The opinion expressed is that of the writer.
I’ve seen Korn mentioned far too many times this year. Ranging from comments about Limp Bizkit at Woodstock 99, all the way to “hey did you know Korn was still a thing?”, and I have to weigh in.
I was a bit of a Korn fanboy in high school. It’s like a mid 90s version of admitting you were pretty into vanilla ice. I used to do the “song” Twist on demand. I would go home after school, and if I wasn’t playing guitar super fucking loud and super fucking bad, I was “singing” the entire Life is Peachy record from start to finish to “practice”. To practice for what? I didn’t know, but that didn’t matter. Someday I would be needed to grunt like some animalistic mental patient and talk like a doll, and I was going to be fucking ready.
I bet you thought since I said high school, and mid 90s, in the first part that I was going to sit here and tell you about the best record ever self titled. I would be lying to you if I told you that Blind didn’t completely turn what I thought of metal on its head, or that it didn’t make me immediately go buy the cd after hearing it on headbangers ball (I very very much did). That doesn’t make it the best though, it just makes it the most nostalgic of the Korn discography.
And why wouldn’t it? It’s fucking iconic. It has Blind, which is arguably one of the most musically exploratory metal songs ever, especially at the time. It’s the first time I, and most of anyone else, ever heard someone cry on a record. It was the first time I’d heard ANYONE talk so candidly about abuse, and ridicule, and all the terrible shit that can happen to you as a kid.
Still not the best record.
Untouchables was Korn stretching its already muscular legs. They were completely on top of the industry at this point, and decided to try something different again. This had already happened throughout their career up to the point of this album too, constantly changing and morphing the sound they build around themselves to try and leave imitations behind them. So many parts of the record make you go back and rethink what you thought a band like Korn could be capable of. It’s epic, symphonic even, to the point that it’s this weird hybrid mutation of nu metal and opera. It’s a perfect example of a piece of art larger than the creators, and is criminally underrated.
Who sounded like Korn before Korn sounded like Korn? Sepultura? Deftones? You know what Korn never sounded like? All those shitty nu metal bands imitating the sound. For example: Coal Chamber, or Limp Bizkit, or Static X, or any of that other bullshit.
Korn sounded cool because chawnky boi bass with twinkly little weird sounds are cool af. They learned the lesson from hip hop, and if you ask anyone listening to EDM today what they think of big bass with little twinkly bits they’ll fucking tell you what time it is, but Korn took this a step further. “What if it was all bass and these fidgety bits” they asked themselves. To be truthful, that sounded like shit, until they added the magical third ingredient FUZZ. Bass, twinkly bits, and fuzz are the same ingredients to dubstep, need I say more?
Seriously though without Munky fidgeting around and figuring out to make weird noise #44 on some track three albums deep, Head is much much MUCH more boring. Don’t believe me? Well he made a solo record just to prove my point.
“I’m just a pretty boy, whatever you call it”
“Are you laughing at my body?”
“They took advantage of me, you let them take their turns hitting me.”
I don’t think I need to explain this one too much. This guy was the mouthpiece for a lot of people who felt pretty fucking powerless for a long fucking time.
Korn was INSTRUMENTAL in killing MTV. Their videos were so expensive that they were a part of the reason record labels started trying to recoup some of that money from MTV, so MTV started just showing parts of the vid to cut costs (TRL) and killed the medium.
Did you know that it wasn’t reality television, and specifically The Real World, that killed MTV but instead was the music video itself? Yeah apparently, according to people who actually worked there, MTV never really had great ratings for the Music Television part.
As music videos increased in production costs, record labels started scrambling to lower the bill. The way MTV used to work is the record labels would make a video to promote a song/album, and send it to MTV to run. MTV would run the videos and advertise in between, everyone makes money (in the 80s). By the mid 90s everything was getting out of hand, and by the time Korn was putting out Follow the Leader (and the single Got the Life) they were spending over a million on the video alone. What did record labels do to counter this?
They tried to charge MTV to run the videos.
MTV could pay the premiums for a bit, but over time this financial burden proved to be too much for too little revenue return. Slowly whittling down the hours of music videos available down to only Total Request Live which itself wouldn’t run full videos, and instead only short 10-30 second clips. Eventually this too was lost in the twilight of the old way.
