I can roughly remember when I fell in love with Slipknot. I was 11 years old in 2001 around the release of Iowa. My mum had just gotten us cable TV here in the U.K., and I suddenly had access channels that played music videos. Among the nu-metal and pop-punk fray of blink-182, Limp Bizkit and other major acts of the time, I stumbled upon a video so vastly different than the polished and bright masses.

The dark, noir horror-scape immediately made me feel scared, yet uncontrollably intrigued. It was the video for “Left Behind.” As an only child, the young boy in the video living his life alone felt eerily familiar, and these nine...monsters — the only thing I could think of them as — were drowning out that loneliness with wailing guitars, thick, curdling drums, thunderous bass and that growl. All of it made me feel—safe.

As the video rattled through, each passing frame introduced me to a new twisted, macabre world. One where in the middle of a dead forest stood nine figures clad in jumpsuits, including the teasingly horrifying Clown and the absolute behemoth metallic-faced guitarist. Most curiously of all for me was the leathery-patchwork singer — like Leatherface come to life. All unknown to me at the time were the faces of one the most infamous bands to exist in the world, and the band that would become the most important in mine.

Nothing will ever beat my first time seeing those nine masks. The homemade aspect instantly added to the unsettling nature of them and allowed my imagination to run wild. What did these nine men do?! Are they actual killers? Each idea I came up with was more twisted than the last. I was enamored.

I needed to know where these beings came from. So, I ventured into town, found the nearest record store and purchased Iowa after having to try and explain what I'd just seen to the assistant. Unfortunately, they don’t let 11 year olds wander into a shop and buy a Slipknot album, so I had to return with an adult. Just holding the CD felt wrong. Add in the parental advisory aspect, and I knew I shouldn’t like this band, but I needed more.

Roadrunner Records
Roadrunner Records

Scrambling through the CD insert, I was greeted with nine abrasive portraits of these people. I finally had names — at least I knew they were real. Listening to the album the first time was a shock to the system. Growing up, I'd not been exposed to music apart from radio my mum listened to, so I knew they went against every aspect of taste and tune, but I knew I needed them. But that genuine need wouldn���t show itself until almost a year later.

At this point, that immediate capture in the utter chaos was alluring, but the hook hadn’t set fully in. That was saved for September 2002. My close-knit family was torn apart by the death of my uncle at only 35 years old. As my mum is one of the first people anyone in my family calls, we were first on the scene. The picture that met me has never left my head. It was a surge of complex emotion I'd never had to deal with; a visceral hurt and pain that has only been matched three times since. That’s when it hit me.

These nine figures embrace this darkness. They hold it in their filthy, dirt-ridden hands and give no fucks. The world can't touch them because they are one. They are a unit. A family. And, more importantly, what I needed then, and still need now.

It didn't take long for me to try and get lost in this world. In the age of 2002 the Internet was a new commodity. Learning about new artists meant scanning music magazines and heading to the nearest record store, which is where I happened upon a VHS (fuck, I'm aging myself) copy of the documentary Welcome To Our Neighborhood. I swiftly inundated my family by playing it at every available moment, much to their dismay.

Their shocked reactions to the grainy footage of masked men growling and screaming, fighting, crawling about the floor, swearing like it’s oxygen, just added to my desire to be different. My want to live in the world they inhabited. This place that, by nature, was unappealing and downright distasteful. More importantly, it gave me an outlet. It helped me process a raw range of emotions that I'd never had to before. Their chaos silenced mine.

I'd even managed to score a copy of an early biography of theirs, which I took to school. It was swiftly taken from me for occupying everyone's attention. I also was told to never bring it in again, which might've had something to do with the photos in the middle of the book — particularly Clown stood around many bloody sheep heads.

Over the years, these monolithic, warped beasts would soundtrack everything from intense breakups to further devastating family tragedies. They’ve given me this realm that I could escape to. Compiling searing elements of extremity as they pushed themselves further and further. Martyrs for a cause they could never have seen coming. It’s here that Slipknot as an idea are an unstoppable force. We, with them, are one. They even gave me the first feeling of belonging by naming us Maggots. But in 2010, even this family was rocked.

Paul Gray (Slipknot)
Jo Hale, Getty Images

Paul Gray's untimely death was a fault-line crack through this unmovable core. Very few rockstar deaths I’ve openly wept to, but the news of Paul, and the eventual press conference with the remaining eight, unmasked and vulnerable, created a new facet to this relationship — that it's okay to confront sadness and the fear of it.

Still, to this day, I know they were just nine dudes who had a grudge against the shit cards they were dealt and channeled it through their own form of art. But how they did it forever cemented the fact that I could face up to my own emotions I’d tried to hide from for so long.

Their lyrics paint tangible feelings of confusion, anger and rage. As I’ve gotten older, my mental health and addiction pushed me down roads I never thought I would (and hopefully will again) traverse. Thankfully, with the help of their dark world, I made it through. I particularly found solace in the maniacal laugh-leaning, spit-filled sear on "Eyeless:” “Insane, am I the only motherfucker with a brain?! I’m hearing voices, but all they do is complain!”

Even now at the age of 28, 17 years later, I find the prospect of new Slipknot — with those various members having come and gone — utterly encapsulating. As of writing a press release came through to me signaling the release of new track “Unsainted” and more importantly — new masks. This evolution has come to be just as important as the music for it shows us where they are as people. It’s a Maggots' Christmas.

A page from the biography I purchased all those years ago has a section on the future of the band, and no one knew how long these madmen would carry on. Yet, here we are, almost 25 years later, and that sketchy, grainy beast is a full-blown behemoth.

Sure, the unhinged element has mildly subsided, but that’s life. Things grow, yet I still find myself whiling away hours watching old TV interviews where Chris Fehn and Clown destroy rooms around interviewers or Corey Taylor sits there like the unhinged circus leader. Reveling in the feeling that anything could happen.

I’ve grown with them, they’ve soundtracked my formative years, and I’ve been judged for loving this band. I’ve felt ostracised for finding a world that no one else around me wanted, but as the world has grown, so has the ability to find people who are also enamored with it. When my car was stolen from outside my house earlier this year, while I was pissed off, I was more heartbroken at the loss of that copy of Iowa. It was one of the few things that had made it through my life with me.

But ultimately, what has never left me is the irony. With an album titled All Hope Is Gone and the track “People=Shit,” the world is their target. But the family that Slipknot have created, the one that gave me understanding when I was lost and confused, is the one that truly gives us outcasts hope. We are a family. Welcome to our neighborhood.

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