LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - The moment is burned into the mind of Roadrunner Records president Jonas Nachsin. It was 1999, and his label had convinced Ozzfest organizers to put its newly signed band, Slipknot, on the festival's second stage.
Curious to see the band in action before the release of its debut album, Nachsin took a drive to New Jersey, where Ozzfest was playing at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel. While hard rock acts Black Sabbath, Slayer, Rob Zombie, System of a Down, Deftones and Godsmack attracted the masses, then-unknown Slipknot took the side stage before a respectable audience of about 200.
And then, Slipknot ripped into its set.
"People were running down the hill," Nachsin recalls. "They heard this cacophonous noise in the background and decided that they literally needed to run and go see what was going on. Those moments are incredibly rare, not just in hard rock or metal, but in music in general."
Nearly a decade after its debut at Ozzfest, Grammy Award winner Slipknot has moved to the top of its genre. With rock act Disturbed, the band is co-headlining one of this summer's most anticipated hard rock tours, the inaugural Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival, which launched July 9. The timing of the 30-date Mayhem trek couldn't arrive at a better time for Slipknot, which will release its fourth studio album, "All Hope Is Gone," August 26 via Roadrunner.
"I've spent the last four-and-a-half months getting in shape for the tour, because I want to come right out and destroy s--t," Slipknot vocalist Corey Taylor says. "I want to come out on fire from the first show, like we never missed a beat and just got tighter and better."
And Taylor is excited to show off the band's new material onstage. He believes that Slipknot has matured emotionally and musically since 2004's "Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses," which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and has moved 1.4 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
For "All Hope Is Gone," the nine-piece group recorded for the first time in its home state of Iowa at Sound Farm, about 40 minutes outside of Des Moines. "The songwriting is stronger," Taylor says. "It's not a million miles a minute with a bunch of screaming and all that crap." Even so, "the chaos is there, but it's done in a more constrained way."
The album maintains Slipknot's overall heaviness, dizzying guitar solos and double-bass-pedal madness, but finds Taylor and mask-clad bandmates Sid Wilson, Joey Jordison, Paul Gray, Chris Fehn, Jim Root, Craig "133" Jones, Shawn "Clown" Crahan and Mick Thomson -- who are often referred to by fans as numbers zero through eight -- experimenting with melodic overtones, which are best heard on tracks like "Vendetta," "Snuff" and "Dead Memories."
The expanded sound on the new album should help strengthen Nachsin's argument that Slipknot isn't strictly a "heavy band. We have to constantly remind people that if Slipknot was a metal band, they would've sold 100,000 records and not 5 million," he says.
Although four years have passed since "Vol. 3," Slipknot has remained visible in the public's eye and among its rabid fan base, known affectionately as the Maggots. (Taylor: "They're the animals feeding off of the meat.")
After finishing its 2005 tour in support of "Vol. 3," some of Slipknot's nine members took a break to focus on other musical projects. Taylor and Slipknot guitarist Root's other band, alternative rock act Stone Sour, spent the next two and a half years promoting the band's sophomore release, "Come What(ever) May," which has sold 666,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The 2006 Roadrunner set debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200, spawning single "Through Glass," which spent three weeks at No. 2 on the Modern Rock chart.
While Stone Sour's rising success helped keep Taylor and Root in the spotlight, Slipknot was also kept alive through two releases: a live album in 2005, "9.0: Live," and the 2006 Crahan-directed "Voliminal," a DVD documentary that featured disturbing behind-the-scenes imagery of the band on tour and exclusive unmasked interviews with most of Slipknot's members.
Additionally, Slipknot's "Before I Forget," a cut from "Vol. 3," was featured on "Guitar Hero III," exposing the band to a younger generation of music fans. Since the videogame's release in November, "Before I Forget" has consistently sold at least 3,000 digital downloads per week, according to SoundScan.
"That was a really nice find for us in what was a down period for (Slipknot), activity-wise," Nachsin says. "So we think there's a huge opportunity for the band in the digital space."
Other facets of the digital realm have helped to stir up interest in "All Hope Is Gone," Roadrunner director of marketing Chris Brown says. To get the ball rolling, the New York-based label slowly teased fans several months ago with online photos, hinting at what Slipknot's new and improved masks would look like. "It started a fury of people guessing, 'What are these? Are they the new masks? Is the band going to perform in these heads?'" Brown says. "It was interesting to watch that fan base start guessing."
Members of Slipknot have become known for their eerie masks, which resemble such horrific fictional characters as Michael Myers, Hannibal Lecter and Pinhead. But band percussionist and artistic visionary Crahan believes the band's imagery is important but not everything. "It's about the music, art and the expression," he says from his home just outside of Des Moines. "Our fans are captured by a mind-set, a culture."
But even Crahan was impressed after learning that a recent exclusive photo gallery of Slipknot's new round of masks on AOL Music's Spinner.com received more than 8 million views in 24 hours. "It's like, 'OK, the disease has spread,'" he says. "I'm finally to the point where I've admitted to myself that (Slipknot is) way larger than anything I can control."
After its stint with the Mayhem festival, Slipknot will work hard to surpass its tour schedule for "Vol. 3," which found the group performing 255 concerts across 34 countries in 18 months.
The band will follow Mayhem with a handful of festivals in Europe, beginning with the U.K. fests Reading and Leeds. The band returns stateside in September before visiting Japan, Australia and New Zealand to headline arenas in October. In November, Slipknot flies to Moscow for a headlining gig, which launches another arena tour in the United Kingdom through the end of December. In 2009, Slipknot will play arenas in North America, followed by visits to the Pacific Rim, South America, Mexico and possibly China.
"I'm not ready for this, to be honest with you," Crahan says before the launch of the Mayhem tour. "This thing has always been killing me, and that's why it relates with people, because they needed something that felt like a roller coaster in their soul."
On past Slipknot outings, Crahan literally has nearly killed himself. The percussionist has been known to split open his head and fracture bones while convulsively banging on metal kegs and attempting back flips onstage. But for every time Crahan tells a journalist how much he despises being a member of "the Knot," as he calls the band, the musician doesn't hesitate to mention the positive side of the nine-member monster.
"For every little naysayer who's mad at me for saying I hate it, I love it, too," he says. "I pretty much just sit back every day and try to comprehend this thing I helped create."