Slipknot - We pay tribute to Paul Gray
Words: Brian Fischer-Giffin
Of all the bands to ascend the metal universe in the last ten years, there has been none as successful and as polarising as Slipknot. And at the heart and soul of the masked nonet was bass player Paul Gray. Born in Los Angeles on April 8, 1972, he formed Slipknot in 1995 with Shawn Crahan, Donnie Steele and Anders Colsefini and remained the only member of the line-up who retained his original position in the band.
Gray moved with his family to Des Moine, Iowa when he was still very young and by his teens was playing in local bands like Body Pit and Inveigh Catharsi. Along with Crahan and Colsefini, Gray formed Painface in 1992; the band recorded a demo that included a song called "Slipknot" before disbanding. Gray moved on to play in the notorious Minnesota death metal band Anal Blast for a short time before the Painface line-up reunited under the name The Pale Ones in September 1995. Following a formative period during which they developed their stage-act and style while building the full size nine-piece band, Slipknot produced the album-length demo "Mate.Feed.Kill.Repeat" that led to a contract with Roadrunner Records.
The first Slipknot album fell just short of the US Top 50 and meet with instant critical and fan acclaim. "Wait and Bleed" was nominated for a Grammy. The band's heavily percussive, aggressive style drew from an array of influences but the down-tuned guitars and Corey Taylor's schizophrenic vocal style got Slipknot labelled a nu-metal band. It was a tag they were never able to successfully lose and one which continues to divide opinion: to this day many still won't accept Slipknot as a metal band and Metal-Archives.com refuses to list them. Despite this, by the time their second album Iowa was released in 2001, Slipknot was one of the biggest metal bands in the world. The album hit #1 in the UK, #2 in Australia and #3 in the US, but by 2002 it appeared as if things were falling apart. It was Gray who was the most vocal in his opinion regarding Taylor and Jim Root reactivating Stone Sour, saying he thought they should be spending the time concentrating on Slipknot instead. Nonetheless, the band regrouped in 2003 to record Vol. 3. During the troubled recording process, Gray was busted for drugs possession after a traffic violation.
Vol. 3 went on to hit #2 in Australia and the US, with Gray later saying that the time the band spent apart doing other things was actually beneficial. The album helped continue the band's dominance of the metal arena for the remainder of the decade.
While other members of the band like Crahan, Taylor and Joey Jordison were better known, at the press conference announcing his death, Crahan described Paul Gray as "the essence of the band". Although he continued to have problems with drugs, he maintained his commitment to Slipknot and also appeared on the Roadrunner United All Star Sessions with Jordison and Root, playing on the track "Baptized in the Redemption". In December 2009, he announced that his wife Brenna was pregnant with their first child and in April 2010 he was named as the newest member of Hail!, a band featuring Tim "Ripper" Owens and Sepultura's Andreas Kisser, taking the place of Dave Ellefson. He was an adept musician, a left-handed player who was fluent in various styles of play including slap and finger techniques and was featured on one of IMV's "Behind the Player" instructional DVDs.
With his child due in September, Paul Gray apparently checked himself into a hotel local to his home on May 23, 2010. He died sometime the next morning at the age of 38. It has since been reported a used syringe was found with him. Paul Gray left behind a remarkable legacy of best-selling albums only matched by the biggest artists of his generation and as a member of one of the most popular metal bands of all, his memory will last forever.