When most people think of Korn, the reaction is generally bound to be more negative than positive.  Hardcore metalheads loathe the band, blaming them for the decline of heavy-metal in the 90s, and in the process giving birth to the much maligned and now defunct genre of nu-metal.  Most critics now dismiss them as washed-up, predictable, and eternally juvenile in nature and material.  And your average rock music fan probably sees them as a flash in the pan, trendy late-90s band whose popularity flamed out rather quickly along with the nu-metal genre they helped create.

But let us now flashback to 1994: grunge was beginning to fade out, giving rise to generic "post-grunge" bands, alternative-rock was going strong, and most people thought of a vegetable when they heard the word "korn".  It was 1994 that Korn dropped their genre-shattering self-titled debut, a monster of an album that combined metal, funk, and hip-hop elements with a ferocity and intensity that few had ever heard before.

The music on Korn is quite heavy and fairly original for it's time, full of start-stop, grinding, drop-step rhythms, funky slap-bass, hip-hop flavored drumming, and a menacing, down-tuned/distortion-heavy twin-guitar attack.  But what separated Korn from many of their peers and influences at the time was lead signer Jonathan Davis.  Davis uses the already explosive backdrop of the band's music as a conduit to release his pent up anger and aggression, spewing out hate-fueled songs about the darkest aspects and moments from his life.

The result in an incredibly combustible, cathartic combination of an extremely emotional, confrontational nature.  The music is dark, vulgar, twisted, and offensive.  Basically all the things that make a great, rebellious rock and roll album, but there is certainly nothing old-school about this record. 

Korn is intent on shattering all the old heavy-metal cliches, as the album contains no guitar solos, no falsetto vocals, no intricate time-signatures, no cheesy lyrics about monsters or demons, no leather jackets, none of that nonsense.  Instead of guitar solos, Korn choose to concentrate on the lurching, mid-tempo grinding groove of their drop-D guitars and the accompanying cathartic rhythm of slap-bass and explosive drumming.  Instead of cliche lyrics about satan and demons, Jonathan Davis confronts his own personal, real demons, those of drug-addiction, bullying, and child abuse.  And instead of leather jackets and big hair, these dudes were rocking baggy pants, flannel, and dreadlocks.

No, this was not your father's metal band, as evidenced by the opening track on the album "Blind".  One of the best heavy songs of the decade, "Blind" starts out low-key and ominous, slowly building up in intensity until eventually releasing it's full fury on the listen as Jonathan Davis shouts his now classic and infamous line "Are You Ready!?!". 

And with that line, the storm begins, and rarely lets up in intensity the rest of the album.  The following track, the incredibly infectious and combustible "Ball Tongue" adds elements of funk into the mix, creating a slam-dance masterpiece of a song that is simply impossible to sit still to.  The intensity continues with "Need To" another cathartic song in which Jonathan Davis's angst sounds like it's almost driving him to the point of tears.

After those 3 intense songs, Korn slows down the tempo somewhat on the next track, the brooding and powerful "Clown".  The slow-down in tempo only serves to increase the intensity on this track however, as it is one of the most powerful songs on the entire album, dripping with a sinister, confrontational vibe.  Very wicked track and certainly a Korn classic.

The band then kicks the up the tempo a notch with the next song, "Divine".  Probably the most up-tempo and thrashy song on the entire album, "Divine" pummels the listener with a rumbling wave of down-tuned riffage that lets up briefly mid-song, allowing you to catch your breath in time for Jonathan Davis's epic, bi-polar scat-rap that is sure to turn any idol crowd into a swirling hurricane of mosh-pit glory.  Metallic-catharsis personified.

If you hadn't figured out that Jonathan Davis had some serious issues at this point, the next track "Faget" helps to shed light on some of his baggage.  Despite the rather offensive name of the song, Davis actually rages for those who have been called that unfortunate word and for those who have been bullied or discriminated against for one reason or another.  His mid-song rant on this track is legendary, and ends with the infamous and pointed declaration to all those who have ever bullied him that "you can suck my dick and fucking like it!!!"  And queue mosh-pit.  If there were ever such a thing as righteous vulgarity in a song, this is the track.

