VOL. 3: THE SUBLIMINAL VERSES

Slipknot

If you're a suburban male between 12 and 21, you most likely have an adamant opinion about Slipknot. The heavy-metal band's uncanny ability to polarize America's youth is intriguing, yet most adults have zero interest.

After all, just look at these hideous clowns. There's like, what, nine or 10 band members, all wearing stupid, grotesque masks? Even scarier, they're from Des Moines!

Behind the gimmick, though, Slipknot is the best nu-metal band on the planet. Produced by Rick Rubin, "Vol. 3" offers more depth than the group's first two face-blasting albums yet still unleashes the frantic energy that propels its maniacal concerts. On "The Blister Exists," it sounds like an entire high-school marching band is pounding out death-metal beats. Such "Subliminal" touches tap directly into the brain of Slipknot's detention-populating fan base, known affectionately as "maggots." And by wearing matching jumpsuits and using numbers for names -- vocalist Corey Taylor is "8" -- Slipknot's members make a point of deglamorizing themselves, almost to the point of interchangeability.

Punishing songs like "Pulse of the Maggots" revel in this communal spirit of angst, but several other tracks ask the kids to grow. Acoustic guitars (blasphemy!) appear on a handful of tunes, and 8, er, Taylor, turns out to be a charismatic singer. If you forget for a moment that this guy is wearing a mask made to resemble sewn-up skin,"Vermilion Pt. 2" is a truly heart-wrenching romantic ballad. And the vocal harmonies on "Danger -- Keep Away" are more vintage Eagles than nu-school Korn.

Fear not, though, maggots: "Vol. 3" is not a mellow album. A maturing Slipknot is simply branching out, using soft moments to make the heavier assaults cut that much deeper. Headbanging grown-ups would be surprised by the lessons taught at this freak show.

-- Michael Deeds

(Slipknot is scheduled to appear July 18 at Nissan Pavilion as part of Ozzfest.)

THE COLD HARD TRUTH

Ed Burleson

Acollection of songs by Texas honky-tonker Ed Burleson should be on a black vinyl platter, not a high-tech piece of shiny plastic. But we'll take this piece of work, one of the finest country music records of the year, any way we can get it.

Burleson, who lost more than a manager when Doug Sahm died in 1999, may be an unknown quantity outside Shiner Bock territory, but he's distinguished himself in the last 10 years with a small but exceptional recorded output and relentless touring of the Lone Star State with his honky-tonk band. That you don't hear him on commercial country radio says more about Nashville than Burleson.

For "The Cold Hard Truth," producer Tommy Alverson put together a Dallas area team of musicians known only to die-hard fans of Texas music, and the ensemble turns in inspired, sterling instrumentation behind the headliner's singing and songwriting.

The new record jumps from the get-go, opening with Daniel Ross McCoy's "Honky-Tonk Heart," which sets a template for the fiddle, steel-guitar, electric-guitar sound that is cemented by the high-speed, hilarious second track, "All Bucked Up," a whimsical tribute to the Bakersfield sound of Buck Owens.

Other disc highlights include Alverson's own "I Can't Help Myself (Darlin')" and the title cut, a countrified bluegrass romp, but the one that rises above the rest is a one-of-a-kind Texas swing version of Loudon Wainwright III's "Dead Skunk." Who'da thunk it?

-- Buzz McClain

NOW HERE IS NOWHERE

The Secret Machines

It says a lot about shifting tastes that "Now Here Is Nowhere," the debut album from the Secret Machines, was preceded by buzz comparing the band favorably to Pink Floyd. Just a decade ago the second coming of Floyd would have sent many music lovers scurrying toward their soundproof bunkers, but time has a funny way of making the unfashionable fashionable again.

In recent years groups as varied as Radiohead and the Flaming Lips have made the dreaded P-word (that's "prog," as in prog-rock, the province of album-length songs and keyboardists who wear capes) safe again. While sharp-eared listeners will hear the occasional Floyd reference slipped into the nine songs on "Now Here Is Nowhere" -- singer-guitarist Ben Curtis even occasionally recalls Roger Waters's warble -- it's the Flaming Lips that the Secret Machines resemble most. You can hear the Lips in the pounding drums, churning, fuzzy bass, and mix of guitar noise and squelching synths on the lead track "First Wave Intact," like the title track that bookends the disc with nearly 10 minutes of blissfully epic, droning bombast.

But the Secret Machines' pop sensibility is too strong to let the band totally give in to indulgent psychedelia. The strange sounds and pounding production never get in the way of the hooks and melodies, which the likes of "Sad and Lonely," "Light's On" and "The Road Leads Where It's Led" offer in generous dollops. The numerous "Dark Side of the Moon"-isms injected into songs like "The Leaves Are Gone," "Pharaoh's Daughter" and the lovely yet dynamic "You Are Chains" offer a dreamy but hardly dull respite from the stomp-and-go sonic assault. Even so, it's the propulsive flow of the disc -- a concept album in feel, if not in execution -- that makes the Secret Machines so special. It's head music for black-lit basements and hip house parties alike.

-- Joshua Klein

Behind the masks, Slipknot is the best nu-metal band in the world, unleashing its frantic energy on "Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses."Ed Burleson has one of the finest country music records of the year.The Secret Machines have been compared to Pink Floyd, but their brand of prog-rock mostly resembles that of Flaming Lips.