Slipknot vs My Chemical Romance
This week we pit 'Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge' against 'Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses)'
By the time Slipknot were ready to release their third album in 2004, they had already sold millions of copies of their preceding records. Their explosive self-titled debut album was followed by the heavier sounding sophomore effort ‘Iowa’. There is always high expectations on a successful Metal band for album number 3. ‘Master of Puppets’ was Metallica’s third effort and ‘The Number of the Beast’ was Iron Maiden’s. Arguably the two albums synonymous with 80s Metal. Could Slipknot do the same thing for the 00s?
‘I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love’ was the 2002 debut album by My Chemical Romance. The album did quite well on the Rock charts at the time, but made little cultural impact. In spite of the bands later success, the album disappeared for years and was only made available on the (legal) streaming services as late as 2016 for the first time. I doubt anyone had a clue how successful their second album would be.
You can make the argument that Slipknot are not a Nu-Metal act. They never had a dedicated rapper, but in Corey Taylor they have an incredible vocalist who combines cleaner vocals with growls, and on some tunes his staccato style shouting could almost be rapping. There’s also the wearing of masks which very few other Nu-Metal acts affected (nod to Mudvayne and Mushroomhead).
You can even go one further and say that My Chemical Romance are not an Emo band. They are far too theatrical to be put in the same genre bracket as Paramore and Jimmy Eat World. I’ve always felt that as musicians they were far more stadium rock than punk. They’ve even played live with Brian May from Queen.
So why has the Aquanaut decided to pit Slipknot against My Chemical Romance? I’d argue that if you were to ask the average person to name a Nu Metal act, it’d probably be the masked legends from Iowa. And for Emo music, My Chemical Romance are the unofficial kings.
Both of these albums were absolutely enormous hits in 2004/2005. For Slipknot, it would be the album that cemented their status as metal giants and produced two of their biggest hits. For MCR, their sophomore album would become one of the most famous rock albums of all time. 'But which one is better? Let’s take a deep dive and analyse each album side by side, track by track!
‘Prelude 3.0’ is a wonderfully constructed intro to ‘Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses’. Slipknot show their growing maturity as a metal band and showcases great restraint and musicianship. It’s a mournful metal dirge, and not at all how you would expect them to open the album. It’s a quiet triumph, though perhaps a little forgettable in comparison to other Slipknot tunes.
Can MCR match the intro from Slipknot? They bloody-well blow it out of the water! This was the first MCR tune I ever heard and it’s utterly fantastic. A fifteen second whispered intro erupts into one of the most recognisable rock songs of the noughties. Written by vocalist Gerard Way to mourn the passing of his grandmother, it’s moving, bombastic, and infectious. The video is Emo heaven, replete with Goth dancing at a funeral and the deceased coming to life to ballerina down the central aisle of the church. MCR score.
Now pay attention. ‘Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge’ is a concept album. In the story a couple die and the man comes back to life (a bit like the plot the ‘The Crow’). He is then tasked with the job of killing 1000 evil doers in order to rescue his lover from hell. Therefore, in a stroke of artistic licence ‘Helena’ also refers to the woman trapped in hell.
‘The Blister Exists’. Now this is a Slipknot tune. If you’re new to the band, then the first sixty seconds of this song is a good primer. We have insane drumming from Joey Jordison and a guitar riff that just keeps going. Corey Taylor does his trademark neat trick of sounding like two or three different vocalists. The lyrics tell us that life is to be endured, not enjoyed.
‘Give ‘Em Hell, Kid’. A punk rock tune from MCR. It’s just over two minutes long, but has a lot going on. It’s as catchy as any Green Day song, and seems to be about missing someone but wishing them well. It would likely be our protagonist from track one going on his murderous rampage. But the fan theory is that it’s about a teenager getting an abortion.
‘Three Nil’ starts as a chugging riff reminiscent of Industrial Metal (it’s a bit of a Ministry vibe). It develops into a very clever metal song with a melody that Slipknot can find even in the darkest subject matter. This tune has shades of passive suicidal ideation about it, though it should also be read as a ‘fuck you’ to fitting in with groups you don’t want to. Oh and it’s an obvious diss track to any Slipknot haters out there.
‘To the End’. MCR reinterpret a short story by William Faulkner, ‘A Rose for Emily’. So William Faulkner is basically one of the most highly regarded American prose writers ever. ‘A Rose for Emily’ is his southern gothic tale of loss, rejection, and murder. Basically, after an eccentric Antebellum era Lady passes away, the residents of the local town have a look inside her house to see what she had. They are somewhat surprised to find that Emily’s lost lover, the one who got away, didn’t actually get away. She poisoned him and slept next to his decomposing remains until she herself passed away decades later.
This tune might actually be my favourite from the album. The production is astounding. A fan online gave the tip to listen to the intro to the tune with only your right earbud. Please do. Gerard Way is a genius. MCR overhaul the plot of the Faulkner story a bit, but the bones of it are present (and mouldering away in Emily’s bed). The song screams of unrequited love, loss, and pain.
