Korn: Korn

Adidas tracksuits! Bagpipes! A bass guitar that clicks! The birth of “nu-metal”! It can only be Korn….


There are a handful of bands that, in the early mid-90s, were the key to unlocking the heavier side of metal. Up until this time frame, my primary listening tastes were Maiden, Kiss, WASP, Extreme, Living Colour, Pearl Jam, Metallica… to name a few. But the more “extreme” aspects of metal were foreign to me. I credit my buddy Huw for helping to rectify that situation. through him, I became acquainted with Slayer, Pantera, Biohazard and…. Korn. Huw was an early adopter of Korn, having a cassette of the album which he was willing to lend me. I left his parent’s house (he lived there, I wasn’t visiting them personally….) popped the tape into my Walkman and proceeded to be utterly taken aback by what I heard. It was just… genre altering. I’d never heard anything like this before.

Prior to borrowing the album, I’m pretty sure I’d heard ‘HIND-korn-infoBlind’ which was impressive on it’s own but the full weight of the album (musically and lyrically). I think there was a perfect symmetry that night, a marriage of environment and audio. Firstly,the lateness of the hour meant that I was walking home in the dark. Korn just sounds better in the dark, I think, hearing them on a hot sunny, summer’s day just isn’t the same. Also, the streets and roads were sparsely populated, so that combination sense of isolation and the tinge of paranoia (that if something bad happens, who will be there to help?) further added to the oppressive sounds entering my ears. And let’s be frank here, this is an oppressive album. Ross Robinson does a fine job of capturing and mixing the sonic levels the band emit, there’s a clarity to the album that is impressive considering how sludgy it could have gotten (due to the tunings used). But the tones, the structure of the songs are jarring and unsettling, the combination of styles odd and difficult to process (for me, a pure metalhead, at that time) and the lyrics…. are something else.

Somebody, somewhere be it at the record company or Ross Robinson or the band themselves, probably pat themselves on the back at least once a day for making the decision to introduce the world to Korn via the opening track ‘Blind’. I dare you to find another song of theirs that is most identified with them. Go on, I’ll wait.

See?

This is their ‘Enter Sandman’, their ‘Stairway To Heaven’, their ‘Bo Rap’, their ‘Agadoo‘… you get the idea. In just 4mins 19s, the band set out their stall and establish a sound that was, for me, totally unheard of before. Interestingly, their most famous song has it’s roots in pre-Korn history. But that’s not to say that this is the best track on the album. Far from it. Next we travel further down into the darkness with Ball Tongue which features the first appearance in the Korn catalogue fo the Jonathan Davis Cookie Monster vocals technique (later displayed on Life Is Peachy’s ‘Twist’). What’s interesting about this technique of just making noises is that it allows the listener to project their own feelings and emotions into the song. You start to “hear” words or phrases where there are none, like a subconscious pair of tweezers plucking and tugging at emotions. The intro to ‘Clown’ is hugely demonstrative of antagonistic vibe in the band. It definitely felt familiar to me as that epithets thrown around as well as the joky-but-serious nature tone reminded me of how my friends and I would interact. The difference being that we were teens and, on this track, Korn were in the early twenties.

‘Faget’ is the last of the Outsider Trilogy that also consists of ‘Clown’ and ‘Divine’. All 3 of these songs deal with the anger and resentment of being labeled, of being ostracised of being made to feel insignificant. Whether it’s because you dress or act differently (‘Faget’), come from a different town (‘Clown’) or simply railing against someone or something that feels they’re better than you (‘Divine’. All of these things, these feelings, are part and parcel of teenage life. And in these 3 songs, Korn and Davis verbalizes insecurities and a fuck-the-world attitude. Providing solace, if you should seek it. And with that, they cement the idea of being a voice of a generation. For me, certainly, I’d never heard such anger and such venom in music and lyrics before. I’m sure for many it spoke to their own fears and self-loathing and anger. And in ‘Faget’ with that line, with it’s visceral and deranged delivery, the sentiment resonates. Perhaps we might not choose to use that phrasing but I do believe we’ve all felt that emotion. To inject some levity, the end vocal always sounded liked, to me, that Davis was singing “I’m not a baguette” which always makes me chuckle to this day.

‘Shoots And Ladders’ marries children’s rhymes with a pretty off-kilter musical bed. It’s kind of a throwaway tune to be honest. I’ve read that it’s supposed to highlight how children’s nursery rhymes (the first songs we generally learn) are actually rooted in some very dark places but in reality, like most attempts to interpret nursery rhymes, there’s no actually basis for these interpretations. Nevertheless it’s a good song if only to get the chance of hearing people yelling nursery rhymes in concerts. ‘Predictable’ has bit of an uneven journey with it’s stop-start teme but it does feature the one of my fav snare sounds.

One of the key memories for me about this album is the way Jonathan Davis delivers his lyrics. Part singing, part growling, part whispering, part whining… it’s was, at the time, like nothing I had ever heard before and ‘Fake’ is a good example of Davis’ ability to get guttural. Listen to the way he barks out the word “fake”. Amazing. And much how Davis’ vocals were eye opening to me so to were the levels of heavy that the guitars roamed around. By that point (1994/5) I think the heaviest things I had heard were probably Pantera but this was heavier… darker. That descending riff in ‘Lies’ always maked me think ‘how low are these guys going to go’! Not content with melding rap and hip hop into metal, ‘Helmet In The Bush’ see Korn intorducing some almost industrial elements to their sound. The almost robotic (in tone and performance) nature of the percussion is hypnotic.

