For a big guy, the evil-looking Clown from the band Slipknot can move pretty fast. In a flash he leaps out of his seat, lunges at me with a stiletto blade and plunges it into my chest. “Nothing else means anything to me,” he snarls, his face inches away from mine, his eyes burrowing to the back of my skull, his knife slowly being withdrawn from my flesh.
“It’s like Gandalf facing the Balrog on the bridge of Khazad-dum,” I note, but the “Lord of the Rings” reference goes over the Clown’s head. I guess fairy tales don’t impress real-life monsters.
It was the Clown’s way of emphasizing a point he’d just made — when he dies he doesn’t want it to be painless and quiet, but totally in his face. It kind of totally sums up what Slipknot is all about . . .
He returns to his armchair and I look at my chest, half-expecting to see a spreading patch of crimson. But even though the Clown was miming this attack the implications disturb me.
The nine-headed death-metal monster known as Slipknot is one of the biggest rock bands in the world right now, and definitely the most outrageous, and the Clown — cofounder and de facto leader — is the most psychopathic member. And I still had to get out of this hotel room alive.
The Clown (real name: Shawn Crahan) often starts fights with other members of the band during gigs. He used to keep a dead crow in a pickle jar and carry it round to shows until it decomposed into a maggot-ridden brown gunk. He’d sniff it on stage and then vomit, causing fans to do likewise. And during one show he ate up a dead beaver’s tail with vocalist Corey Taylor. Ozzy Osbourne eat your heart out. Actually, the Clown would probably do it for him.
Slipknot’s debut album, “Mate, Feed, Kill, Repeat,” was released independently by the band in 1996, and then, the next two, 1999’s “Slipknot” and last year’s “Iowa,” both on the Roadrunner label, went multiplatinum in the States. The latter has so far gone gold in six countries including Japan — where it’s now edging up to 150,000 units. The last time a metal band enjoyed such a meteoric rise to fame was Metallica more than a decade ago. Not bad for a bunch of hicks from Iowa, eh?
Slipknot’s music is best described as tribal death-metal; meaning the superheavy guitars are combined with intense percussion that would give Godzilla chronic earache.
All nine members of Slipknot wear grotesque self-made masks and boiler suits with armbands of snakelike insignia during shows and in photos. Here, in the comfort of the hotel room the night before this tour’s first of two shows at Tokyo NK Hall, the bearded, yeti-like percussionist Crahan and clean-shaven, pint-size drummer Joey Jordison are maskless.
Jordison — a skinny, 1.6-meter-short dude in a cowboy hat — refuses to drink the Jack Daniels from miniature bottles because “it looks watered down.” And he won’t take another Heineken because “beer is fattening.” So he ups and leaves for his own room. Five minutes later, the phone rings. I’m closest and pick it up.
“This is Joey, give me Shawn,” the drummer says. I hand over the phone to Shawn who listens for a minute and then hangs up. “He was asking me whether I think he’s getting fat,” Shawn says.
There might be the odd “Spinal Tap” moment, but Shawn and Joey don’t look like typical rock stars.
“Without the masks, at first I didn’t even know you were in Slipknot,” I say, and Crahan gets off on that.
“That’s exactly what it’s all about. Not about us as individuals, but about Slipknot as an entity. When I leave backstage some of the fans ask if I’m a roadie and I just tell them, ‘No, I’m the bus driver.’ And, of course, they believe it.”
Then I drunkenly spit out: “Yeah, when I came into this room and saw this big fat bloke sitting there I never imagined you were in the band.”
The room falls silent, my observation hangs in the air, ominously, but then the Clown bursts into laughter and soon starts rambling on about death, not my impending death, thank God, but death in general. It’s his favorite topic.
“On the bullet train you’re going so fast and it’s so smooth,” he says excitedly, “but occasionally it shakes, there’s a click, a moment where it doesn’t quite work, where it could completely f**k up. That’s what I like. Those kind of moments where suddenly things could go off.”
When I say I’d rather die peacefully in my sleep Crahan snaps back “I want to be right there and see it at the last moment,” and I detect deep desire in his eyes. That was when he stilettoed me.
Later, as we leave, he sticks his face in mine again, puts his hand into a gun shape, holds two fingers to my head, and says: “The Clown is going to f**k you up tomorrow night. For 60 minutes you will be part of the Slipknot experience. Tomorrow night’s show is all about you.”
“Interesting dreams,” I call after him as he ambles to his own room.
He turns, looks me in the eye and says, “They’re going to be all about you.” And then he slowly disappears down the dark corridor.
Back home, I can’t sleep. Was Crahan talking metaphorically or is he going to drag me on stage tomorrow night, strip me naked and brand 666 onto my chest before thousands of baying fans? I’m part-excited, part-terrified, but totally obsessed.
It’s like the Clown’s infected me with some kind of slow-burning insanity. He’d love that, I guess. Because whether it’s the extreme noise of the music, the crazed stage antics or the grotesque masks, one thing is for sure — Slipknot want to carve their name into your psyche whether you like it or not.
