SLIPKNOT 99: The whole thing, I think it’s (sic)

SLIPKNOT 99: The whole thing, I think it’s (sic)

- By Dan Franklin

A generation removed since nine masked outliers from Iowa first set the world of heavy music ablaze, Slipknot continues to redefine catharsis, intensity and authenticity.

Photo by Dean Karr 

18 July 1999  He might not have known it when the riff kicked in, but the injury was inevitable. As clown drew his head back and slammed it forward, he made a sharp, devastating impact with his beer keg. Battered and dented from the abuse meted out on it by clown as part of his percussion set, the keg bit back – hard. 

clown’s eye socket shattered on impact. Blood began pouring into his mask. Thirteen-year-old Jack Osbourne, at the side of the stage for this date on the Ozzfest tour, reeled at the sight. Slipknot were his new favorite band. He proudly explained as much to MTV presenter Kurt Loder on air that summer, navigating backstage in a golf buggy. The venue that day, the Gorge Ampitheatre on the outskirts of George, a town near Seattle, overlooked a beautiful vista that plunged away behind the stage. It looked like the Grand Canyon or Sedona. But the scene onstage was pure horror.

The riff that triggered the injury had a similar vertiginous effect to the view. The breakdown of “Eyeless” had a dive-bombing energy created by its ghost bend. Mick and Jim bent their guitar strings up and stroked down as they released. Joey later explained to an extreme-metal website that they’d lifted the technique from Immolation’s song “Here in After”, from the album of the same name released in 1996. Joey breathlessly talked up Slipknot’s extreme-metal credentials in the year their self-titled album was released, as a counterpoint to their soaring popularity and the “nu metal” label they were immediately tagged with.

“Eyeless”, maybe more than the other songs on Slipknot, exemplifies the album and its furious promise, and transcends it. The urgent Amen breaks of its introduction, spun by DJ Sid, were steeped in the drum and bass scene of the mid to late nineties. Drum and bass was a recently popular form of British dance music which fed off the same rampant energy as metal. Though it could easily have been anachronistic in a midwestern American metal band, it felt totally logical in the song. 

When the runaway-train momentum of “Eyeless” crashes into that breakdown, Corey roars his cryptic, fiery exhortation: “LOOK INTO MY BRAND NEW… EYYYYE!” 

“When I hear it and hear the words, I’m free from everything and everyone. I’m going to go mental and I’ll kill you if you’re in my way,” clown said after the incident.


For clown, cutting himself to the bone was the most religious experience he had ever had – “the pain and pleasure all in one”. 

Pain was the lifeforce of Slipknot. Pain was the wellspring that Slipknot drew from – the pain of living. The only way out – the route to salvation – was through that pain.

“If you’re completely honest with yourself and completely honest with the people you’re playing for, all the pain and suffering you have within your soul disappears and you liberate yourself,” Joey once said.

As the roadies took off clown’s mask, he thought he had been shot. He must have swallowed close to two pints of blood. The irony was this wasn’t even the first time on that Ozzfest tour that he’d injured himself at the same exact moment of “Eyeless”. He gashed his head open during the breakdown of the song at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, New Jersey, earlier that summer.

In 1999, violence wasn’t planned onstage. But it wasn’t incidental either. When injuries happened, when members set themselves on fire with lighter fluid, when they tussled with each other – it just had to be. It was a purging, the intensity of which had rarely been seen before onstage. It was matched and sometimes superseded by the frenzy of the audience. clown openly fantasized about breaking his limbs onstage.

As Slipknot ripped into the next song without him – appropriately enough, “Wait and Bleed” – clown was in bliss. The EMTs kept trying to bundle him into a waiting ambulance.

“Chill the fuck out,” he told them. “I want to watch the greatest band in the world.”


1999 – the year Slipknot exploded. 1999 wasn’t the end of everything, but it was the end of the twentieth century. That hundred years had seen an accelerated period of change like no other in human history. It began with horse-drawn carts, then moved through two world wars; the atomic bomb; radical improvements in healthcare, prosperity and civil rights; the introduction of the internet; the fall of the Berlin Wall; and, of course, McDonald’s. 

