Photo by: Alexandra Gray

Slipknot continue to demonstrate why they are the insurmountable force that they have worked tirelessly to become. They’ve certainly conquered the music world: touring the world several times over, a varied catalog of metal that will last for decades to come, curated their own festival, released their own whiskey. Music is definitely their prime strength. From writing songs that are equal parts heavy, melodic, and catchy to assembling tour packages just as diverse. That is what we’re here to celebrate in this piece.

I’d like to begin this review of the Knotfest Roadshow stop in Tampa by apologizing to Code Orange for missing their set. This site is not my day job. The trip home and Florida traffic being what it is resulted in me missing their set. I will catch them in the future and look forward to the experience.

Fever 333 burst onto the stage like a pack of rabid animals intent on leveling the place. If you didn’t know any better, you’d swear they were headlining the show. Frontman Jason Aaron Butler continues to live up to his reputation as a madman on stage. Even though the stage is sizeable, Butler and guitarist Stephen Harrison could have benefited from a bigger one with the stage presence they brought. Even, drummer Aric Improta came out from behind his kit with one of the cymbals to engage with the crowd for a brief moment. The band definitely made the most of their set delivering a barrage of hardcore that frenzied the crowed in mosh and circle pits. In-between, Butler took the time to engage in the positive message the band is grounded on, delivering short but powerful speeches about inclusivity in the rock and metal scene, welcoming people of all stripes into this misfit family. He reminded many of us about that feeling of not belonging in the day to day only to feel perfectly at home within the walls (or open air) of a venue to celebrate the music that gave embraces us.

Following a well-deserved pause, the lights went out for Killswitch Engage, spurring a jubilant roar from the crowd, welcoming the Massachusetts metalcore stalwarts. After being forced to postpone their 2020 headliner in support of their latest outing, Atonement, this year has given them the opportunity to make up for it. While that record received the most attention the setlist was well-balanced, fourteen-track spanning the group’s 22 years. You wouldn’t know that the group haven’t been on stage in over a year with the night’s performance. The group was as brutal as they were tight. Frontman Jesse Leach was in top form with crisp vocals. From his clean singing to his screams, it would be remiss of me to not, ahem, sing his praises. The dual guitar attack of Adam Dutkiewicz and Joel Stroetzel was impeccable. The pairs crushing riffs and soaring leads were a sight to see executed in a live setting and an auditory delight. The booming rhythm of Mike D’Antonio’s bass and Justin Foley’s drums reverberated from the stage, through my very being.

The band’s performance was certainly amplified by their reception. From the moment the first notes of set opener “Unleashed” began to ring through the crowd began to sway like an ocean current. And as soon as the main riff kicked in, it was game on. The pits began to take shape, choruses sparked sing-alongs, and the absolutely no shortage of headbanging. The group may not play the fastest songs, but they don’t need to. In their two decades, the group have truly mastered the art of crafting music that packs an indelible punch. One minute the group is crushing you with a breakdown so heavy it could level the place and the next, you’re swaying to massive melodies that would drop an outsider’s jaw to the floor when they find out they’re listening to a metal band. And it all translates famously live. If you haven’t had an opportunity to catch Killswitch Engage live, cross your fingers that they stop by near you the next time they hit the road. They’re just a good all-around band. They may not bring a massive stage show with pyro, elaborate sets, or acrobatics. But they bring energy with their presence and music. I will be keeping my eyes peeled for the next time they’re within driving distance.

Finally, the moment we were all waiting for. The anticipation was palpable. As the minutes ticked by and we inched closer to the main event, so too did the crowd. Everyone packed in just a little bit tighter as a giant banner with Slipknot’s logo was lifted, obstructing the stage. Tension continued to build as one track bled into another over the speakers. Whenever one song came to an end, I swear there was a hush. It was as if everyone held their breath expecting the lights to go out signaling the start of the show. It felt like ages but once the venue went dark and AC/DC’s “For Those About to Rock” kicked in, everyone – whether it was their first or tenth time seeing the band – knew it was well worth it. The final blast of the cannons from the hard rock classic was amplified by a boom of fireworks that led to the curtain drop, revealing the group’s massive stage.

