Slipknot, Sonisphere UK Main Stage, July 10 2011

For Slipknot, this was a gig that carried with it great emotional implications – their European tour was ending on this night, and it was their first without bassist Paul Gray.

There was something distinctly eerie about Slipknot’s entrance onto the stage.  Walking on in almost a daydream, all eight members, with touring bassist Donnie Steele, wandered slowly, looking quite bewildered and lost while the disturbing ambient sounds of Iowa and 742617000027 prolonged (sic)

In hindsight, the introduction was more reflective – like they knew they were at the beginning of the end in concluding this dark part of their history.

Corey Taylor might have dubbed this as a night for “positivity and a night of celebration” but I’m not sure whether people could believe that.  Their pain was ever more evident and whilst they obviously miss Gray as a friend, they also miss him as a musician.  This gig was a significant piece of Slipknot’s history and the atmosphere alone dictated, making this one of the craziest crowds of the festival.  But musically this was not one of Slipknot’s finest hours.  In fact, there were times where their sound was scrambled into obscurity only to resurface back to something special – polar musical opposites for a night of such contrasting emotions.

Covering live member Steele didn’t do anything wrong as such but there was still a rugged edge in some of their transitions.  Taylor’s throat was pushed to the very edge too, as he scratched and writhed out every last croak of energy he had – which honestly didn’t sound healthy at times – not that he’d mind.

Focusing on just why this was such a great gig: it’s not because they maintained the kind of professionalism they had on tour in the UK a couple of years back – it was for different reasons.  A culmination of the festival atmosphere, the grand relevance of the occasion and Slipknot’s 100% commitment to sweat it out was enough to make this more than enjoyable.  There was something old-school about it.    In donning their orange boiler suits, it was as if they recognised that a return to their darker roots is very possible.

The set list suggested this too.  All Hope Is Gone was a cracking album but Slipknot chose to almost completely avoid anything from it, other than the obvious hit single Psychosocial, which peaked decibel charts with crowd belting back the chorus in anthem-fashion.  If you have been a maggot since day-one, then there was plenty here to enjoy from the band’s first self-titled album, such as Eyeless, Wait And Bleed and Liberate.

But getting everyone on their knees in anticipation to “jump the fuck up”, Slipknot used the enraging Spit It Out to turn each individual listening into a collective euphoric mud-blender before leaving for the encore.  Sid’s stage dive was another particular highlight that would have surely granted daredevil stunt of the festival if it weren’t for Airborne’s free-climbing Joel O’Keefe who climbed the height of the Saturn stage.

After scraping out People = Shit and ending with Surfacing, the band paid the ultimate tribute to Gray.  Bringing their lost friend’s boiler suit and mask to centrestage, each member had photos taken while ‘Til We Die poignantly played.

Naturally, they still hurt from their loss and this was a performance that could be appreciated in the same way a method actor can be appreciated – except this time there was no acting involved.  Instead, their burden of emotional cargo was dragged along brazened rails, determined to reach the end of the line and seal closure.  Let’s hope it has.  Rest in peace Paul Gray.

Calum Robson