The American century’s great success story was capitalism. But the dream was rapidly souring. 1999 saw people turning against capitalism in their droves. At the end of the year, Naomi Klein published No Logo, a screed against big-brand corporations, which came in the wake of violent anti-capitalist protests against the World Trade Organisation in Seattle.

Six months earlier, when Slipknot was unleashed on 29 June, the turning point of this momentous year, the band presented the world with a startling anti-image. The masks, the bright-red coveralls, the tribal “S”, the barcodes and numbers assigned to each member, flew in the face of commodifying rock musicians.

But, of course, it also did the reverse. Slipknot created the ultimate image, the masks drawing them out of themselves, and at the same time concealing the raw emotion in their faces when they played.

“The masks are our way of getting away from the cult of individual musicians,” Paul told Alternative Press. “Bands don’t need sponsorships, they don’t need one member getting more famous than the others. When we were in Des Moines, nobody gave a fuck about what we were doing, who we were and what our names were. So we stopped being those people, and all that it’s about now is the music.” 

clown summed it up more starkly: “We wear the masks because we’re nobody.”

From the start, the band mythologized Des Moines. They differed in their opinions of it. Paul condemned it as a “shithole”. Joey described it as a “barren wasteland of entertainment”. clown tended to defend it as a good place to bring up his young family. Corey memorably summarized it as a place of “skating rinks and graveyards” in their Welcome to the Neighborhood home video, released by Roadrunner Records in the wake of the album. What they all agreed on was that they were treated badly in Des Moines. After years of being told they were part of a diseased generation, Slipknot considered themselves the vaccine. 

Slipknot understood that what happened to them during 1999 was remarkable. It was the fear of having what they’d created taken away from them – to return to nothingness – that instilled in them a furious zeal.

One of the great mysteries of Slipknot remains how this collection of “chiefs” from different bands – Modifidious, Body Pit, Heads On The Wall, Atomic Opera, Stone Sour – could coalesce to become something as remarkable as it was. How did the best metal musicians in their city in Iowa – not known for its rock scene – elevate each other to become the best in the world? There was a lucidity, a doggedness and an attention to detail that separated them from the pack. 

That’s the thing about Slipknot, they were the masterminds of their own combustion: Oppenheimer and The Bomb.


By the time the band ventured overseas as the year waned – to headline London’s Astoria venue on 13 December 1999 – the vision they created, and the forces behind it, were plain to the foreign eyes of the English press.

“Slipknot are mesmerizing, menacing and utterly mind-blowing,” wrote Kerrang! of the show. “They are the logical conclusion to the twentieth century. If you feed cattle on their own shit, then you get disease. If you feed humans on war and MTV, you get Slipknot. When Charles Manson told the world that their children would rise against them, this is what he meant.”


1999 was the hundredth anniversary of the publication of The Interpretation of Dreams. What Sigmund Freud called his “royal road” to the unconscious found a new expression in Slipknot. The reckoning with the shadow self was encoded in the very first song on the album, “(sic)”: “You can’t kill me ‘cause I’m already inside you.”

In his memoir The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid, avuncular writer and Des Moines son Bill Bryson described it as “a safe, wholesome city [...] a nice city, a comfortable city [...] a greener, quieter, less intrusive world”. 

Corey saw it very differently. For him, the lack of things to engage young people – a long way from the hordes of kids in the fifties having adventures together on their bicycles – meant that they had to “develop a sense of self early on. That encourages individuality. That encourages imagination and it also encourages a severe sense of psychosis that turns into some crazy motherfuckers.”

When Slipknot escaped to Indigo Ranch studios with producer Ross Robinson in the late summer of 1998 to record Slipknot, Ross encouraged them to face themselves. He got Corey to sit the band down and explain his lyrics. Ross brought them into a reflective, therapeutic space – often turbulent and febrile – akin to a group spiritual experience, like a heretical prayer session. Ross was set against sterile, note-perfect renditions of the songs. He wanted the band to play the music with the visceral intensity of reliving a trauma.

“The music is definitely a product of nightmares,” Jim told the IGN For Men website. “I've had all kinds of weird nightmares. I mean everything from being a World War II fighter pilot to just having a burning head turn around telling me that I'm going to burn in hell, you know what I mean?”

