In the early days of rock music, it was the performers sound that mattered most. Musicians were there to make music and that's what the audience wanted from them. (But, clearly, being an attractive singer or musician never hurt.) With the dawn of the MTV age (and probably earlier than that), people wanted rock bands to not only play good music, but to incorporate impressive visuals as well. This kind of mindset was the perfect playground for a band like Slipknot, which quickly became infamous for the fact that all nine (?!) members of the band wear grotesque masks. Thus, it seems a no-brainer that a visually-oriented band like Slipknot would naturally progress into video portrait of themselves. But, not everything works out the way that it should.
Slipknot is an Iowa-based band which plays a very aggressive form of metal, although some of their songs do offers surprisingly melodic choruses. They first hit the scene in 1997 and have garnered a legion of devoted fans (known as Maggots) ever since. For a group featuring masked members playing very hard music, Slipknot has achieved a great of success and several Grammy nominations. True to their enigmatic nature, the members of the band go by a number: 8 (Corey Taylor, vocals), 1 (Joey Jordison, drums), 7 (Mick Thompson, guitars), 2 (Paul Grey, bass), 5 (Craig Jones, programming) , 4 (James Root, guitar), 3 (Chris Fehn, percussion), 0 (Sid Wilson, DJ), 6 (Shawn Crahan, percussion).
Slipknot - Voliminal: Inside the Nine is a two-disc set which presents a collection of visual material representing the period between 2004-2006 when the band was promoting its third album, Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses. Disc 1offers Voliminal, an 84-minute feature. Ostensibly, this is supposed to present an insiders view of what life was like on the road for Slipknot through 28 months of touring. The piece was created & directed by band member Shawn Crahan. The result is an incomprehensible mess. Perhaps this is what constant touring feels like, but that doesn't mean that we should have to watch it. Voliminal is made up of brief (often very brief) scenes of random events. There is never any rhyme or reason to the proceedings, nor is there any narrative. We get snippets of a live song followed by footage of a crew member getting drunk and throwing up followed by footage of an overflowing toilet. This "movie" would give David Lynch a headache. If you are looking for any sort of traditional tour documentary, then you are going to be sorely disappointed. We get no quality comments from the band members and there are no live songs in their entirety. To add insult to injury, Crahan has decided to get "arty" and has added effects to many of the shots. (This reminded me of when I had to try all of the buttons on my new video camera.) There's nothing wrong with Crahan wanting to branch out into filmmaking and it's perfectly fine for him to make an experimental film, but that's no reason to present this to fans of Slipknot who want a closer look at the band and only get a migraine.
Disc 2 is comprised of much more standard fare and is much more satisfying. Truth be told, Slipknot should have only released Disc 2 and everything would have been just fine. The DVD contains five music videos for songs from Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses and they do a much better job of representing what I would consider to be the visual side of Slipknot. The videos are: (No director's credit information was provided in the DVD packaging for the videos)
"Duality" -- If ever a video needed an audio commentary, this is it. As Slipknot plays inside of a dilapidated house, hundreds of very angry-looking youths proceed to destroy the domicile. (My assumption is that these are fans who were invited to the shoot.) I would love to see the footage of these people lined up to sign waivers, because some of them had to get seriously injured while doing this. The kinetic action matches the song, but it's also hard to tell what's happening at times. Still, a great song.
"Vermilion" -- A surprising melodic song for Slipknot, and a surprisingly poignant video. The video centers on a woman who moves much slower than everything and everyone else around her (she basically stands still while people and cars whiz by becoming only blurs), thus she can never touch another person. (Jeez! What a depressing concept!) The band appears in the video wearing new masks. These masks are lifecasts of the members actual faces. So, we get to see their faces, but not really.
"Vermilion, pt. 2" -- The acoustic sequel to "Vermilion", this video was never aired. It's difficult to decide if this happened because, A) the video deals with a dead body which dances on the breeze, B) the band doesn't appear in the video, or C) this video is sort of stupid.
"Before I Forget" -- Building on the change in masks idea from the "Vermilion" video, the band performs here in a rehearsal space without their masks...but we never get to see their faces. The camera catches guitars, drums, hands, shoes, etc, and shots of the masks hung on mic stands, but we never get to see the mugs of these guys. The idea can't carry the video, but it's a great idea nonetheless, and the bridge of this song is killer.
"The Nameless" -- This video is simply comprised of live footage and random shots of fans.
Disc 2 also contains interviews with all nine members of Slipknot, and here, they appear unmasked (save for Craig Jones) -- which makes the fact that their faces were blurred-out in Voliminal seem kind of pointless. The interviews average 6 minutes long and the members talk about a variety of topics. Most seem surprisingly down-to-Earth, but some come off as pretentious, and one member's glowing view of Slipknot -- I'm not going to name names -- reminded me of something from Spinal Tap.
The last segment of Disc 2 contains live performance footage for nine songs. The songs are "(sic)", "The Blister Exists", "Eyeless", "Duality", "Vermilion", "The Heretic Anthem", "Pulse of the Maggots", "Before I Forget", and "People = Shit". The quality varies here and most of the cuts were taken from a show in Tokyo.
Slipknot - Voliminal: Inside the Nine is unmasked on DVD courtesy of Roadrunner Records. As the DVD contains several different presentation, the video quality is all over the place. Most of Voliminal appears to have been shot on digital video, so it looks OK. The piece is presented full-frame. However, lighting conditions weren't always optimal and some of the scenes are quite dark. Video noise abounds here, but Crahan probably wanted it that way. The music videos are look very good, as they are sharp and clear. All but 2 of the live performances appear to have been shot in HD and they look very good. I can't help but wonder why none of the pieces here were presented 16 x 9. Three of the videos and seven of the live performances are letterboxed, so why not go ahead and fill the whole screen for us?
As with video, differences in the audio abound. For the most part, the audio on Voliminal is terrible. It's presented in stereo and it's clear that most was recorded using the mic on a video camera. The audio is often muddy and distorted. The music sounds awful and if someone is speaking, it's often difficult to understand them. As for the music videos, they are presented in stereo, offering CD quality sound, but a surround mix would have been very nice. The live pieces are in stereo, and sound OK, although the sound can be somewhat muddy at times.
I suppose that Disc 2 is intended to be considered as an extra, but as its contents are far superior to Disc 1, I listed its attributes above.
There's no denying the fact that Slipknot is a weird band, but that doesn't give them the right to push this pointlessly weird movie on us. Even die-hard fans will be disappointed by Voliminal and most won't make it all the way through. However, Disc 2 offers solid material as the music videos are great and the interviews offer a look inside one of America's most mysterious bands.