‘Duality’. For many people this is the song that comes to mind when Slipknot are mentioned. From the whispered intro of “I push my fingers into my…eyes, it’s the only thing slowly stops the ache”, to its cataclysmic ending, this is an iconic metal song. It’s also one of the few Slipknot tunes to avoid profanity, thus making it more radio-friendly than a lot of their catalogue.
The video went on heavy rotation on the music channels. Filmed in a fans house, that was due for renovation, it featured a load of Slipknot fans trashing the place. The band eventually paid the owners of the house $50,000 in compensation. I kind of disliked the video when it first came out, as it fed into the cliche of mindless Heavy Metal fans. Today I love the energy in the video, and it sums up the fervour that some Nu-Metal bands inspired in their fans. One English teenager actually traveled to the US for the video shoot and Corey Taylor found accommodation for him.
‘You Know What They Do to Guys Like Us in Prison’. Like most songs on ‘Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge’, this track is short and sweet. Apparently inspired by Gerard Way making out with Bert McCracken from fellow Emo band The Used (as a dare), the song is under three minutes long and packs in a lot.
‘Opium of the People’. Starting with whimsical dissonant guitars, this track descends into a pretty standard Nu Metal track. It has a great riff and Taylor gets to showcase his staccato metal growls and his great singing voice on the chorus. Decent.
‘I'm Not Okay (I Promise)’ might not be the greatest MCR anthem (that’s probably ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’ from 2006), but it’s definitely in the top two. It’s a three minute and eight second epic. It was the lead single from ‘Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge’ and it broke them worldwide as megastars. It had the same effect for their career that ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ had for Nirvana, and ‘Chop Suey’ had for System of a Down. It was a colossal hit. The totally on the nose lyrics, particularly in the chorus, became the de facto Emo anthem.
The video was another triumph. Recorded as a faux trailer for a movie or a tv series, it featured geeks vs jocks in various scenarios in a high school. If you ever felt alone, if you ever felt rejected this was your song.
What’s this? A semi acoustic track by Slipknot? Is this their ‘Nothing Else Matters’ moment, or have they sold out? It’s an epic of a different kind and it shows that the guys from Iowa are supremely talented musicians. I don’t believe a single beer keg was hammered by a baseball bat during this song (until the very end) and it’s a stunningly beautiful composition.
Just when you think this MCR album might run out of steam, they hit us with this. ‘The Ghost of You’ is a stunning emotional power ballad (Emo style). I’ve changed my mind. This is my favourite song from the album. The accompanying video cost over one million dollars to make. It’s based on the D-Day landings and footage of MCR playing in 1940s military uniform (Gerard Way deliberately looking very Elvis) is cut with scenes of US soldiers storming the beaches at Normandy. It’s another overt display of anguish through loss.
Though the lyrics reflect the direct loss of a loved one, through break up or death, the video is very much a nod towards the US involvement in the invasion of Iraq. Other bands like Green Day, released much more direct elegies to that conflict. ‘The Ghost of You’, is in some ways, a continuation of the dirge start in ‘When September Ends’. The early 2000s saw September 11th, and US led conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. A whole new generation of young Americans experienced war and the way patriotism can go from fervour to abject disillusionment in a few short years.
Or, this is a track from the point of view of Helena, who is now in hell and is yearning for her lover. You choose.
‘Welcome’, is a pretty standard nu-metalish tune. On the plus side, Joey Jordison’s drumming is fairly amazing. The rest of the tune is good, but doesn’t call fall repeated listens. On an album full of absolute bangers, it slightly falls short of the standard set by the previous songs. It’s half a good song. It’s like a not wholly formed idea. I’ve read that it’s a rehash of an early demo of theirs, but having listened to the demo, I’m not getting that either. Good, not not a great Slipknot tune.
‘The Jetset Life Is Gonna Kill You’ is a rocking tune that conjure up images of a band on the road. It’s got a great groove and the backing vocals play really well against Gerard Way’s affected enunciations.
‘Vermilion’ has some major creepy, stalker/unrequited-infatuation vibes. The meaning is deliberately vague, and the refrain “I won’t let this build up inside of me”, expresses both hope and frustration in equal parts. Corey Taylor has admitted the POV of a stalker did inspire part of the song, however the rather cool video they released for the tune tells a different story.
In the video a young woman stumbles through life seemingly invisible to the outside world. Her obvious distress is ignored by everyone she passes, until she dons a Slipknot mask. Slipknot themselves suddenly appear in her room wearing their stage masks. They then put on masks over these masks, which are actually casts of their real faces. They all then have a bit of a dance together. So is the tune really about the connection between Slipknot and their fans? What’s the moral of the story? You can be your real self with Slipknot. And they’ll totally stalk the shit out of you.
‘Interlude’ is under a minute long and is very haunting, but is too like the beginning of a Radiohead song to be taken seriously as it’s own thing. It’s really just an intro to track 10, which you’ll hear in a moment.
Slipknot affectionally refer to their fans as Maggots and this song it their tribute to their fanbase. Full of heavy riffs, distortion, and pure bile, the lyrics are anthem worthy.