After that song, Korn offers us a somewhat refreshing break from the intensity with "Shoots and Ladders" which opens with a serene bagpipe piece from none other than Jonathan Davis.  But that serenity is soon enough overlaid with the crunching, drop-step beat of the band coming back into the frey.  The metallic head-bobbing nature of the track soon transitions into another combustible moment, launching the song full-steam ahead into the metallic chaos once again.  Another Korn classic.

From this point, the band get into their mid-tempo metallic groove, and as a result, somewhat lose their intensity in the process.  That being said, the next 3 tracks are all awesome songs in their own right, each with their own appeal.  Whether it's the grunginess of "Predictable", the malevolent vibe of "Fake" or the infectious metallic-groove of "Lies", they each stand strong on their own merit.

While Korn is generally a pretty twisted album, the final two tracks to close it out really take the dark and sadistic nature of the record to another level.  "Helmet in the Bush" has an almost industrial, droning vibe to it, which accentuates the creepy, bleak nature of the song. Its brooding feel actually makes it one of the best overall songs on the album.  Wicked.  It's an intense track which sets the mood for the last, most disturbing song on the album: "Daddy".

This song is the climax of the album, serving as the culmination of all the hate-fueled, confrontational angst-ridden catharsis that leads up to it.  It's a very brooding, creepy, frightening song.  What's most frightening about it is the fact that it is so real, and it feels real.  After listening to this album, after hearing all of Jonathan Davis's demons being exorcized in such a brutally shocking and honest way, you get the feeling you haven't gotten down to the core of his hate and torment yet.

Until "Daddy".  It's a song about Jonathan Davis being molested by a family friend when he was a child.  Towards the end of the song, after the band has pummeled you with borderline death-metal heavy riffage, Jonathan Davis finally loses it, exploding into a heartbreaking outburst of uncontrollable sobbing.  It's difficult to listen to, but it's kind of like driving by a car accident you just can't look away from.  It's raw, unabashed, gut-wrenching emotion, and it's incredibly gripping.  I had never heard anything like it on an album before, and I never have since.

That moment of pure, raw emotion, in all it's vulnerability, and after all the brutal honesty that proceeded it, is ballsy.  Korn as an album, is ballsy, not because of all the vulgar language, or the incredibly badass bass-drops/explosive moments, but because of Jonathan Davis's ability to express his deepest darkest secrets and exorsize his demons for everyone to see across the span of an incredibly intense album.  And for that reason, the band's mainstream rise and fall in the coming years doesn't really matter.  All the countless bands that tried to copy Korn's original style don't really matter..  And all the critics that dismissed the band over the years don't matter either.

When Korn made this album, they made something unique and real.  Ugly, dark, and vulgar to be sure, but the album is only all the more powerful and gripping for it.  Korn have never topped this album, and they never will.  It's raw, cathartic emotion in its darkest form, and to me anyway, that's a beautiful thing.


Life is Peachy



It would have been practically impossible for Korn to top their epic self-titled debut album, and Life is Peachy unfortunately falls considerably short of that goal.  Upon first listen, it sounded pretty disappointing and 2nd-rate when I heard it back in 97, but considering the change in direction the band would undertake later in the decade, this album sounds pretty damn good in hindsight.  You see, Korn used to be a dangerous band, a controversial band, and LIP is a reflection of that.  It's heavy, intense, confrontational, violent, schizophrenic, perverted, and delightfully vulgar.  The sound here is less focused than their s/t album, and the songs are less profound as a result.  Mind you, some of them will rip your face off with their intensity, but the majority of this album can't hold a candle to the even the more pedestrian songs from their 1st album.  Life Is Peachy seems to have a bit of a faster pace, and it feels kind of rushed as a result, but also rawer.  It also is somewhat more playful, less serious, and somewhat more experimental in nature,. featuring more of a hip-hop/funk influence (although it's subtle).  In retrospect, in spite of this album's flaws, it was the last truly dangerous album Korn would ever make, and it also was the last album to capture the type of rawness/intensity/vulgarity that defined their early sound.  With the exception of Follow the Leader, it's better than anything they would ever release again in the future.


Follow the Leader

A child hop-scotching off a cliff and a gathering of kids waiting to follow.