Live photos by Anthony Scanga

As with every touring cycle, Slipknot begin with the new album’s intro (“Insert Coin”) and following track (“Unsainted”). While this is expected for those of us who have seen the group live before it is no less exhilarating. A Slipknot concert is always a thrill ride despite two predictabilities: the intro and the “jump the fuck up” moment during “Spit It Out”. You can see it coming a mile away but it’s something to look forward to. As you can imagine it was very well-received, the crowd got what they came for. Like a powder keg the venue erupted into a frenzy of chaos. Mosh pits, circle pits, headbanging, horns in the air, bouncing, dancing, you name it. IT. WAS. ON! “Unsainted” gave way to “Disasterpiece” off 2001’s Iowa, a staple over the years that, like many Slipknot songs, begins with a build-up that leads to a cathartic release of energy from anyone in its presence. From one song to the next, the crowd was as relentless as the band themselves.

I couldn’t help but notice that some of the hijinks were tamped down, primarily from DJ Sid Wilson. Understandable, given that the average age of the members is 45. This, however, is not a complaint, merely an observation. One that I make to stress that age is no barrier to the veteran metal juggernaut that is Slipknot. They are still very much in shape and deliver as good a show as ever. Nine members is a lot, but they are masters of their craft. They are a well-oiled machine built to impact the senses and they clearly take this to heart with a tight delivery tailored for maximum effect. One of the coolest new additions to the live show is bassist Alessandro “VMan” Venturella’s flame-throwing bass. I don’t know when this debuted but the first time I was made aware of it was this tour and it is a stunning visual to witness. For a moment I thought he was going to burn drummer Jay Weinberg’s hair off. The drummer showed no concern, remaining laser focused, nailing hit after vicious hit on his kit. The group’s precision is especially noteworthy because they are all thoroughly involved in the action as well, banging their heads along with the crowd. Their instruments an extension of themselves.

Live photos by Anthony Scanga

I’m going to take a moment to address some of frontman Corey Taylor’s stage banter. Much like Fever 333’s Butler, he referenced one of the bedrocks of hard rock and metal. It is a genre for outsiders. Most, if not all of us, never quite fit in with the general public. We are legion but not the status quo. As Taylor put it, there’s something “a little off” about us. This is not news, but it’s a healthy reminder that we should embrace and appreciate our differences. That was his greater point. At another point in the set, without getting too political, he referenced the heavily polarized climate that we are living in and our leaders who too often seem far more interested in tearing us apart than unifying us. He made it clear that we are a family, and it doesn’t matter what we believe in, what ideology we subscribe to, who we love, we are all welcome and that he “would die for us” because he knew we would do the same for him. He was being hyperbolic of course, pedantry aside, this message of acceptance is something worthy of attention and dissemination considering the state of things.

The visceral, violent assault of the nine-man metal titans lasted for around an hour and forty minutes. The set concluded with “Spit It Out”, followed by an encore that kicked off with Iowa’s intro track “(515)” and it’s follow-up “People = Shit”. “(sic)” and “Surfacing” off the self-titled closed out the night; one that undoubtedly left the crowd satisfied. A non-stop barrage spanning the band’s two decades, Knotfest Roadshow is just the latest accomplishment in a long list cementing the band as legends. There is no denying Slipknot’s status as kings of the metal scene. This was, if memory serves, my seventh time seeing them. You better believe I’ll be back for more when they circle back.

Live photos by Anthony Scanga

The evening was, without a doubt, a resounding success for everyone involved. I think it is safe to say that we are all ecstatic for the return of live music. The groups were all in stellar form and the crowd gave them the reception they deserved. A symbiotic relationship, both sides pumped each other up to give just a little more. I eagerly await the next opportunity I get to enjoy each of these live acts. The pandemic may have changed things, but one thing that hasn’t changed is people’s love of rock and metal.

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