Slipknot may seem like the perfect band to prove the theory that, in today's hard rock market, image can triumph over musical substance.
The thrashing band possesses a scary presence, with all nine band members dressed in jumpsuits and wearing masks that look like they came directly from the costume department for the Nightmare on Elm Street movie set.
But drummer Joey Jordison has a simple rebuttal for those who think Slipknot has ridden to success solely on the strength of their striking visual image.
"You don't sell 1.5 million records on a debut record if your music sucks," he said.
That point made, Jordison isn't oblivious to the possibility that the band's costumes might have contributed to their success.
"I admit that our look probably has something to do with our success," he said. "You say you've never heard the band before, but you see a picture of it, and it instantly gets you thinking. It captures your attention. Then once you listen to the record, you realize it's no bull----."
Certainly the meteoric rise of Slipknot to national prominence has been one of the big stories in heavy metal over the past two years. The band didn't come out of nowhere -- although in emerging from Des Moines, Iowa, a Midwestern city that has never spawned any kind of a prominent national rock act, this might qualify as the next closest thing. And Slipknot's success story is anything but the overnight variety.
In fact, the beginnings of the band stretch back to about 1995 when Jordison, bassist Paul Gray and percussionist Shawn Crahan began to map out a future for their new band. Seeking to create a sound that would separate Slipknot from other metal bands, the lineup kept expanding as the group added musicians to achieve the fury and density they wanted.
Eventually nine musicians joined -- including three drummer/percussionists. The lineup as it stands includes Jordison, Gray, Crahan, percussionist Chris Fehn, singer Corey Taylor, guitarist Mick Thomson, guitarist Jim Root, sampler Craig Jones and DJ Sid Wilson. Each musician, Jordison said, is an integral part of Slipknot.
"If we took the three drummers away, something would be missing," Jordison said. "We always said before, it's like if one guy is missing at practice, it's not the same thing. It doesn't sound right.
The masks were part of the Slipknot plan from day one, although Jordison said there was no grand scheme behind the particular costume each band member adopted.
"The thing was if we were going to shield ourselves with the masks, we had to make it look right," Jordison said. "I wanted it to look cool. I wanted to make sure the look was striking and everything. Basically everyone made up their own character out of what the music makes them feel like. When they hear the music, what kind of character does it bring out in you? And that's basically what we did."
With such a bold look, a raucous sound and songs that were laced with profanity and violent imagery, it's no surprise that Slipknot was not exactly embraced by the establishment in Des Moines.
Despite the resistance, Slipknot pressed forward, releasing a self-made CD, Mate, Feed, Kill, Repeat in 1996. That recording helped attract attention to the band beyond Iowa's borders. Eventually Ross Robinson, a noted heavy metal producer for groups such as Korn and Machine Head, took an interest in the band. He signed Slipknot to his label, I Am Records, which has distribution through the respected independent metal record company Roadrunner Records.
It didn't take long for metal fans to take notice of the masked metal marauders. By January 2000, sales of the debut CD had topped 300,000, and from there sales continued to accelerate past the million mark as the group grew into legitimate arena headliners.
Now Slipknot return with a new CD, Iowa, and a headlining slot on this fall's Pledge Of Allegiance tour, which makes a stop at the World Arena this Saturday. Despite the major success of the self-titled CD, Jordison said the guys in Slipknot were able to ignore the expectations that came with the new CD.
"I think where bands ultimately fail is they start worrying about it too much," he said. "They start listening to record labels too much, and the next thing you know, they fail. We handed in our record when it was done. We never even gave them demos. We didn't let them listen to anything. We made our record without any pressure at all and we just handed it in and said, 'There, put it out.'"
If anything, Iowa pushes the envelope further on Slipknot's sound. With Robinson again producing, the group achieves sonic mayhem on songs like "Everything Ends," "The Heretic Anthem" and "I Am Hated," which are a swirl of grinding guitars, drums and screaming vocals. Occasionally an element of melody seeps in (as in "My Plague"), but needless to say, no one has to worry that Slipknot has transformed themselves into a pop metal version of 'N Sync in hopes of bigger popularity.
"Our new record is a lot heavier than our first record that we put out," said Jordison, who along with bassist Gray writes the majority of the band's music. "That's ----ing cool because it just debuted at No. 3 on the top 200. That's like a big middle finger to this current industry, the ----ing s--- I have to watch on MTV."