Korn was a needless casualty of the backlash against nu metal. Even though they pretty much created the genre AND had by that time begun to evolve out of the sound, bands like limp bizkit tainted the well.
God, you remember how sick of nu metal we all were by the end of it? Slipknot was probably the last band to ride the good graces that Korn rolled out before that door was slammed shut behind them. The shitty part about this for Korn was that they weren’t even really playing nu metal anymore by this point, but it didn’t matter, as nu metal’s daddy they had to go.
Anyone who never saw “who then now” probably doesn’t really know much about this, but they were all drinking way waayyyy too much. It was even rumored that before Michael Beinhorn would produce Untouchables that he required everyone stop drinking and Jonathan take vocal lessons (fucking lol).
As for the fans part, the biggest Korn fan I knew wasn’t me at all. It was this guy in our school named Dustin who wore Adidas tracksuits and already had herpes in high school. Dude was a habitual line stepper, and violated pretty much every friendship he ever had. I remember going to a graduation like a year after I graduated with some friends to go party afterward. I’m hanging in the car in the parking lot, and this motherfucker pops up and knocks on the window. I let him in and he tells me to get down, “I just ran from a cab” he says. We hunker down for a bit, catch up for about 10 minutes, and we part ways. I remember hearing like 2 years after that he went to prison. I bet he was into ICP…
Just let me have this one ok?
My first real concert was Korn on 11.21.96 at Austin Music Hall in Austin TX, and I can’t remember who the opener was, but I remember they fucking sucked (Korn was pretty amazing from what I remember, which isn’t a ton). I also remember the guy walking outside giving a tape to everyone before the show, and throwing the tape away when I got home. I only kind of regret throwing the tape away. On that tape was Incubus, and fuck everything about Incubus.
I always heard that the singer of Incubus wasn’t even a singer before Incubus. That the band saw him one day, decided he looked like a singer, and asked him about it. He, according to this great rumor, was all “nah, idk how to sing man”, to which Incubus (you know, all of them, at once) replied “Fuck that bro, ur like good looking and shit, you can totally sing”.
And the rest is history.
I don’t know if any of that is true, and I don’t really fucking care. It explains well enough for me why his vocal lines sound like he’s moaning random shit, recording that, then just memorizing whatever noises those were and calling that writing. He is pretty good looking though.
Korn spawned an entire cottage industry of guitar manufacturers making guitars with lower scales. Like, literally were the only ones giving a fuck about that 7th string at all. This industry helped create an entire genre of music called djent. Yes for real.
You want to know how many people I knew that even knew that a 7 string guitar fucking existed before Korn? Zero. I can’t even think of another band at the time that was saying “hey, guys, MORE STRINGS!” other than maaaaybe Primus because Les Claypool is a fucking bass fetishist. It apparently came from Steve Vai, so yeah someone was using it sure, but it was Steve fucking Vai. Who fucking emulated steve fucking Vai in the 90’s? I remember reading one time that one of the guitarists in Korn bought the Steve Vai 7 string at a pawn shop, and immediately the other guitar and Fieldy (bass) had to scramble to match it because B A S S F E T I S H you know?
This guitar was already discontinued by 95. Nobody gave a shit, Steve Vai is one of those guitarists who’s almost inhuman, why the fuck would anyone but a collector ever need it? Well once Korn used it to play their easy ass drop D shit, every single “freak” who also played guitar wanted one too. This pushed manufacturers like Ibanez to make signature series for us assholes, which were then made and sold cheaply, bought by spoiled shits, and sold to pawn shops for more cocaine and herpes medication once they went to college and quit playing guitar because fuck that shit it’s too hard.
“Oh you listen to that rap rock shit?”
“Yeah I listen to rap rock, fuck you!”
Both have something in common. That something is the driving need to incapacitate people before they fuck them. Maybe it’s because of their shitty personality, maybe because shoving 2 genres into one word is just about the laziest thing you could possibly do to categorize music. Either way, if they only knew their shared shame… Wait no, it’s very good they don’t know they both date rape people, we don’t need them teaming up.
Does Korn deserve a second chance? They’ve become derivative, they’re making a dubstep record several years too late, and Jonathan Davis is apparently a full on shithead at this point. Considering Korn at the time was mostly an expression of deeply repressed rage and trauma, them having a second time in the sun might say a lot more about us than them at this point. The underlying issue I find is that they’re just not very good anymore, and really that’s enough.