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Rarely since the fiery crash of Buddy Holly's plane in 1959 have the words "Iowa" and "rock and roll" been used in the same sentence. As we've come to know it, Iowa means corn, livestock, conservatism, and precious little else. And like a thousand other landlocked heartland nowheres, it brims with kids dying from boredom, and with small-minded politicians trying to keep their little slice of Americana quaint, quiet, and soul-crushingly sterile. But the kids aren't all right - they're getting pissed.

And in Des Moines, their rage has a name: Slipknot. Draped in Ed Gein-style coveralls and nightmarishly surreal masks, touting a sound patched from the best parts of metal, hip hop, violent L.A.-style "new metal," and armed with a multidimensional percussive onslaught the weight of a hundred Neubautens, you could call Slipknot equal parts style and substance. You could also call it payback time for Middle America.

In a recent Alternative Press cover story, drummer Joey explained the band's vitriolic attack this way: "All of us were so used to having the middle finger thrown at us, that when we finally threw it back, we did so with ten times the venom."

And they hit a nerve in the process. Slipknot's self-titled Roadrunner album is nearing platinum status. Their home video, "Welcome to Our Neighborhood," has dominated Billboard's Top Ten since its release, and is already platinum. But that's just America. Australians have made the album gold and the video platinum, and the band continues to sell out gigs there - and throughout Europe and Japan too. Even grumpy old England -- notoriously intolerant of heavy American rock -- has chimed in with a Silver record and New Musical Express' declaration of Slipknot as "brilliant." Similar accolades can be found within recent cover stories in Alternative Press, Circus, Guitar World, Hit Parader and Metal Hammer, and the band has also been featured in Kerrang!, Metal Maniacs, Rolling Stone, and Spin, among others. To top it off, the tune "Wait and Bleed" (which the band performed on Late Night with Conan O'Brien) has lately been rotating on MTV, KROCK NY, KROQ LA, LIVE 105 in San Francisco, WHFS Washington, DC, KNDD Seattle and so on. The video for the single has been officially added to MTV as well.

Surprised? Don't be. From the skull-pummeling "Sic" and unforgiving bludgeon force of "Surfacing," to the sublime melodicism of "Wait and Bleed," to the entrancing percussive drive of "Prosthetics," Slipknot's Ross Robinson-produced Roadrunner CD swarms with such dense instrumentation that you'd swear it was a whole symphony of sickos in command. And you'd be right: Slipknot is made up of nine native Iowans: DJ Sid (#0), drummer Joey (#1), bassist Paul (#2), percussionist Chris (#3), guitarist Jim (#4), sampler Craig (#5), percussionist Shawn (#6), guitarist Mick (#7), and vocalist Corey (#8). Nine guys, each with his own gruesome visual persona AND dehumanizing number. Sounds like a lot? Percussionist Shawn wouldn't have it any other way.

"Our music is so reliant on each other that if one guy is gone, it just wouldn't be our songs. Without one person, something is really, really missing. Everybody has to be present. Even the littlest things make our songs magical."

And it is about the songs, after all. While some visually oriented bands forget about that, the beast that is Slipknot, with its virally infectious sense of melody and explosive, percussion-driven backbone, knows its priorities well.

"We never put on the shit we wear to try to get people into us," says Joey. "We did because, after being degraded constantly for trying to play music or do something in Des Moines, it just came out to be like we were an anonymous entity. No one gave a fuck. No one cared, so we were never about our names or our faces; we're just about music."

Shawn concurs, but refuses to downplay the importance of the band's freakish, startling visuals. Or their pathological appeal.

"The masks are an extension of our personalities," he says. "Everybody's got a sort of tweaked, demented way about themselves, and we just alter the masks over time. It feels really, really good when we wear our masks for an hour and then take them off. The first thing we do is go, 'God, what a relief.' But we always seem to put them back on after a show."

Forming in mid-1995, Slipknot endured the necessary growing pains and lineup changes before arriving at what they now call "a family unit." Within a year, they'd recorded, self-released and self-distributed their debut, "Mate, Feed, Kill, Repeat," which helped catch the fancy of more than a few big label suits. Eventually signing with Roadrunner via Ross Robinson's I AM RECORDS imprint, they recorded the explosive self-titled album and exported the horror to the outside world through a series of live shows that Shawn understates as simply "like nothing else out there." This included an exposure-grabbing stint on Ozzfest 1999 and a slew of sold-out shows with label-mates Coal Chamber.

Which brings us full-circle in a way. Because, in actuality, there was one other strange incident besides Buddy Holly's death in which "Iowa" and "rock and roll" could be uttered in the same breath before Slipknot: January 20, 1982, when Ozzy Osbourne bit the had off a bat during a gig in Des Moines. "We got the whole thing about the bat right in us," recalls Joey. "When we were little, we kept hearing about this guy named Ozzy biting the head off a bat. That was here in this town, and we've had a little bit of the bat in us ever since."

The heaviest band around could have no better teacher. And indeed, as Slipknot moves from a slot on last year's Ozzfest to the headline act at this summer's Tattoo the Earth and MTV Return of the Rock tours, one thing is clear as crystal meth: Corn ain't the only thing growing in America's heartland. Consider yourself warned, planet earth!

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