Tonight, between mindless rants (“I want to destroy! I want to kill! This is the Apocalypse, the Clown says so!”) Crahan spoke affectionately about his three kids, God bless him. The guy oozes charisma, and it’s clear he’s the evangelical heart of what Slipknot is all about, even if nobody has really worked out exactly what that is. I guess nihilism is a difficult concept to pin down.
Next day inside NK Hall, a gigantic black curtain — with a white snakelike Slipknot motif embedded inside a red nine-pointed star — hides the whole of the stage.
Slowish, but scary, intro music starts and spinning Slipknot motifs are projected on to the curtain, which is now billowing wildly. Behind, as silhouettes of band members start to move about there’s a collective gasp of anticipation from 5,000 Japanese kids: The curtain suddenly falls and Slipknot explode into the tuneless, anthemic noise fest of “People = S**t” and the mosh pit — which is everybody — goes ballistic.
Thirty seconds in and a teenage girl is being dragged out of the crowd, her nose crushed and spurting blood. Two minutes later the Clown is bent over his tom-toms being mock-sodomized by black-skull-masked DJ Sid Wilson. They end up exchanging punches. Vocalist Taylor — in a “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” leather mask with dreads sprouting from the top — is puking up white liquid. The tom-tom sets of Clown and fellow percussionist Chris Fehn — who masturbates the long nose on his demonic Pinnochio mask — revolve and rise 3 meters in the air by hydraulics while they writhe and thrust around on top like lap dancers at a gay go-go bar in “Naked Lunch.” And this is only the first song!
The two major highlights come later: 1) Taylor gets everyone to sit down and then jump up when they hear him scream “Shut the f**k up!” You think there’s no way he’s gonna pull this off with 5,000 in the hall but — on cue — the whole place erupts like a thunderous tsunami with scores of kids crowd-surfing until they are dumped in the escape lane between the stage and mosh pit.
2) Jordison — strapped down in a racing-car seat — plays a furious drum solo while his kit levitates and finally swivels 90 degrees so you can see the bottom of it, on which is a huge pentagram that bursts into glowing orange light.
For pure theater, Slipknot murders Marilyn Manson, whose “show-stopper” is shuffling about on stilts wearing a bicycle safety helmet just in case he falls over.
While Slipknot might seem to hate just about everything humane — in interviews members have often said the human race is a virus contaminating the planet — it seems like they’re on some perverse quasi-religious quest: Believe in us or reject us, but you cannot ignore us.
They have a massive affection for their fans, the believers, the people they have connected with.
“We love you from the bottom of our hearts,” shouts Taylor many a time, and for the encore, guitarists James Root (Satanic jester mask) and Mick Thompson (“Halloween” hockey mask), and bassist Paul Grey (pig mask) join the rest of the band stage-front in a furious head-banging riff assault . . . and the show ends. (The only guy to stay out of the action is sampler Craig Jones, probably because his bondage mask has a score of long razor-sharp spikes sticking out of it that no one wants to run into.)
After it’s over, the Clown spends minutes applauding the fans — affectionately known in Slipknot circles as “maggots” — before coming to the corner of the stage where I’m standing alone. He gives me a wave.
Great show, definitely, but the Clown said it was “all about me” and all I got was a brief hand gesture after the encore. What about me?
Three nights later, at Kawasaki’s Citta, the whole perverse jigsaw puzzle kinda falls into place.
It helps that I’ve been listening constantly to Slipknot records for the last 48 hours. This, combined with the fact we are now in a venue a quarter the size of NK Hall, makes the show far more intense and personal. Which, like the Clown was intimating, is what Slipknot is really all about.
The small, informal Citta is the antithesis of the cavernous, sterile NK Hall. Drinking and smoking is permitted, and the mosh pit soon develops into one of the maddest I’ve seen in Japan, with crazed kids using safety barriers as launchpads to dive athletically into the crowd.
Tonight, it’s brain-melting. In the chanted chorus of “Heretic Anthem” — “Five! Five! Five! Six! Six! Six!” — the crowd loses it. There’s no way it can get more intense, that is until Taylor commands: “I want you to go completely insane to this one” and then, leaning forward over the mosh pit, he snarls the song title “Spit It Out” and total bedlam ensues.
It dawns on me that while the band cultivates this whole grotesque carnival image, the masks and eating of beaver tails are simply devilish fun. It’s the music that matters most, that causes the hairs on the back of your neck to stand on end.
So how do I feel afterward? Do I want to go out and smash a few windows, skewer a few Limp Bizkit fans or finally decapitate that guy who’s been really pissing me off at the office. No way!
There might have been plenty of violence in the mosh pit tonight, but it was not directed person to person, it was not directed at anyone, it was a collective exorcism of negativity and far more fun than pounding a punching bag or running laps to rid yourself of frustration.
The Clown was right. Tonight’s show was all about me and my catharsis and I feel much more alive for it.
And so do the kids, who leave the venue with glowing faces split by huge smiles, punching the air and not each other. It was all about them too, I guess.
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