31
Jan

My thoughts on: Korn

Korn

Once upon a time, in what seems a parallel, reverse universe today, before Fieldy had only three functioning brain cells, back when Munky actually tricked us into believing he can play guitar, way before Jonathan sounded like a broken record, and when they were actually a proper band, not the Jonathan Davis Experience they are for the most part today, Korn were actually a good band.

A great one? Metal? Not the discussion here. But the latest news on them (already) planning a new, Soundgarden influenced album have made me want to revisit Korn, and see what the hell made them one of my favorite bands in the first place. There, I said it.

Before I go on, a disclaimer. I will take a pretty personal approach, and, in the style of this website, I will make scandalous assumptions and back them up by “I know what’s good for them better than they do.” You were warned.

1994-1997: The early years

Remember who they are?

Easily everone’s (if they’re a fan in the first place) favorite period of the band. Don’t get fooled by MTV band descriptions like “one of the most groundbreaking bands in the world,” because they weren’t, really. What Korn knew how to do best, and what they’ve been trying to recreate in the past ten years and keep failing desperately (and what made them so hated amongst the real metal community) was their ability to take elements of grunge, funk, hardcore, and metal, spice them up with personal and depressing lyrics, but present them in a form that was massively memorable. You hear “Blind” once, you’ll “ta-ta-ta-ta” for the rest of your life when you hear that song playing on the radio.

Their first album to this day has elements that are really heavy, but not cliched (Head and Munky were far from guitar experts, but they did use it somewhat differently than others), and elements (lyrics-wise) that are really hard to swallow, but catchy. Except for “Daddy,” obviously. You can’t really sing along to ten minutes of crying. The second LP, Life is Peachy, just continued in that direction — the band threw various personal demons at you and (obviously) wasn’t afraid to show sarcasm, even humor. I’m not the biggest fan of their second album, but it had some great songs, and the “fun” songs are legitimately fun, because back then doing an Ice Cube cover meant more than just shitty down-tuned riffing and a white guy pretending he’s black because that’s the hot shit on MTV at the moment.

1998-2000: The mainstream years

Got the life. And now it kinda sucks.

Going back to Ice Cube, his song with Korn is one of the (many) turds of their catalog. What happened with Follow the Leader is that they exploded. Despite that, and a few other songs (All in the Family? Say what, say what?), the following two albums weren’t just the sounds of the band getting bigger in the commercial sense, somehow they managed to keep their shit together and continued making heavy hits. While the production was way cleaner, and way bigger than the Ross Robinson produced albums, the band managed to keep themselves interesting. They had great videos (yes, even the mega self absorbent “Got the Life”), continued making good songs, and seemed to have had a great time (Deuce anyone?). They were happy, fans were happy, and Korn were on their way to become a rare heavy, yet popular act that something to show for, and a bright future ahead of them (despite the shift in lyrics from teeny-drama personal, to stardom-induced personal. It’s still evolution, right?).

So, what happened?

2000-2004: Untouchables and the first time they remember who they are

3/5 members are here to stay

Yes, Untouchables. What usually happens with bands on their second or third album, happened to them with their fifth. It is just such a clear turning point, when, no matter if you like the album or not, you know things have changed and they will never be the same again (no matter how many times the band tried to do it, but more on that later).

Having suffered being blamed for the creation of nu metal (which I consider a term that loosely labels bands with some similar elements of funk/hip-hop and rock, and which everyone else seemed to have exclusively associated with those aforementioned shitty downtuned riffs and white guys trying to be black), the band tried to make their “big return” in form of Untouchables. To this day, I’m split on it. Sometimes I consider it (almost) their greatest work, at other times I go “what the fuck is this?” It’s hard to explain, the songs were mostly written in a mature way, but there is always that little something that doesn’t sit well with it. The easiest solution would be to point the finger on the production, which does in fact sound a bit mushy, but that’s not the sole cause.

The album sales suffered, largely in part of the album leaking a few months before its release, and what did the band do? Of course, played the safe card, and pulled a “we’re going back to out roots” album, Take a Look in the Mirror.