I’m not even going to bother to try and talk about theΒ song ‘Daddy’ in any great depth save for two thing. Firstly, I had never (and still haven’t) heard anything like this on record. It was jarring, uncomfortable, scary and cathartic. To allow oneself to bare so much pain and anger for others to hear is remarkable. Secondly, go listen to the song because any words I try to use to describe this track, pales into insignificance compared to hearing it.

Korn (and a couple of other bands) was really a gateway band to a wider musical palette for me. They planted the seeds that would grow into bloom a couple of years later when I was with friends who liked hip hop and rap. These specific elements in Korn’s music meant I my “metal rulezzzz” attitude was less severe and more open to embracing new music. But not only that they were, in 1994, genuinely like nothing I had ever heard before. In his excellent book, Fargo Rock City, Chuck Klosterman is less than complimentary about the band but even he agrees that Korn were new and different.

They arrived at just the right time in my and the public’s consciousness. Those of us in our teens, perhaps, had a stronger connection to the music and especially the lyrics. I still can’t wrap my head around this idea that Kurt Cobain was the voice of a generation. He absolutely wasn’t. Korn was. It’s just that they weren’t as mainstream (outside of the metal genre) as Nirvana were. This is the real howl of identity and fear and self-loathing. Just wrapped up in Adidas and not a cardigan.

Advertisements

21 thoughts on “Korn: Korn

  1. Nice post! And thanks for the follow πŸ™‚ lovely to meet you!

    Korn are SO from my childhood lol. Limp Bizkit I loved as well! (still do…!)

    P.S I couldn’t leave a comment on your About Me section but I really enjoyed reading it and agree wholeheartedly with your sentiment about facebook! I haven’t been on there for about six years and it’s bloody marvellous! πŸ™‚ not interested at all!

    Like

    • Hi Emma! Thanks for the kind words! My childhood was littered with Korn too. I even bought some Adidas trackie bottoms. But not sparkly ones, damn it. Had no idea comments were off on that page. Have sorted. Thanks for the follow!

      Liked by 1 person

        • Oh no I never went that fancy. Poppers….. No mine were just plain regular ones. Although they were a heavier material so not like the towel-type trackie bottoms. These felt a little bit like chinos in a sense.

          This is a LOT of talk about Adidas trousers πŸ˜€

          Like

  2. Hi, I’m writing about every song that ever became a #1 hit, backwards chronologically, in the journey that is the Every Number One blog. I would really appreciate if you took a look around.

    Like

  3. Good read John, even if I can’t say I’m a Korn fan. My brother bought the debut LP and played it over and over. I found it ok. You’re right about their sound; they were definitely more interesting sonically to me than they were musically. RATM came to mind as I was reading, so I agree with you on that score.

    Can’t wait for your FNM blog. They’ve undergone a real renaissance in my musical tastes of late. Not that I ever went off them, but their hiatus went on for so long that they began to slip under the radar. Sol Invictus is excellent

    Like

    • You know, I was looking at my stats and saw that there was a view from Canada and I thought to myself “I bet that’s Mike”…..

      AND LO HE DOTH APPEAR!! πŸ˜€

      The tracks suits, I think, were part rebellion against metal/rock traditions and part white kids wanting to be rappers. Fieldy wore that silly handkerchief on his head for a long time trying to be one of the Crips. Or the Bloods. Either one.

      Excellent point about Faith No More. I’d also say Rage Against The Machine was a helping hand too – the combo of riffs and rapping. I’ve got a post on FNM in the pipeline too, coincidently.

      I know what you mean about the angst bit. It’s a detached view for me now. I can remember the sense of “Oh shit, this guy gets it” from my teen years but now it’s much more steeped in the warm glow of memory than relatability.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I clicked earlier because I got an email about a Load review, but then the link didn’t work! Too bad because I love that album actually.

        Yes Rage Against the Machine too. I was more into how Tom Morello refused to sound like a guitar player. But I think Korn took inspiration from that too!

        Like

        • Ahh yeah the Load thing was an error on my part. I wanted to schedule it but I posted it instead. Well… it’s not even written yet! As it’s 20 years (*bug eyes*) since it was releases, I’m doing a three post series on album, the singles, the tour and wrapping it all up in the framework of my life. Kinda. So that’ll be posted in June.

          Yeah Morello was much more about tone and noise and experiment than rock god poses and pentatonic scales!

          Liked by 1 person

          • I’m just trying to work out the structure of the posts… I suspect the main album review post will be lenghty so I might leave the singles for post #3…. but then I plan on covering ‘Until It Sleeps’ in post #1 as that post covers the journey up until album release….. ARGH!! πŸ˜€

            Speaking of singles, a new series coming up soon looking at those very formats πŸ˜‰

            Liked by 1 person

          • Yes I get it, for a pre-album single that works perfectly for Until it Sleeps. The reaction to the haircuts alone probably warrants several paragraphs!

            Can’t wait to check out what you have for singles. When I was younger a lot of people didn’t understand why I bought them. “Why do you pay almost as much as an album for 3 songs?”

            Like

  4. Great post. I have always felt that Korn, Incubus and System of a Down owe Faith No More a large debt for paving the way for this kind of sound. And that’s not to take anything away for those bands.

    Korn are a band that I admire musically. I don’t feel the angst anymore and have a hard time with that aspect. But as players, shredders, writers, and especially as a singer? My God they cook. I’m glad they are still doing their thing that’s for sure.

    Like

Agree? Disagree? Apathetic? Let me know!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s