With Slipknot, the band stepped into their nightmares, and created new ones. The most powerful of these was “Scissors”, the finale of the album. It was one of a triumvirate of songs – the others being “Tattered & Torn” and “Prosthetics” – that were expansive, oddly structured and, frankly, psychotic. By the end of 1999, and the band’s World Domination tour, “Scissors” exceeded ten minutes of droning menace, as Corey improvised cracked-up monologues: “Do you know what the fuck I am? I am the hate you suppress.”


This externalization of a hidden, inner personality also came through in David Fincher’s Fight Club, released in October 1999. There’s an obvious dimension to Slipknot which is nine men coming together letting their anger out, resonant with the support group in the film for men who have suffered from testicular cancer. And then the Fight Club itself, where men elect to beat the shit out of each other, to find some purpose and meaning in their lives.

“Man, I see in Fight Club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived,” says Brad Pitt’s character, Tyler Durden, in the film. “I see all this potential, and I see squandering. Goddamn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war. Our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”

Seeing the film was almost too much for clown – like looking in a distorted mirror.

Fight Club is exactly what I have been probably for the last 10 years of my life,” he told Loudside in 1999. “And I am not making that up. That movie aggravated me, made my stomach so upset. There are so many things in that movie that are me, personally, that I almost lost it. I mean, I was like ‘Oh my God’. I mean, forget that you’re beating the fuck out of yourself or out of someone, you’re doing it to get the fucking pain of being born… you’re getting the pain of the world out… and that’s what I do every day in this band. I just beat the shit out of myself.”


The Slipknot live experience in 1999, especially indoors, was overwhelming. It was pitch-black psychedelia. Strobes – incessant, relentless – cut through dry ice. Even the intro tracks were overwhelming. Before they took to the stage, “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)” rang out, the volume slowly increasing until it was deafening. We are in the pantheon of the greats, Slipknot seemed to be saying – with AC/DC as their thunder gods. “Get Behind Me Satan and Push”, a 1968 ditty by country musician Billie Joe Spears, seemed jaunty and incongruous, until it got stuck on a repeating refrain of “satan”. Band and audience were off to hell. The excerpt of dialogue from Harmony Korine’s 1997 film Gummo, culminating in one of its cast of kids screaming, “It smells like a bunch of bullshit!”, was the final induction into a world of an unwanted, twisted and mischievous underclass.

But the screech and throb of “742617000027” signaled the true summoning of Slipknot. Live, the 36-second album introduction stretched to minutes. The band members materialized like demons, slowly taking their places onstage. When the looping sample – “The whole thing, I think it’s sick”  started, pitch-shifted up and down, sped up and down, the tension ratcheted up to unbearable levels. 

“When I walk out on stage and see the look in people's eyes and the crowd yelling ‘Slipknot!’ for ten minutes before you come out, I mean that gets you really jacked,” said Mick. “I mean, the thought of walking into a town where you've never been before and there's people fucking yelling your name that are there to see you, it's the greatest feeling on earth. I mean, it's amazing. No one could ever imagine that that would ever happen in their life. Certainly not me. I don't know, it's the coolest. So you get really psyched up.”

The track was assembled by Craig and its central sample is a phrase spoken by a woman called Corey Hurst in Robert Hendrickson’s haunting and oddly lyrical 1973 documentary Manson. Hurst was once a cellmate of Susan Atkins, alias Sadie, who murdered Sharon Tate, eight-and-a-half months pregnant, in August 1969. The documentary opens with Deputy District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi describing the murder scene of Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger and Wojciech Frykowski, at 10500 Cielo Drive, as “most savage, bizarre, nightmarish” and a “monstrous, macabre scene of human terror and massacre”. The murderers, part of Charles Manson’s “family”, infamously daubed the word “PIG” in Tate’s blood on the door.

Atkins confessed to the murder of “plastic-faced mannequin” Tate to Hurst while she was in jail for another killing. In the documentary, Hurst (herself jailed merely for possession of a joint) says, “They think it’s right to murder. They want to murder. Look at all the people – and they get a kick out of it, a sexual kick out of it. The whole thing, I think it’s sick.”

Nonetheless, there’s a glint in her eye as she says it. It set the tone for Slipknot and the band’s subsequent live shows because, though that final phrase described our revulsion, it also described our compulsion. “Welcome to the sickness!” Corey often screamed onstage before time itself seemed to implode before the percussive obliteration of the opening of “(sic)”.

