It’s been over a decade since the notoriously-chaotic, mask-wearing metal troupe Slipknot last visited Belfast, during which time they’ve hit new heights, experienced the loss of founding members and refined their intensely aggressive sound – a mixture of dissonant guitar riffs, thunderous percussion and ambient soundscapes, bound together by a surprisingly canny knack for melody – and become one of the premier acts in their genre in the process.
Expectations are therefore sky-high from many of the assembled: die-hard fans are expecting a rigorous aural pummelling, whilst many of the interested yet unconverted will be expecting – at the very least – a memorable and energetic live performance. Though both camps will leave satisfied a few hours later, there’s also the small matter of a somewhat legendary support act to consider, and after an entertaining selection of some classic rap-metal from the likes of Downset and Body Count through the PA, Venice Beach crossover veterans Suicidal Tendencies take the stage for a storming version of ‘You Can’t Bring Me Down‘, with front-man Mike Muir as ever a whir of movement, frantic gesticulation and trademark white socks.
It’s a statement of intent which – when coupled with a sound quality well beyond that you’d expect for a support band – almost seems to blindside the audience. There are those who might have seen the band’s inclusion on the tour as a favour, but such cynicism is easily stripped away, and as the band close out the classic ‘Institutionalized‘, the sense is that ‘ST’ – which becomes a near constant chant for the entirety of their stay – are still a force to be reckoned with.
The remainder of their set – including the acerbic ‘I Saw Your Mommy…’ and the frenetic ‘Cyco Vision’ – is a veritable Greatest Hits that gets the reception it deserves, and which manages to keep the feeling of a loose jam throughout; showcasing some impressive guitar and bass work which, though somewhat of its time, is never less than entertaining. Over the course of a 1 hour set Suicidal Tendencies play their hearts out and show they have plenty left in their tank after warming up Slipknot’s crowd nicely and inciting a number of the evening’s first mosh pits in the process. As they leave the stage Muir promises a return to Belfast, and it’s worth keeping space in the diary if that happens – a set like theirs in a smaller venue such as The Limelight would be something very special indeed.
Whilst there’s a huge amount of goodwill in the room (and it’s to be noted that for such an aggressive style of music, the atmosphere throughout never once spills over into anything that could be match the intensity of the music in that regard), there’s always the sense that Slipknot might seek to manufacture unease or aggression prior to their set, so it’s a neat, respectful sleight-of-hand to play Bowie’s ‘Ashes To Ashes‘ before the curtains part to reveal a large video screen with footage of burning mannequins amidst industrial noise, as the multiple members – a travelling posse clad in their signature masks and boiler suits, with dual percussionists flanking either side of the stage on pneumatic drum risers – explode onto the stage like post-apocalyptic carnies with a blistering rendition of ‘The Negative One’.
This time there’s no indication of a blindsided audience amid the raised fists and flailing bodies. The energy is raised higher still by the dissonant ‘Disasterpiece‘: an object lesson in the band’s mastery of staccato riffs, cartoon nihilism and naggingly catchy choruses, although this results in ‘moshpit game over’ for an unlucky patron being escorted out by security nursing an arm injury. ‘Skeptic‘ continues the momentum, proving their newer material sits comfortably alongside its predecessors – indeed, whilst ‘Killpop‘ slows the pace with goth-synth tones, the snarled chorus still traces a direct lineage. It’s FM-friendly, but still recognisably Slipknot. A lot of this is owed to the versatile vocals of front-man Corey Taylor, who’s as adept at a classic metal croon as he is a screamer.
‘Dead Memories’ follows suit, and it’s easy to compare the patchwork material of the masks worn to the music – Slipknot represent a stylistic grab-bag of metal, hip-hop, punk, industrial – although, much like the production values of the masks, it’s slicker than it looks; while the band pile through multiple genres, it’s never as magpies. Instead, their style is woven together so that any seams shown are intentional – these guys are as accomplished as you’ll find.
‘The Devil In I’ once again shows Slipknot in their radio-friendly guise, though it sounds like less a calculated move from the band and more that the mainstream has moved to embrace the likes of them – the units they shift are simply too much to ignore. Indeed it’s one of their own songs – the stuttering chug of ‘Duality‘ – that sums up how they’re perceived: the masks, the nihilism, the negativity, the bordering-on-cliche video images of maggots, of burning marionettes and insects feeding on each other can lend itself to a cynical viewing: is the staged, schlocky persona as important as the music? In many ways the answer is ‘yes’, but conversely, the band’s output stands up to critical scrutiny, and though the chaos and interpersonal on-stage injuries which typified the early stories surrounding the band 20 years ago is in short supply, it’s impossible not to be pulled along by the sheer ferocity of a band that flirt with extremity and fill stadiums the world over as they do it.
Taylor – who’s constantly engaging, warm and humble in his asides to the audience (at odds with the highly impressive live scratching and sampling that soundtracks them) announces the last two songs of the set – culminating in a thunderous rendition of ‘(sic)’ from their debut album – leaving no doubt that Slipknot are as intense an experience as you’re likely to have at a stadium rock gig.
With intensity to spare in their back catalogue however, it’s unsurprising that Slipknot have more in their pocket, and the frenetic ‘Surfacing‘ – which still contains some of the most organic use of turntables in a metal song since nu-metal made that de rigeur – is met with a rousing vocal performance from the assembled crowd – a mass chorus of “Fuck it all, fuck this world, fuck everything that you stand for, don’t belong, don’t exist, don’t give a shit” sounding at once ridiculous and a little bit – well, a lot – thrilling. ‘Left Behind’, a standout single from the band’s 2nd album, becomes a propulsive metal karaoke energized by the video imagery behind the band, and which sees them at their most twitchy and animated: variously throwing kegs and assorted debris around the stage as Clown stalks the podium banging a single bass drum like a demented Little Drummer Boy; it becomes hard not to get caught up in their apparent intention to leave every last ounce of energy in the arena spent.
Closing with a triumphant ‘Spit It Out’, Taylor orchestrates some of the most impressive synchronized pogoing the SSE has seen – which is a sight to behold, even if best beheld from a safely-seated vantage point 15 metres away from it.
As the crowd filters out, it’s nigh on impossible to imagine anyone being disappointed by what they’ve just seen – the energy on display is simply too impressive, and there’s far too much song-writing nous on show to tar the band with the status of one trick pony. Conversely, it’s impossible to consider a band with such a marketable horror-movie aesthetic and deeply-ingrained pop sensibility as truly ‘extreme’. That said, in a live capacity, Slipknot burn straight through any such criticism, answering it head-on: as far as a stadium metal live experience with credible material to justify it goes, the guys with the patchwork masks have it sewn up.