All Hope Is Gone

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There comes a time in every band's life where they take off the masks and grow up -- then again, maybe not, as Slipknot have managed to dig deeper without ever shedding their grotesque veils. They're still wearing disguises but they have shed producer Rick Rubin, the metal legend who produced 2004's Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses, giving the nonet just the slightest hint of broader horizons beyond their relentless aggression -- not enough for the band to crossover, but perhaps enough to earn grudging respect from listeners outside of metalheads. Of course, such respect is hardly granted to bands that wear monster maggot masks, so Slipknot's retreat to ugliness on their fourth album -- a move telegraphed heavily by the cheery title All Hope Is Gone -- isn't entirely surprising, nor is it unwelcome as this isn't a regression, it's more or less a consolidation of strengths. Certainly, the album gets off to a throttling start with "Gematria," a cluster of cacophony and for the longest time on All Hope it seems as if Slipknot will never let up on this pressure, as this is an onslaught of densely dark intricate riffs. So effective is this onslaught that when things do get a little softer a little later on, the album threatens to collapse like a soufflé, but that's only because the slower moments emphasize the group's odd tendency to sound like anonymous active rock when they untwist their rhythms and lay off on the double bass drums. Nowhere is this latent tendency for macho schmaltz more evident than on "Snuff," a stab at a power ballad that sounds disarmingly close to Nickelback, a bewildering incongruity that feels even stranger given the album's otherwise merciless attack. One more power ballad like this would be enough to derail the album, turning it into the crossover Vol. 3 never was despite Rubin's flourishes, but All Hope Is Gone as a whole winds up being as bleak and unforgiving as its title.

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