In 1999, you either got with Slipknot, got the fuck out of their way, or risked being wiped out. In the opening of Manson, family member Sandy Goode could have been summarizing Slipknot’s own philosophy in the year of their explosion: “You kill whoever gets in your way — this is us.” 


As much as Slipknot exposed the underbelly of American society and culture – and the darkness within – they arrived at a crucial moment in metal's evolution. Ozzfest was their first national tour. Established in 1996, the festival celebrated the godfather-like position of Ozzy Osbourne, and was organized around him. When the original lineup of Black Sabbath reformed for the 1999 edition it reflected a renewed interest in their music and legacy, represented in turn by the inspiration they had given to all the bands on the bill. Sabbath's Tony Iommi said he recognised similar riffs in Slipknot’s ultra-frenetic melee – they were simply sped up.



At the same time, it felt like Ozzfest was searching for the future. The second stage was a breeding ground for new talent. In 1999, its fixed headliners were Fear Factory, whose album Demanufacture delivered a thrilling new vision of metal, crossing over into industrial and techno genres, whilst contending with the cybernetic dystopia of Terminator 2. It was released in 1995, the year Slipknot formed in Des Moines. But what Joey referred to as “neo-metal”, also represented in Machine Head’s Burn My Eyes and Sepultura’s Chaos A.D., was soon outpaced by the “nu” metal of Korn and Limp Bizkit.

In 1999 the innovation of nu metal had crested – even if the genre was yet to reach its commercial peak – before the nine Iowans ripped the second stage apart, often playing as early as 10.30am in the morning. Ozzfest kicked off before Slipknot was even released – the footage of the time shows fans entranced by the shock of the new. 

Slipknot's songs had turntable scratching and incorporated raging dance beats, so there was nu-metal energy in their sound, but they also harnessed the sheer brutality and technical prowess of the underground. The songs on Slipknot were warped into strange shapes – riffs were chopped up and beats were dragged back. They resembled musical versions of the oddly-shaped, intuitive metal sculptures clown welded together. They wrapped the past, present and future into one moment.

The four years that elapsed between Slipknot’s formation and their appearance at Ozzfest was a concentrated period of experimentation, losing and acquiring band members, rehearsing endlessly in basements, recording demos and even an album (Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat.). It all amounted, in clown’s words, to “soul-searching”. Joey, clown and Paul spent hours at Joey’s place of work, Sinclair gas station in Waukee, talking about the band and honing their vision. 1999 was about finally executing that vision to its fullest.

Slipknot’s introduction to the world at Ozzfest was apt, since Des Moines was where Ozzy Osbourne infamously bit the head off a bat onstage on January 20th, 1982. This effectively blooded the city in heavy-metal infamy, and its notoriety wormed its way into the band’s imaginations when they were children. 


After the ultra-realist revolution of metal in the nineties – bands singing about social issues and personal experiences, rather than fantasy realms – Slipknot brought heightened theatricality back to the stage in a noose-tightening way. Slipknot, onstage, or offstage at one of their many rabid signing sessions that year, was a spectacle. They weren’t the first to revive showmanship. Nine Inch Nails touring The Downward Spiral in 1994 and Marilyn Manson becoming Anitchrist Superstar in 1996 both appalled and dazzled – but Slipknot changed the parameters of theatricality itself. Instead of externalizing outré characters in the vein of KISS or Devo, they drew personae out of themselves which revealed their innermost poison. The theatricality of their performances didn’t erect a barrier between performers and audience, but radically collapsed it in a cathartic act. The kids who came to these early shows were maggots feeding on the carcass of the twentieth century.

From the perspective of 2024, Slipknot in 1999 was the story of a local band with huge promise becoming a global phenomenon. We can’t understand the sickness of Slipknot now without understanding it in 1999. What we see now with Slipknot celebrating this 25th anniversary isn’t nostalgia, but a channeling – possessing themselves with the spirit of that era to create something monstrous and new.

1999 was the beginning of the realization of Slipknot’s American dream and their simultaneous rejection of the society that spawned them. With it came the emergence of a culture and a generational plea: ‘Don’t ever judge me!’ 

On Slipknot, they changed heavy music forever. It’s happening again.




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