Mention Slipknot to most anyone and it still evokes the same old image: Nine guys in jumpsuits and faux-scary masks, insistently banging out crude hate anthems that nobody done with puberty could actually relate to. And hey, I'm not going to be the one to make the simpleminded aggression of their first two albums into anything but, or to defend the Halloween gimmick they absolutely refuse to move past (they stole it from Mushroomhead, anyway).
But those who still can't get past the image are the ones unaware that the band's last album, 2004's "Vol 3: The Subliminal Verses," was an act of maturity as impressive as it was unexpected. The subtle improvements in musicianship and (thankful) absence of rampant profanity were notable enough, but Slipknot also showed a skill for impeccably textured mood pieces and, most surprising of all, an undeniable knack for somber ballads. "Vol. 3" proved that they had some tricks in store that would elevate them above their less ambitious peers.
These abilities are advanced even more on their newest release, the merrily titled "All Hope Is Gone" (come on, Reznor, you let Slipknot get that one before you?). The album doesn't expand on the variety hinted at on "Vol. 3" as much as it should have, but Slipknot has broadened its musical scope even further.
Fans who saw "Vol. 3" as a cause for concern won't exactly be happy to hear it, especially since the band claimed this album would be the heaviest yet. Don't worry, there are plenty of vicious thrash anthems here, like the burst-through-the-gates opener "Gematria (The Killing Name)," "All Hope Is Gone," and the downright intimidating "Butcher's Hook," to keep the metal heads happy in the mosh pit.
But "All Hope Is Gone" isn't the unrelenting bombardment the band could have executed with ease to the liking of its old fans. Slipknot has proven itself just as good at harmony as disharmony, and on tracks like "Psychosocial," "Sulfur" and "Dead Memories," the band manages to find a good balance between its heavy and melodic sides, countering brutality with clean singing and catchy hooks but not weakening it with them. Sometimes they go all the way to the other end of the spectrum: "Gehenna" is a remarkably crafted horror show scarier than anything the band ever did when they were still actually trying to scare people, and the ultra-sentimental "Snuff" is just way too much, but never before has the band fit all their varied talents into almost every song so completely.
Many diehard fans will be disappointed, complaining about how their expectations for the band's heaviest work were let down. But the plain fact is, Slipknot is simply beyond providing mere heaviness. Forget what the noise-addicted part of their fanbase says: "All Hope Is Gone is Slipknot.
KEY TRACKS: "Butcher's Hook," "Psychosocial."
Jason Silverstein is a senior at Williamsville North.