(We!) We are the new diabolic
(We!) We are the bitter bucolic
If I have to give my life you can have it
(We!) We are the pulse of the maggots
MCR go fully 80s speed metal here on ‘Thank You for the Venom’. It has a nod to Morrissey in the lyrics, and when this was released as a single it had a cover of ‘Jack the Ripper’ by the Moz as the B side. But the most notable thing about the tune is the Marty Friedman style guitar solo towards the end. It makes sense when you think about it. My Chemical Romance are the end result of fusing Megadeth with The Smiths!
‘Before I Forget’. There are many great Slipknot tunes. There are many great Slipknot tunes that are probably better than this one. But this one was my favourite for a very long time. It’s a really simple metal tune with a message from Corey Taylor "It's about standing your ground and deciding to be a good person, no matter what people say." It won Slipknot a Grammy and is notable for the video which simply shows the band playing the song without their masks.
Of course, you still don’t get to see their faces properly. Why do I like this so much? I think it’s a perfect metal song. It doesn’t set out to be ‘Master of Puppets’ or reinvent the wheel. There’s something pure about it. It has a sense of mature masculinity running through it that, for example, ‘Duality’ lacks. This is the sound of a band who are 100% confident in their abilities. Apparently Rick Rubin wasn’t a fan of it while he was producing the album, which goes to show how confident the band were to completely disregard his opinion on it.
‘Hang ‘Em High’. This track is fast paced and very. very punk. Also, it features Keith Morris on backing vocals. Keith Morris is a legendary Hardcore punk who fronted Circle Jerks and Black Flag. ‘Thing is, you can’t really hear what he is saying in the track except for some screaming. However, one fan dug a little bit deeper and found a hidden subliminal message in the track. Check it out here:
‘Vermilion, Pt 2’, is the conclusion of the story started in part 1. This a completely acoustic tune. In the denouement of this stalker or infatuation story, the narrator has decided the girl he is in love with isn’t real and tries to move on.
‘It’s Not a Fashion Statement, It’s a Deathwish’, would appear to be about two things. So, the Emo scene was heavily criticised back in the early 2000s. A number of teenage suicides were blamed on the influence of bands like MCR. Emo was actually called a death cult by the tabloids in the UK. However this all happened a bit later. The newspaper article that kicked this off was written in 2008. You can read a bit about it here in this article by Kerrang. So while the criticism of emo stylings may have already begun in there early 00s, this song is in a weird way foreshadowing what was to come. This echoes the ludicrous attacks on Metal in the 80s for allegedly inspiring serial killers and teenage suicides also.
Slipknot didn’t escape any of this either. In 2002 they were blamed for a school shooting in Germany, when it was alleged the shooter had Slipknot CD’s. There was also an attack in a school in South Africa where the attacker (armed with a sword), wore a Slipknot style mask.
Back to the track though, it’s a fast paced punk tune. Gerard Way is in shouty form. The guitars blitz along, the drumming is insanely bonkers. The theme of the lyrics is linked to the avenging lover back from hell thread running through the album.
‘The Nameless’, shows Slipknot stray into groove metal territory. This track has some Pantera or Lamb of God vibes. It’s a banging tune, with a haunting break during the chorus. During the tune Taylor’s vocals are double tracked in places and over dubbed in others where he is singing a duet with himself. There’s probably a musical term for this. If you know, please show off your knowledge in the comments.
‘Cemetery Drive’, feels very influenced by The Cure, with its whimsical intro and vocals. The chorus is all MCR however with soaring vocals and cascading guitars. There is debate about it’s meaning, and some online stories that it was about a friend of two of the band members who took her own life.
‘The Virus of Life’. Slipknot showcase an industrial metal sound in this track. The riffs are a little bit Rammstein, while the bass and drums are all Ministry. Taylors vocals are deliberately distorted. The lyrics are very stalker-ish, and could be from the point of view of an assailant, an actual virus, or the urge to commit violence and giving in to it. Beyond edgy. But this is a superb metal song.
‘I Never Told You What I Do for a Living’. So MCR hit back with an edgy tune of their own. The lyrics are open to interpretation. Personally I think it’s told partly from the POV of the antagonists 1000 murder victims and he has come to realise that maybe being reunited with with his dead lover comes at a cost. It’s a powerful rock song and a fitting end to the album.
The final track on Vol 3, is a dissonant ballad. It’s a thoughtful, introspective song that emphasises that while the guys from Iowa may still be mental rockers who wear boiler suits and masks, they are also grown adults. What is the track about? Well guess what? Corey Taylor himself provided the answer on the Quora website of all places:
So there we have it. If you’ve made it to here thanks for reading. The Aquanaut has had some personal issues this year and his output hasn’t been steady. But hopefully this rather epic length email has sated your thirst for all things hard rock and metal.
Were you into these bands back in the 00s? MCR are due a new album any day now after reforming to tour, and the Slipknot guys are still uber-productive.
Let me know if you like this format of comparing two albums by different artists and pop any suggestions for future posts in the comments. Stay safe and be good.