Korn
Korn III: Remember Who You Are

The other day I was feeling perverse. When the new Korn CD showed up, I didn’t just hurl it, or work out my anger management issues on it with a screwdriver. Instead I got kinky. I played the thing.

And now I’m stuck, like the drowned sailer, waving my hands in a critical ocean of no-fucking-way. As in no fucking way this or any Korn record could be good, and even if it was, any self respecting extreme metalhead couldn’t find the time of day for it — or admit it was good.

After all, there’s the latest Watain to wallow in, a new Devil Sold His Soul after years of frustrating silence. There are heated, hilarious arguments to be had about whether The Devil’s Blood are really metal or just evil Fleetwood Mac. There’s excitement about the new Gojira, there’s Volbeat hitting the road soon. Who could give a fuck about some millionaire nü metal burn-outs?

Certainly not people who like edgy metal. Like, um, us.

Except…except…except if the tin didn’t read ‘Korn,’ I bet this would make many a critic’s Band to Watch lists. There are songs here that suggest a grittier, weirder Alice in Chains. Songs here that sound like the percussion was done by a chain gang in ancient Rome. There are songs here that make you forget how lead yelper Jonathan Davis sounded in the bad old 90s.

Part of Remember Who You Are‘s spasmodic excellence is pure Kismet. At this moment, Korn in is the situation of being trapped between their fanbase’s slavering desire for more shit that sounds like old Korn, a mass market-driven need to update the sound and an audible urge by the band to be artistically relevant. (Just saying, but when nü metal was Faith No More’s “Epic,” people had no problem with it, probably because Mike Patton presented a super cool version of how listeners felt they were.)

Don’t get me wrong — sometimes Davis still sounds like old Davis, with that crushed-balls, stuck-pig, tenor Trent Reznor thing. But about fifty percent of the time of  Remember Who You Are, his voice is the most unpredictable thing going and enhanced by the appealingly raw, four-dudes-in-a-room production style.

On the startlingly inventive “Are You Ready to Live,” we hear a war between musical modes, a battle between being a really good Slipknot song and a really good song by Low, as in the indie slowcore Mormons, complete with Davis sounding like a ringer for Low’s Alan Sparhawk. And you thought we lived in a time devoid of miracles.

Atop pit-ready, rattling track of “Oildale (Leave Me Alone),” which sounds more like a less Greek version of the most recent Rotting Christ CD than anything else I could think of, we get a Davis who’s successfully morphed into the Devin Townsend of Strapping Young Lad. No, for real.

But all is not well. “Pop a Pill” is pleasingly raw and weird with its cool Arabic-scaled riffs.  Unfortunately, it also has the most Korn-y ‘funk’ bass and a return to that vocal style that so troubled us in the 90s. And “Holding All These Lies” is just fucking god awful, not because it’s nü metal, but because it’s crap.

But then you get “Fear is a Place to Live,” which in one song reconciles old and nu Korn. Deep groove disco beat? Check. Indie-pop-ish chorus? Check. Self-loathing monologue (but not a rap)? You betcha. My own critical snarkiness? Can’t lose it, I guess.

And so it goes, back and forth, from inspired to lousy and back.

After successive listens, I started thinking: if Korn are working so hard to move on, why are we so deadset on dismissing them, sound unheard?

Even in this edgy incarnation, the better songs here face-slap us with the reason Korn sold multibillions: the inglorius basterds can write a song, a for-real tune, not a mess of riffs crazy-glued together. Agoraphobic Nosebleed rules, Anaal Nathrakh rips, but it’s downright useful to have something that’s fairly brutal that you can hum along to while you’re being totally teenage and alienated.

And so, listening to the updated Davis machine, I got to thinking that instead of loathing Korn, we should really be grateful.

People seldom start their metal journey with Behemoth, Meshuggah or Napalm Death.  In the 90s, there was easy-to-digest Korn, just like with have  Crack the Skye‘s Mastodon with their ELO choruses, both working as catchy gateway drugs to the harder stuff.

