The Second Nail: Slipknot bassist Paul Gray dead at 38
Fuck. Let’s pray these things don’t come in threes.
It breaks my heart having to write about real death two columns in a row, but while I felt compelled to write about Dio almost for the sake of just having said something, but this week’s case is far more personal.
Paul Gray, the bassist and co-founding member of Slipknot, was found dead in a Mariott hotel room of apparent drug overdose. He was 38, married with a son on the way.
If you have any interest in heavy music in general, you have to have known about Slipknot. If not, you must live in a weird alternate dimension. Their 1999 eponymous debut was one of the crater-making cannon shots that heralded the swarm of nu-metal bands that flirted vigorously with mainstream success at the turn of the millennium. The album sold more than two million copies and put the band up with heavyweights like Disturbed, Korn and System of A Down. They toured non-stop, criss-crossing America and converting swarms of angst-y pre-adolescents (and a helping of grown adults) in their wake, leaving great scars of black-nail polish and spiked dog-collars across the face of the nation.
As a 15-year-old getting into dark music, Slipknot was an unavoidable collision. I got hooked in a big way, lured by a 2001 Rolling Stone cover story that made the band out to be the anti-christs(s), referencing severe drug abuse and sexual perversions. I arrived on the scene (by which I mean I studied them from the safety of the internet) in time to catch the release of their second album, Iowa. That album was about the scariest thing I ever laid my hands on until that point. They the horrific masks, the lamb fetus on the inner-jacket, the f-bombs dropped as casually as spare change. I was wearing black nail polish and JNCOs in no time. I did at one point also own and occasionally wear a spiked dog collar. It feels so good to finally be able to admit that.
Maybe it’s because I quickly realized how ridiculous I looked, but I outgrew Slipknot pretty quick as I ventured into the realms of Scandinavian death metal and the like, trading in my nail-polish for a Hammer of Thor necklace. Derided by most serious metal heads one of those “jump-da-fuck-up” bands that catered to the mainstream with hip-hop influences and chunkier, groovier rhythms, you couldn’t really admit to liking them or having ever been a fan, affectionately referred to by the band as “Maggots.” I denied much influence from them for the longest time, but as I’ve matured in my appreciation of music in recent years I’ve begun to look on them in a fonder light.
In truth Slipknot was an essential step in training my ears for the brutal of metal’s darker furnaces. They introduced me to tortured vocals, bellowed, gurgled and screeched, insane levels of distortion, even blast beats. It’s true they featured rap segments and tribal drumming, but Iowa’s epic opener, “People=Shit,” is almost pure death metal for the first minute. They are nothing if not eclectic musicians. Without Slipknot, I may have missed the boat on metal entirely.
If there was one theme that was repeated throughout the band’s tearful press conference, it was how essential Gray had always been to the band from the moment of its creation. If what they say is true, then for his part in shepherding me toward what I am today, I owe the man a spiritual debt that I can never repay.
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