing what was necessary to continue to be a part of Slipknot. We would have preferred he not take the path that he has, but evolution in all things is a necessary part of this life. Long Live the Knot."
A few days later, the message is removed and Fehn's lawyer claims he is still in the band. By May, he's replaced by a still-unknown percussionist whom fans have nicknamed "Tortilla Man" due to his mask's appearance. (Legal proceedings between Fehn and the band are ongoing.)
We Are Not Your Kind is well-received upon release, touted as their best since Vol. 3. It debuts at the top of the U.S. Billboard charts — their third album in a row to do so. They also reach #1 on the UK charts for the first time since Iowa. They announce a  plan to release an album's worth of outtakes with a "Radiohead vibe" from All Hope Is Gone, titled Look Outside Your Window.
Essential Slipknot

Slipknot (Roadrunner, 1999)
Mashing together death metal, thrash, hip-hop, funk and more, Slipknot's debut is incredibly versatile and contains many staples of their discography. The album's use of eerie sound samples and a vast range of vocal styles created an entirely new sound within metal that has been imitated by bands ever since.

Iowa (Roadrunner, 2001)
Undeniably the band's heaviest record, Iowa packed in as much aggression as possible with every track. While people expected them to come out with something much lighter in the vein of their more radio-friendly singles off their last album, they chose a much darker direction driven by the inner turmoil surrounding the band at the time.

Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses) (Roadrunner, 2004)
This almost didn't happen due to internal dysfunction, but showed massive progression to a more melodic style. They broke all expectations by creating a cleaner sound that has influenced their approach ever since.