Meanwhile, I think there’s another good reason why Korn makes the metal cognoscenti turn up their noses while similar but more arty, less emotionally naked bands like Deftones are accepted. And please, do feel free to say I’m full of something.

At about the same time the first Korn records came out, the literary world was exploding with its own form of nü metal. It was an abrupt gush of seriously fucked up dark young adult fiction (DYA) that was totally narrowcast at teens, really fucked up teens, or teens who saw themselves as really fucked up. Whatever.

DYA heroes and heroines, usually big music fans, wee often latchkey kids from wrecked families. Incredibly despairing and often literally goth, the books were rife with child abuse, violent incest, vampires who did not glitter but did rape your soul, mothers who either over-medicated their kids of sold them for quick cash and, incredibly, worse.

And so a generation before Twilight, authors like Charles de Lint  and Francesca Lia Block created full-blown publishing empires off this new generation’s seemingly bottomless need for tales of truly fucked up tweens and teens (why they were so fucked up is up to the sociologists).

Cut to: me, trying to cross 7th Avenue  at 8th Street in New York City in the mid-late 90s.

Fuhgeddaboudit.

The street was clotted with hundreds of kids outside a Barnes & Noble packed with Charles de Lint books where one of the Korn dudes was doing an autograph session. All  with a copies of Follow the Leader and Life is Peachy cradled, gently, in their hands. Most of them wearing worn SlayerMetallica and Megadeth tee shirts, their  older sibling’ metal. Kids who needed to hear their angst mirrored/validated in Davis’ vocal middlebrow but still effective operatics.

And so I think another reason we might dismiss Korn is because they’re fucking embarrassing; neediness and desperation are not pretty. They’re the opposite of the cool swagger of a Devildriver or Five Finger Death Punch, the blustery maniac shrieks and barks of black metal, the cookie monsters of death metal.

So we have Korn as gateway to more awesome metal and  as accidental metal therapists (along with Remember’s “Are You Ready to Live” and “The Past,” Remember  features the therapeutic “Let the Guilt Go”).

But there’s more.

No matter how good they get—and on Remember Who You Are, they’re often pretty damned good—Korn will always be the musical equivalent of a metaphorical photo of us at 14, 15 or maybe 16, faces sprayed with spots, hormones raging uselessly, porn sites memorized so Mom, whose probably been drinking again, won’t find them when on your crappy Acer computer. Look at it this way and the title Remember Who You Are almost feels like a threat.

But strip the new CD of all that incredible baggage, and what we have is a band trying and half the time succeeding in not sucking in a pretty unique way, a 2010 band and not a relic, and hitting an easy 7 on a scale of 1 to 10.

You can hate ’em. You can point out that they’re metal Peter Pans, eternally stuck in angsty adolescence. You can accurately point out that Davis still sounds like a miserable stuck pig here and there and there would be no arguing it. But given all the positive roles Korn have played in the real and greater metal world,  and despite how irritating as they can be, and now as good as they can be, its time to finally accept them as one of us. Remember Who You Are indeed.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Ian Grey
July 26th, 2010

Comments

  1. Commented by: adlianb

    i really enjoy their 1st 3 albums but everythin after are pretty much hit n miss. i thought they really lost it with the last album but will give this one a chance after reading your review…


  2. Commented by: shaden

    i think take a look in the mirror was an amazing rock record by a band i’ve only ever heard the most horrible songs from.i gave this new one more than a few listens and i find it absolutely unlistenable.some of the worst song writing i’ve ever heard.


  3. Commented by: LongDeadGod

    wow, liking the new korn is one thing, but saying the reason they are universally hated by most metal heads is because of some shitty mid-ninetees whine ass books is another.
    I’ll admit to having some korn tunes in my guilty pleasures list, i like to think people hate them because they suck, not just because its cool to hate them, but i may be wrong.
    next your gonna tell me nickleback is a severely underrated musically and should get more respect from the jaded metal underground.