This was Korn's big coming-out party, the album that broke them into the mainstream.  And unfortunately, likely because of that very reason, this was the last great album the band ever really recorded.  While this album is not as raw/heavy/disturbing as the two that proceeded, it is a marked improvement over LIP, mainly in terms of production and the quality of the songs found here.  Everybody knows the 2 singles, which are good songs, but frankly they were very overplayed and a bit overrated.  The best songs to be found here are actually "It's On", "Dead Bodies Everywhere", "BBK", "Justin", "Seed", "Cameltosis", and "My Gift To You".  When you want to talk about the merits of this album, listen to those songs and tell me they aren't all incredibly badass.  Granted, none of them are as profound/raw as most of those found on their self-titled, but they represented a logical, respectable, and exciting evolution in Korn's sound at the time.  Another evolution of the band's sound of the time had to do with incorporating more rap/hip-hop into their repertoire, and aside from the incredibly juvenile and somewhat embarrassing "All In the Family", Korn incorporate the rawness and aggro vibe of rap/hip-hop into their sound very well here.  "Children of the Korn" sounds exactly how you might expect an Ice Cube/Korn collaboration from 1998 to sound like...it's twisted, raw, and of course: heavy.  And the aforementioned "Cameltosis" also shows off the band's great taste in hip-hop by featuring Tre from the Pharcyde.  "Cameltosis" is not really a heavy/aggressive song per say, but rather pretty pimp/smooth/hip (granted in a 1998 kind of way).  The hidden track with Cheech is also another added bonus...hilarious is the riffs and disgustingly badass to boot.  Overall, for this long-time old-school Korn fan, listening to FTL 15+ years later sounds refreshing, especially considering what was to come from the band.  While FTL isn't as profound/epic as their classic self-titled album, it arguably captures Korn in their prime, when they actually sounded like they were having fun, when they had an undeniable neck-snapping rhythm and swagger about them.  Unfortunately, the incredible weight of fame and drug-addiction started to suffocate the band after this album, and the results were Issues and Untouchables.  Not to mention Jonathan Davis sobered up, and started to take himself a little too seriously perhaps, and he never really was the same after this album.  Anyway, although Korn would make a few more respectable albums in the coming years, FTL stands as the last great album in their catalog, which is shame, because they were really at the top of their game here, but unfortunately they decided to change direction on Issues/Untouchables, and aside from Take a Look in the Mirror, never really got their mojo as a band back...oh well...





This is where things started to go downhill for Korn.  Reacting against the rap-metal trends they helped create, and suffocating under the weight of sudden fame, they cooked up Issues, a much more down-tempo and bloated affair compared to the cathartic intensity of their prior albums.  This is where Jonathan Davis's signing/choruses started to be a detriment to the band, as one too many music industry "experts" started to really corrupt Korn's signature sound.  There are a few good songs on here, there are, but unfortunately all the explosive energy Korn was known for is essentially sucked right out of the band's sound on Issues.  The songs are heavy for the most part, but they are too slow, occasionally too meandering in nature, and lack any sense of catharsis and build-up that made their prior outings such exhilarating listening experiences.  Also gone is the element of danger that Korn had been known for.  Sure, it was somewhat diluted on FTL, but here JD plays it safe with his lyrics.  Granted the guy had probably run out of specific personal issues to vent about, as that type of material was largely missing from FTL as well, but most of the songs on Issues have a very formulaic, and dare I say cliché themes about them.  It's well known that this is JD's 1st album being sober, and he sounds like it...he sounds depressed, but without any fire in him anymore.  And while the band occasionally deliver the type of necksnapping riffs/rhythms that made them famous, they are too few and far between, and there are essentially no drastic tempo changes, or anything to help break the general monotonous and drab mood of the album.  So while it kind of makes sense that the band was trying to change their style here, it unfortunately doesn't really work most of the time, which makes Issues probably their worst offering from the original Korn lineup.  So while not terrible, it remains pretty disappointing and unsatisfying to this day.