The problem with those types of albums is that, even if it has the same people (yeah, I know you’re already full of anticipation of me poking fun at III), they are not the same people they were ten years ago. And this album, besides being a bit heavier than the last one, doesn’t sound anything like their first few albums. It had okay songs (some I’d say were even underrated), but they were clearly not going anywhere unless they had a few ideas left. And ideas seemed to have been in hiding (hence, Greatest Hits, Vol. 1).

And then, all the wrong things happened.

2005-2008: Korn gave Head to God (and David to McDonalds)

Two Heads are smarter than one

It’s not really hard to shock a Korn fan nowadays, because we’ve seen it all: only two original members performing as “Korn,” dirty laundry being thrown from every direction, Fieldy not being able to comprehend time… But in 2005, Head’s departure from the band and his new found Jesus-freak image faith genuinely shocked everyone. Because until that point, the band may have suffered a loss of creative ideas, but they seemed to have been functioning alright. Let’s not pretend, no one was thinking they were best pals, and it’s clear to everyone that after a certain period of time touring and albums become nothing but a job, but when one of the members is so unhappy he finds comfort in Jesus, you know something wasn’t right for a while. I won’t go into the details of all the things that happened between them after that. The band unfortunately spoke more (and often not very consistently) about their relationships than anyone would want to hear.

Case and point: when Head left, they promised the remainder of the band was “as tight as ever,” “family,” bla bla, and then a year after, David goes on to open restaurants and sell his drumkits on eBay.

And the music? Ouch. This period of the band was definitely the worst when it comes to music. I understand the pressure of being signed to a new label, having a multi-million dollar record deal and wanting to prove you still have it, but I can’t understand “Twisted Transistor.” This was, for the first time, a 100% clear indicator that the band are running low on ideas and high on Jonathan’s view of what the music should be like. To think this band once knew how to write a catchy song without the need of crossing over to Nine Inch Nails/radio pop territory. And let’s forget MTV Unplugged ever happened.

2009-present: Ray of light and the second time they remember who they are

Korn III: Remeber Who You Are — a bunch of 40 year old men driving around

The best thing to happen to Korn in the last few years was the addition of Ray Luzier as a permanent member, without forcing him to hide behind stage or wear shitty animal masks. He’s not the best drummer in the world, but he seemed to have clicked with them. Did they know how to use it? Fuck no. Even though there were hints that they could actually do a proper “roots” album (“Kidnap the Sandy Claws” from The Nightmare Revisited album was great), the end result and their latest offering, Korn III: Remember Who You Are promised their original sound, but failed to deliver. As we’ve already pointed, this is not the same band they once were (I mean literally), and it made things all much worse. I do like the album, it had some good songs compared to the last two, but in the end, it came off my radar after two months and hasn’t been spotted since. And just a few days back, they announce they’re already planning a new one.

Which brings me to the conclusion: Korn are, for the most part, a shitty band. But it’s a shitty band that I like. I never cared if they weren’t the most metal or that they got more credit than they deserve, but they managed to connect with me, the teenager with my high school drama, and it even managed to stick after that. So, what’s the problem? Over-saturation. If you keep popping one album after another, at least make sure they’re not complete shit, or vent on your solo material before you enter the studio. The only thing they still seem to know how to do is put on good live show (even if it means another extra band on stage). And I know, you can argue that after Issues/Untouchables they had a choice of repeating themselves, or experimenting. Somehow, they managed to do both, and fail both times. There are bands that know how to break out of their style and continue making good music, and there are bands that do the same thing for years, but manage to make it sound good each time. Korn are unfortunately neither of the two.

Ideally, and as funny as it sounds, Korn should have split up after Head left. It would have let them have time of their own, do projects of their own, and maybe, they could have had the time to start missing each other. The nostalgia would build up, fans would want to hear them live more than ever, they’d give money to buy a new record, and after a few years, the band could have come back recharged, and maybe, just maybe, they could have made a record that means something.

Most fans want their old bands to reunite. What Korn managed to achieve in the last few years, is that they made a lot of fans want them to break up.

Ta-ta-ta-ta.


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