  4. Commented by: Nick Taxidermy

    no thanks.


  5. Commented by: Rev

    LOTS of justification and name-dropping in here. If I want to listen to Low, I’ll listen to Low. If I want to hear Devin Townsend, I’ll listen to Devin Townsend.

    Almost unreadable.


  6. Commented by: Ian grey

    No. Nickleback are despised deposed, despite the the great skill and talent it takes to de what they do, it dosent
    make what they do any less gut-wrenchingly horrific.


  7. Commented by: AARONIUS

    You compared Davis to Devin Townsend?

    Sorry but that makes anything you might have to say about Korn a moot point to me.

    Devin can sing. Devin can really sing. Devin’s work in Strapping Young Lad also required a great deal of talent to pull off.

    I don’t know what you’re hearing. If you want to compare Jonathan Davis’s screaming vocals to someone, Anders Friden from In Flames is a much closer comparison.


  8. Commented by: Bogtron

    Gave a few songs a listen just for old times sake..not really worth my time. Basically a parody of the stuff they wrote about 5-10 ago.

    I think most songs by Anaal Nathrakh with singing in them are much more catchy than anything on this cd.


  9. Commented by: Cynicgods

    Aaronius – I wouldn’t compare Jonathan to Devin Townsend (that’s just asking for it imo) but the guy can sing. He’s not always doing screams or the annoying whiny stuff. He’s the main reason I like Korn. Now I have two: him and Ray Luzier (an underrated talent, to say the least).

    Ian – You didn’t need to namedrop respected bands just to prove a point. Pretty cool review anyway.


  10. Commented by: mccumberv

    …back in the old days (I am 40) 1994 I got this CD sampler from Epic, it had some Korn on it, some Brad and some other cool stuff that at the time I had never heard of, back then I was all about Exodus, Testament, Slayer and such, so the Grunge thing was starting to take hold, then I heard Korn’s first album and I freaking LOVED it, it was heavy and catchy and I thought very innovative….but they blew their wad with that first album, then the second one came out and it was okay, I think they pretty much just started to suck, all the guys got rich and lost the hunger, turned into addicts and it started to become about the image and lifestyle over instead of the music. Then all the other crappy Korn clones came out and had better stuff, so anyways… I hate Korn now, I hate everything they stand for and I am not even going to give it the time of day, not even sure why I wasted the 3 mins or so it took me to write up this mess of a post, haha. Korn is the reason that In Flames sucks so hard now too, Anders is a Jonathan Davis wannabe….Yeah I know my grammar needs some work.


  11. Commented by: elguerosinfe

    Terrible album Ian – not sure what you’re smoking…


  12. Commented by: rycro

    This article reeks of band name dropping and trying to compare Korn to other bands.

    Devin Townsend is in a whole different league than Korn, so I can’t understand where the comparison comes from. Two totally different musical styles. Devin is a mastermind of heavy music. Korn has come out with 1 great debut album, that’s it.

    Faith No More is NOT Nu-Metal. This guy needs to get a clue.


  13. Commented by: Ian

    I meant that Davis’ *voice* sounds like Devin’s for that one song. My apologies for not making this more clear. However, if you think about it, since I say that Davis has morphed into sounding like Devin for one song, it’s unlikely I’m talking about anything else. Still, I should have inserted “his voice” for clarity.

    How is Faith No More *not* nu Metal circa “Epic”? You got your deep funk groove, your massive guitar, your verse rap, your sing-along chorus. I always thought it was accepted wisdom that “Epic” basically laid the template for nu metal, not that Faith No More didn’t do a zillion other, more interesting things.

    But again, *not* comparing Davis to a Devin Townsend song or, God forbid, Strapping Young Lad. Just that his voice morphs into sounding like Devin’s, on one song. That’s all, Okay?


  14. Commented by: Manos

    I really don`t know where you are coming from nor what you are going for in some of these things you write about in this review. I have also had a phase in my life that I listened a tune or two from Korn, actually I still like some of the stuff that is happening on Issues. After that I have not found much to say about them other than meh.

