The discovery of a new band is always exciting. Will it be something you’ve heard countless times? An experience that leaves a bad taste in your mouth? Or is it a treat from which you cannot stop consuming? I wanted to take a trip back in time to reminisce about bands/albums that not only introduced me to heavy music, but kept me coming back for more…
From The Archive: Korn – Korn
Dan’s busy this week and I had just realized that I have never bothered to reach into his brainchild article From the Archive. I thought I could use the platform to talk about an album that I feel is greatly under-appreciated in the metal community, and that’s Korn‘s 1994 self-titled debut album, an album that—like it or not—influenced an entire movement of hard rock and metal for decades to come.
Korn holds a special place in my heart, as they were my favorite band in my teenage years, bridging the gap between radio-friendly hard rock and hip hop and into the realm of metal. Korn get a lot of flack from fans of extreme metal though, and I can see why. You can blame them if you like for bands like Disturbed and Limp Bizkit and whatever other nu-metal bands that saturated the market in the late 90’s and early 00’s. However, before the trend and rise to fame and eventual journey into rap-metal aesthetics, Korn’s debut album is a raw and emotional record that really created a sound that wasn’t heard before. Korn took cues from grunge and heavy metal to form this aggressive and twisted being that really was new and exciting.
Upon pressing play, the famous tension-building cymbal ride of “Blind” emerges and the band eventually explodes with a furious shout of “Are you ready?!” The classic intro really sets the confrontational tone of the album to follow. The album is fairly consistent in its sound and tone, but there’s added nuances that really make Korn pop. There are brief instrumental breaks here and there that borrow from hip-hop, funk, and even jazz. Korn were not as explicit in their experimentation as their eventually more pronounced influences in Faith No More, but they incorporate all of this into their repertoire quite seamlessly when they do occur.
The riffing on part of guitar duo James “Munky” Shaffer and Brian “Head” Welch is admittedly fairly simple in its technicality, but these riffs are catchy, driving, recognizable, and iconic. The unique yet sparse lead work is quirky and odd, usually involving different effects and textures. It’s also worth noting that Korn helped to popularize extended-range instruments, playing downtuned 7-string guitars and 5-string basses. Djent has something to owe to Korn, as far as I’m concerned.
Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu’s unique bass tone and slap technique is also something worth mentioning. Cutting out the mids and boosting the treble in favor of audible attack as a technique for cutting through the low guitar riffs is quite ingenious, and his percussive basslines bounce alongside drummer David Silveria’s tom-heavy grooves with great compliment.
Frontman Jonathan Davis absolutely makes this album for me, though. He shows great versatility from his screams and death-metal worthy growls to his unpolished singing. There are moments of scat on “Ball Tongue” that are quite visceral, and he brought bagpipes into the world of hard rock with “Shoots and Ladders,” which works astonishingly well. While some may feel that his lyrical subject matter and approach is angsty and juvenile (it is), at least it isn’t contrived. Real emotion pours out of Jonathan throughout the record, most notably on the closing track “Daddy,” a song which tackles childhood molestation. As the song progresses, the vocal delivery gets more and more intense until throat-tearing screams climax into sobbing as an emotionally vulnerable (and unstable) Jonathan Davis can be heard leaving the sound booth, closing the album out in a chilling fashion.
Their approach has been emulated by many, but no other band that followed in their wake has been able to achieve such an honest and piercing album like Korn—even Korn themselves failed at doing so. I can’t help but shake my head whenever I hear Disturbed’s “Down With The Sickness” when David Drainman tried biting Jonathan Davis with his “ow mommy don’t hit me” bullshit. Copycats be damned, Korn was spectacular. Yes, most of the nu-metal that was inspired by Korn was terrible, but I feel that Korn is a groundbreaking classic that is deserving of praise.