I initially really bought into the direction Korn was going for on this album, and when taken in that context, Untouchables is a succes.  Since Korn released Issues back in 99, Nu-Metal had already peaked out, and really was in the process of dying out by the time Untouchables came around in 2002, so I was looking for the godfathers of the genre to help resurrect it and lead the way.  I was big on the scene progressing, and looked to Korn to make that happen.  Untouchables sounds like the next logical step from Issues...it's got better production, a bigger sound,  more experimentation, and more melody.  Unfortunately it also has the same drab, suffocating, doom and gloom sound of Issues too.  There's very little of anything that's up-tempo here (and when there is, it sounds forced), as Untouchables once again fails to deliver the type of catharsis Korn became famous for on their first 3 albums.  It's an energy-zapping record, dark, dreary and weighty, but it has some artistic merit.  They do a pretty good job of adding in melody and experimenting with different sonic textures here, and while it's somewhat interesting at times, ultimately it just becomes dull and draining after a while, words that I would have never thought I would ever associate with Korn, but it's true.  Aside from a few tracks that actually summon up some brooding intensity, most of Untouchables just kind of goes through the same dense, mid-down/tempo motions, and doesn't sound particularly engaging overall.  In a nutshell, this isn't quite Issues Part II, it's better than that, but it does have the same general drab, low-energy vibe.  It is an evolution of Korn's sound, and pretty much the furthest they could go in this direction without becoming monotonous...fortunately they realized that on their next album...


Take A Look In the Mirror



This is probably Korn's most under-rated album.  Everyone knows about their epic debut, Life is Peachy is dirty and raw and has cred, and FTL was their big coming out party, but then most fans gave up on them after the relatively disappointing Issues/Untouchables releases.  And their new fans were probably confused when this album came out, and most old-school fans had already moved on...but not me, and I was rewarded for my loyalty with this album.  First of all, as the title suggests, Korn did take a look in the mirror and got back to the type of neck-snapping abrasive riffs that made them famous in the 1st place.  Sure, it sounds a bit forced at times, but it is positively satisfying to fans of the old-school.  And it's not just a retread either, it's actually somewhat of an evolution in their sound (see "Did My Time" for example), and the heavy songs aren't as sloppy as they are on LIP, so they're more focused and arguably more powerful as a result...at least sonically.  Credible rappers make a comeback (Nas) and so do the bagpipes.  And overall, what makes TALITM a good album is the return of the energy that was drowned in the sonic murk of their prior 2 efforts.  Catharsis is back to a degree as well.  So needless to say I was happy with this release, but unfortunately this was the last good album Korn would ever pump out...at least to date...


See You On the Other Side



Sounds like a 2nd rate imitation of themselves…actually worse…a 2nd rate imitation of the bands that have made a career imitating Korn (looking at you Disturbed/Linkin Park)…everything that is terrible about Nu-Metal…this is like that Liz Phair album where she went pop…it's sad and horrible…only bright side is "Twisted Transistor"...which isn't a bad song...sigh...





Really guys?  You can't even be bothered with titling your fucking album anymore?  Granted, this album isn't really worth having a title.  I mean, they get a few extra tenths of a point for their uninspired attempt at "experimentation", but there's really no memorable songs on the entire album…nothing…at least it's not as blatantly mainstream sounding as "See You On the Other Side"…sigh…


Korn III: Remember Who You Are



Of all the post-Head Korn records, this one is easily the best.  Unfortunately, it's too little too late for the band…they had already made a couple of borderline-horrible albums prior to this one, so KIII sounds like a desperate attempt to redeem themselves.  Also, they've tried this idea before, but at least TALITM actually sounded kind of fresh and  wasn't a blatant attempt to replicate the sound of their mid-90s heyday.  KIII is exactly that, it's like a carbon copy of the sound of their first couple of albums, and while it's kind of cool to hear them do that again, it unfortunately comes off pretty forced and like a cheap imitation of their former selves.  It's not really believable basically...and it sounds a little flat, probably because they're missing Head's guitar and David's funk tendencies on drums, so it's kind of hollow as a result.  Did I mentioned JD's lyrics sound trite as fuck?  Granted, the dude hasn't had anything but cliche shit to say for at least half a decade now, but these lyrics seem extra trite.  But for all my bitching, most of the songs on this album DO kick ass, which I haven't been able to say about a Korn record since 2003.  So it's a semi-worthy attempt at a return to form, but ultimately it falls a bit flat unfortunately...nice try though...I guess.


The Path of Totality



The whole dub-step idea kind of makes sense on paper, but the results are actually pretty underwhelming and sadly generic sounding unfortunately.  I mean, dub-step basically sucks for the most part, but you figure maybe Korn could use it to accentuate their heaviness, but they only do it effectively on a whooping 2 or 3 songs tops.  The rest is pretty forgetable and generic at best, and like a parody of a Mountain-Dew commerical at worst.  Not feeling it...disappointing.


