If you look for the reason any metal band achieved success, one of the first places to look is behind the drum set. Black Sabbath had Bill Ward and later Vinny Appice. Slayer had Dave Lombardo. Megadeth had Nick Menza. Mayhem has Hellhammer. And Slipknot, a band that lured countless kids toward extreme metal KISS-style in the late ’90s into the 21st century, had the powerhouse and perennial outsider Joey Jordison.
But Jordison was not just the drummer and a founding member of Slipknot, although his drumming is one of the reasons their music was a cut above many of their peers who achieved mainstream success. Jordison was also the beating heart of Slipknot and gave the band their voice. From the beginning, Slipknot spoke directly to disaffected kids – many of them who grew up in similar circumstances as the band members. When KISS’s makeup elevated the band into gods or Dionysian heroes, Slipknot’s barcodes and masks communicated a different message: We are just like you. We aren’t important. What matters is the community. What matters is what we can share and collectively exorcise as a group. It’s a compelling message. Slipknot provided their fans with something that many never received at home, church, or school: Acceptance and empathy.
Jordison was the backbeat for those collective exorcisms and also the Slipknot member that remained the closest to the extreme music he loved as a kid. While it’s cliche to post something on social media where you claim to respect the artist but dislike the art, no one who attended an early Slipknot show doubted their power. Their formative gigs were a Jungian nightmare writ large, a schizophrenic kabuki performance with ferocious percussion.
Whether it was Jordison behind the kit or other band members playing kettledrums, what helped make Slipknot’s music transformational in so many young lives was the percussion. It was like the marching band from hell. What’s not mentioned nearly enough in the discussion of Slipknot’s music is that what gives it power are the same rhythmic elements that drive both indigenous and tribal music. Slipknot’s ability to bind a group of people together is also similar. The need for a tribe transcends culture.
Jordison’s best work was on Slipknot’s first three albums: their self-titled debut, their breakthrough, and career-best album Iowa – the only platinum album with a 15-minute song about a serial killer – and Vol 3: The Subliminal Verses. Jordison’s drumming propelled the caustic “Surfacing” into an outsider anthem (don’t belong/don’t exist/don’t give a shit/don’t ever judge me). He played both quietly and ferociously on the eponymous closing track of their second album and was the ringleader of the percussive magic in “The Blister Exists.”
Without Jordison’s power and precision, Slipknot would never have made a dent outside of Des Moines. Jordison was so good he got the call to fill in for Metallica, a glass slipper moment if there ever was one for a lifelong metal fan. Jordison also never forgot his love for extreme metal. He played with Satyricon and used interviews to name-drop death metal bands. “That’s where I learned, basically, all my skills from the drumming that I do – most of my style comes straight from death metal,” Jordison said once.
Jordison left Slipknot in 2013 in a contentious fashion. He claimed at the time he was fired but revealed in 2016 that the neurological disease transverse myelitis made drumming impossible. The disease – a form of multiple sclerosis – robbed his legs of their power. He was able to recuperate through medical intervention and intense rehab work.
“All my life and the damage done.” The damage is done, but Jordison’s gift – not just his musical achievements but building a platform for a genuine outsider community – endures. Rest well, Joey.