For the longest time, there were two classes of metal drummer: flashy and technical. In the former were the Tommy Lees and the Alex Van Halens, dudes whose abilities behind the kit included a lot of grinning into the camera or playing upside-down. In the latter were the Dave Lombardos and Tomas Haakes, whose blistering skills were revered by metal fans the world over but who would never get recognized in public. And while occasional talents such as Metallica’s Lars Ulrich and Pantera’s Vinnie Paul breached that gap to a degree, they were few and far between. By the late ‘90s, with nu-metal’s simplicity reigning the scene, there were very few drummers who had the whole package — a face, a name, and a genius-level ability behind the kit.
But as the drummer of Slipknot, Joey Jordison brought both schools of drumming back into the spotlight. Not only was Jordison a recognizable and prolific member of the worldwide metal scene, but he was also an incredibly talented percussionist whose sound inspired the next generation of metal drummers. And today, as we honor his death by remembering his life, we must give thanks for just how much he advocated the return of the metal drummer to the forefront.
Given how much of Slipknot’s initial appeal relied on their appearance, one can’t discuss Joey Jordison without talking about how iconic he was. Joey’s mask during Slipknot’s self-titled debut album cycle immediately stood out among the band’s rogue’s gallery. While the other members resembled movie slashers and bondage casualties, Jordison wore a face of sociopathic white, as though to let onlookers know there was pure nothing inside. Even as he added corpsepaint-ish designs and a crown of thorns to his look, the expressionless mask underneath remained the same.
Meanwhile, Jordison wasn’t content to just simply sit in the back and play. In the early days, one could see him riding on the shoulders of fellow percussion M. Shawn Crahan, AKA Clown. During the band’s later performances, Joey would play a drum solo on a riser that spun him around and turned him upside down, revealing a giant glowing pentagram underneath him as he faced the audience. Even though Slipknot had three percussionists, it was always understood that Jordison was the backbone of the band, not only because of his technical prowess but also because of his showmanship.
But for all his flashy stage antics, it was Jordison’s playing that made him such a star of the metal world. On Slipknot, Joey was a frantic blast of bottled lightning, all energy; but with 2001’s destructive Iowa and the two albums after it that he played on with Slipknot, he was truly allowed to stretch the boundaries of his talent. One only needs to listen to the static accents of “Eyeless,” the hostile blastbeats of “Disasterpiece,” the measured menace of “New Abortion,” the staggering drive of “The Blister Exists,” or the circus steamroller of “Vendetta” to hear what made Jordison so special. His talent behind the kit was intrinsically tied to his charisma in front of it. You simply couldn’t ignore this guy.
And the world didn’t. Rarely did a drummer receive such widespread attention and respect, especially when their band was known for their costumes and onstage antics. Everyone wanted a piece of Joey Joridson, from arena-packing shock rocker Rob Zombie to black metal misanthropes Satyricon. Even the biggest metal band in history recognized him — Jordison played for Metallica at Download 2004, proving there was no mountain too high for him to climb.
With Joey Jordison, metal was given the rare gift of the Complete Package — a dude who loved the music, was present in the scene, and could play like a motherfucker. The albums on which he performed will forever be considered legendary in part because of his playing on them. But more than that, Joey will always live in our hearts as one of us, a musician who championed metal as a whole. It’s hard to remember the last time a drummer became such a star of the scene; whether it will ever happen again is a mystery.
Words by Chris Krovatin