The Paradigm Shift



What's with all these stupid fucking generic-ass names for their albums lately?  Like they even know wtf they're trying to talk about anymore.  Anyway, this album is techincally just as weak and generic as SYOTOS, but it least this type of record is somewhat more excusable coming almost 10 years later (they're officially old now).  It's certainly dissappointing, especially considering that Head is back in the fold (could have fooled me though...nothing interesting effects/riff-wise to be heard here). Considering recent history, PS is not as shockingly dissappointing as SYOTOS was coming on the heels of TALITM, this one just sounds more underwhelming than anything else.  Awfully generic, no killer riffs, hooks, beats, anything really...it's just a bland radio-friendly nu-metal album for the tweens.  I guess they're due for another "reflective" album (TALITM/KIII) soon, so there's still some hope for something that's not completely pathetic in the future...but I'm not holding my breath...


The Serenity of Suffering

Korn-The Serenity of Suffering-album cover.jpg



As opposed to the standard hype that usually accompanies new Korn albums, The Serenity of Suffering is the first one in 13 years that actually almost lives up to it. Let's face it, Korn's last 5 albums have all left a little something to be desired (putting it very nicely), and really, the same could be said about The Serenity of Suffering, but at least Head, Munky, and Fieldy have rediscovered who they are and what always made Korn stand out from the pack of imitators here. And what is that? Riffs that pull you one way and then violently snap you back the other, with Fieldy's noisy and skeletal bass providing the rhythm and the backbone to the music. You can actually hear Fieldy's bass on this album. What a concept! And Head and Munky do their best to make this a guitar-heavy album, with a lot of satisfying riffs that are kind of reminiscent of their Take A Look In The Mirror album, but unfortunately these ourbursts come too few and far between and are often completely cancelled out by Jonathan Davis's overly melodic choruses.

Now, I love JD has much as the next guy, but he seems way to eager to channel the type of sterile and bland radio-friendly choruses that dominated the incredibly generic album that was The Paradigm Shift. This gives most of these songs a very formulaic vibe, despite Head and Munky's best efforts to inject some jarring and infectious riffs here and there. In fairness though, Davis does turn in some cathartic performances when "it's that time of the song again" (his scat on "Rotting In Vain" is ON POINT!), but it does sound a little too forced at times. It sounds like he's pissed off about having to sound pissed off rather than being actually pissed off, but, at least he gives it a good effort most of the time.

Serenity of Suffering is basically a big compromise record. Essentially, I don't think JD wants Head/Munky/Fieldy to steal the spotlight from him, so while he allows them to up the proverbial ante guitar-wise, he makes damn sure he's going to saturate virtually every song with a generic melodic chorus to boot. So The Serenity of Suffering ends up sounding like the streamlined lovechild of Take A Look In the Mirror and The Paradigm Shift basically.

And, while I know Ray Luzier is a proficient drummer, I still don't think his style jives with Korn. He makes their music sound mechanical and occasionally arrhythmic. Another thing that always made Korn stand out was their funk tendencies, which have been sorely missed since the departure of David Silveria. Granted, David basically phoned in his performances on the last couple of albums he did with them, but, would it kill Luzier to break from his streamlined "metal" mold and inject something a little danceable/funky/jazzy every once and a while? It probably would, because he's pretty much strictly a generic metal/rock drummer, but it certainly doesn't help Korn from truly breaking the generic rut they've been in for the past decade +.

Ultimately, if you're an old-school fan of the band like myself, there's a fair amount of stuff to dig on The Serenity of Suffering riff-wise, moreso than any record since Take A Look in the Mirror. Most of these songs actually have the type of jarring/explosive riffs that made Korn famous in the first place, so that's nice to hear. But as long as JD continues to saturate the band's music with his overly melodic/generic choruses, and as long as Luzier continues his lockstep/mechanical/formulaic drumming it's going to hold Korn back from truly delivering the type of infectious and explosive music they are capable of. Haven said that, The Serenity of Suffering is a step in the right direction, and practically speaking, is probably the best you're going to get coming off of an album like The Paradigm Shift. Considering all the band's mis(dub)steps over the past several years, The Serenity of Suffering is encouraging, and easily the best thing they've cooked up since 2003.


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