Field of Screams

Slipknot, the latest death-metal craze, emerges from the cornstalks.

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Slipknot, with Coal Chamber, Machine Head, and Amen. Nautica Stage, 2014 Sycamore Street, the Flats. 7:30 p.m., Saturday, September 11, $17.50 ($20 day of show), Ticketmaster 216-241-5555.
Slipknot: Your parents' (and Mushroomhead's) worst nightmare.
Slipknot: Your parents' (and Mushroomhead's) worst nightmare.
"Tits, tits, tits!" That's the chant outside the wrestling ring at a metal radio station-sponsored outdoor music festival in Des Moines, Iowa. The Spooky Clan, Slipknot impersonators, pick women from the audience to "convince Slipknot to take them backstage." The crowd surrounding the ring is easily the largest all day. Several people, mostly young men in their teens and twenties, cheer on the band they believe to be Slipknot.

The authentic Slipknot saves its energy for the concert. The sun beats down when the band attacks the stage, jumping and thrashing about in black jumpsuits, complete with signature masks. This is the first time Slipknot's played in Des Moines, its hometown, since it toured with Ozzfest. Singer Corey Taylor yells about halfway through the set: "You know, we were over by the wrestling ring, and some girl showed us her tits. And the fucking cops arrested her and took her away! That's fucking bullshit!"

Things have been crazy for Slipknot lately. Its self-titled debut CD has sold more than 86,000 copies. The website has been jammed with hits — 75,000 in July alone. Comments in the guestbook have been sent from as far away as Australia: "Brutal and intense . . . an absolute pleasure to listen to" and "I've been listening to this album for four days straight, and I can't see me getting sick of it for a long fucking time!"

The press has been mostly favorable, including a five-star album review in the metal magazine Kerrang! A review of Slipknot's performance at Ozzfest declares, "All boiler suits and killer masks, the nine-piece's attack is as subtle as a battery acid enema, and tunes like "Purity' and "Spit It Out' are simply staggering — you might as well start cutting their name on "Best New Band' trophies now."

Anyone who thinks this happened overnight couldn't be more wrong. Slipknot's founding members have done the hard, slow climb since 1994. "I managed this gas station for three and a half years during the night shift," says drummer Joey Jordison. "It was dead, because people were scared of me and the way I looked, so they'd go across the street to the Amoco. Shawn [Crahan, the band's percussionist] would come down, and we'd plot the whole domination."

Those nights, the two engineered the band's inner workings: who needed to be called or when to schedule practices. More important, they discovered the band's mantra. "We had rules to be our main focus," says Crahan. "Number one was, no matter what we did, we would answer to no one. We would not try to be like anyone else."

It's a point Jordison and Crahan were willing to suffer for. They hired and fired bandmates accordingly. They toured as much as they could, playing smaller clubs and developing a following. Slipknot shopped its music around to major labels like Interscope, Epic, and Universal. Many were too scared to take a chance on a posse of death-metal voodoo dolls from the heartland. At one label showcase, an executive said, "If that's the future of music, I don't want to be alive."

Retorted Slipknot: "We are the future of music, and we want you dead."

Through a Des Moines disc jockey, the band made contact with producer Ross Robinson. The deal they finally signed was a sweet one, engineered by Robinson on his I Am label, a subsidiary of Roadrunner Records. "We feel we made the right decision," says Crahan. "We wanted longevity for this band, not to become a statistic turning out a number of albums for exposure. We didn't want some big label coming into the studio with their input and wanting radio hits. Roadrunner let us do our art."

Slipknot spent two months with Robinson in Malibu recording at Indigo Ranch. The work atmosphere was part boot camp, part slumber party. It's typical Slipknot: Men who don terrifying headgear onstage tell stories of ghost sightings and alien lights in the night skies of Malibu like overgrown kids. They say Indigo Ranch is built on an old Indian burial sight, and some of the spirits wanted it to stay quiet. "This ghost tried to kill me," says Jordison. "I pissed it off; I was taking too long to mix in the studio one night. And I went to sleep on this couch, using this shitty blanket and pillow. I had this heater next to me, and I woke up because it was getting abnormally hot. And Rich [Indigo Ranch's owner] came in and was like "Holy fuck!' My pillow had been stuck on the heater and was on fire."

But they survived to put out the self-titled debut album, which Roadrunner released in June. And they must have made peace with the spirits: They were booked for Ozzfest '99. Slipknot was the surprise act of the tour. Consistently, the band attracted the largest crowds at the second stage and even played the main stage. "Slipknot did this against all odds," says Crahan. "We believed in ourselves and our lives. Being commended reaffirmed that belief. We were never around for the money or the ego. We were one of the few bands that signed autographs every single day."

It angers them that other bands treat fans like they're beneath them. Slipknot took kids on the tour bus, showed them videos, gave away CDs, T-shirts, and demos. "It was toward the end of the day at Ozzfest," says Jordison. "And it was raining, and I'm bolting back to the bus. These four kids, huddled next to this fence, all had Slipknot T-shirts on, and they called my name. They'd had all their money stolen and were hungry. I saw the last money they had they spent on our T-shirts. I got out my wallet and gave them $20 to go buy some food."

The shows got attention from more than fans. Rob Zombie's bass player and System of a Down suggested they tour together. But the band's biggest fan at Ozzfest was Ozzy Osbourne's teenage son, Jack. During an MTV interview, Jack turned to Kurt Loder and said, "Slipknot is the greatest band on Ozzfest. Ever."

Slipknot is currently on tour with Coal Chamber and Machine Head, then it's off to Europe for three months. The band is selling as many CDs in the United Kingdom as it does in America. One English fan even wrote to them, "If you don't come over to England, I'm going to cut you."

The band intends to keep breaking new ground: more anger, more violence, more off-keel. Commercial radio fodder this will not be. And though the band won't record in Des Moines, Slipknot has no plans to move its home base. "I love being from Des Moines," says Jordison. "I'm totally proud to be here. I'm not a Los Angeles or New York type. Every time I go there, I don't feel right."

Crahan has a wife and three kids, and wants to stick around in Des Moines. Eventually the dream is to build a recording studio outside of town. For now, the band seems to be trying to digest its first dream coming true. "It's out of our hands," says Jordison. "We've created a monster, and now we're just running after it. It's bigger than us."

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