Korn is a band that has been in the woods for a while.
Their guitarist, Brian “Head” Welch, said “sayonara” and went to Jesus, and the band’s first album as a quartet was an over-produced, radio-pandering piece of polished crap, but that’s what you get when you hire the slippery hacks behind Avril Lavigne and latter-day Liz Phair records to man the board.
Not to say that Korn wasn’t already radio-friendly, but “See You on the Other Side” made “Follow the Leader” look as commercially motivated as a Dead Kennedys record. Then Korn erroneously decided they were an art-metal band and tried to snag some instant cred by getting the S.S. Terry Bozzio to play the drums on their next release, a decision that proved disastrous.
The first whiff of pretentious crap came when they opted not to give the album a title, stating that they wanted the record to be whatever people wanted it to be, or something. All it ended up being was boring.
Korn’s next play was the sort of panicky hail-Mary that happens whenever a band has absolutely no idea where the hell to go next, the dreaded “back-to-our-roots” record, which bonked you on the nose with its title “Remember Who You Are.” They got their old nu-metal svengali Ross Robinson to produce and gave it a cover that was like a more calculated, less-interesting redux of the creepy cover to their self-titled debut. The decision for an artist to intentionally devolve is problematic and almost never works for people who aren’t Glenn Danzig; it’s a sign of creative defeat that only says “we’re out of ideas.” Then, unpredictably, dubstep happened, and Korn blessedly got some new ones.
My youngest sister introduced me to dubstep, which I quickly decided I would actively avoid forever and ever, amen. It’s the first time I’ve ever felt old when it comes to how I view something new in pop culture — the first time I heard what I would describe as “music” in quotes, the reaction where your first thought is “that’s not music!” Or maybe you just don’t get it, old man.
When a friend and fellow metal maniac told me a new Korn record was coming out, it didn’t register until he uttered the words “They’re, like, a dubstep band now,” which prompted an uncontrollable fit of laughter. It seemed like a bad joke, kind of like “The View” by Lou Reed & Metallica. “Oh boy, this HAS to be some kind of epic train wreck! I can’t wait!” Yup, the motivation behind listening to this record was good ol’ fashioned schadenfreude, which confirms that I am a jerk. But I’m a jerk who loves being wrong.
Korn’s “The Path of Totality,” which features collaborations with Skrillex, Feed Me, Noisia, and a host of other people I’ve actively avoided, is not only an inspired record but the best work the band’s ever done. That’s not saying much; even before Korn entered the woods, their suburban mallcore appeal didn’t do much for me. Nineties nu-metal as a trend is better represented by Sepultura’s “Roots” and the first three Deftones albums; the best thing I could say about Korn is that they had an original sound that laid the foundation for the aforementioned groups to build on.
But even though “it’s the best work the band’s ever done” isn’t saying much, “The Path of Totality” is still a killer album; the opener “Chaos Lives in Everything” hooked me in and never let me go until it polished off with “Bleeding Out” (the special edition contains two extra tracks, though — I hate it when they do that). They’ve done a fantastic, seamless job of incorporating the wub-wub-wubby messiness of dubstep into their sound, taking the nonsensical experimentation that goes on in there and streamlining it into something hypnotic that meshes well with Munky Shaffer’s scratchy down-tuned guitar and Fieldy Arvizu’s slappy bass lines. Jonathan Davis’s more obnoxious tendencies as a vocalist are thankfully reigned in; showing more restraint than he has in the past, his strengths play well with what his collaborators are doing.
The band’s attack on Barry Obama in the form of “Illuminati” also deserves props, given few musicians have been willing to openly attack our current huge embarrassing failure of a leader, the way many were more than happy to during the Bush years (the song “Politics” off of “See You On The Other Side” bluntly announced their active disinterest in political material in the past). Jonathan Davis’s assertion in interviews that Obama is “an Illuminati puppet,” though, suggests that he’s been listening to too much Alex Jones and needs to adjust his tin foil hat to a less outlandish frequency. But it’s refreshing to hear a musician say, “I miss the old days when people were proud to be American.” Yup.
Here we have a band that’s been around for eighteen years now sounding completely re-energized as a group. The revolving door of fresh young talent they’ve brought in to jam with is certainly why. It was a brilliant decision on their part to recognize how these artists could help evolve their sound, as opposed to continuing to beat the corpse of nineties nu-metal. Korn has made an album that forms a nice, consistent whole, a refreshing product in this age where albums are designed to be picked away at as consumers only snag the singles they want while the filler tracks rot on the server. Being someone who eats metal for breakfast and prefers shredding to down-tuned scratching, this shouldn’t be something I enjoy this much. But like I said, I love being wrong.