    Anyways, so I read this review and thought maybe now there is something there and sat through this latest release. And I came to the conclusion that again I found nothing worth my while there. It is another ball drop away from the place they where. So in my books this plead has been heard, noted and denied. Korn is not anymore relevant with this one than with the other stuff they pushed out in “recent years” and they still keep driving their serial killer -collectors cars back and forth the connecting dirt road from Indifferentville to Craptown.

    And to add my voice to the choir, I must say that I cannot see, hear or feel any kind of Devin-like vibe from Davis on the mentioned tune what-so-ever, even if I try my hardest with most effective reality altering folio hat on.


  15. Commented by: Ian

    The thing with me is, I never had a relationship with Korn, one way or the other.

    I recall listening to the first CD once, thinking, OK, this is a total game-changer, being super impressed, but not needing to listen a second time, because it didn’t address my needs as a listener, the needs that go beyond, Whoah, brutal riff.

    Critically, I think you approach things in terms of how it relates to its genre, how it relates from its genre to the genres circling it, and how it might effect the needs of its listeners (which I think is where things get really interesting.)

    Anyway–don’t all these posts sort of support my basic thesis–that Korn, who inarguably created an *entirely new language of metal*– is HATED for reasons that go beyond mere perceived suckiness? I’d really be interested in why you guys think this is so. It can’t be because Davis is rich and a douchebag. If that were so we’d have to delete 2/3rd of our MPEGs.

    I could be 100% wrong about my ideas about why, but is there any other band that could get so many people in such a lather? At the same time that Disturbed, Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit and Nickleback walk the Earth? Bands that truly are useless, market-tested money machines?

    It just seemed kinda weird; still does.


  16. Commented by: Manos

    Your thesis should start from the point that Korn is ALSO HATED for reasons that go beyond mere perceived suckiness, then you might be more realistic with your approach. It does not help their cause if they make from bad to mediocre music. I think that the main thing for the hate is still the fact that what they are doing as artists is not any good. And why bring up more names to the plate when the bands named get their just and fair share of slack for their similar efforts. Coming up with more evil does not less evil any better.

    On the critical approach. Genre this and genre that… There is no real need to go and look at a band through any genre goggles or the significance they had back in the day to approach their current music critically. For sure you can possible add more depth and insight to your opinion by doing so, but there is but little reason to dwell in the past if the band has stayed stagnant or has come up with albums that are not pushing any kind of envelope anywhere. It should be in most cases more about the art than the artist, in that I do agree with you. If that was what you wanted argue.

    Ian you wrote a somewhat praising review of an new album and people heeded the call and tried to see the reality base of the given review in practice. Many have seem to end up with opposite opinion what was written on your review. Well they might be of base in some cases or just have very different taste than you do, but you should not go and try to undermind responses and opinions by saying that their default preset towards the band is tainting or overshadowing all judgement. It just might be that the music recorded on this album is nothing special or do no good things for the majority that visit here and read this piece.

    Anyways it is good that if you really liked this album you chose to write about it the way you felt. In this case I just have to disagree with you.


  17. Commented by: Ian

    Hi Manos.

    The thing is, I was really blown away from the recent Rotting Christ record.

    When I heard the new Korn record, I basically heard the same basic parts Korn had perfected reused and repurposed on the RC record. I’m sticking to my assertion that Korn created a new syntax of metal that other bands use, just like Black Sabbath created a doom vocabulary a zillion bands use in as many ways.

    And as for them just sucking as plain fact I just have to say I’ve been around long enough to see enough bands being viewed as just sucking as plain fact and then magically un-sucking a decade or so later.

    Already we’re seeing twenty-something critics looking at nu metal and mumbling that maybe it wasn’t so godawful after all.

    Part of it’s like fashion, like the 70s styles that were beyond the pale but are now Williamsburg hipster regulars.

    Part of it is time scraping off the extremity of reactions and maybe revealing…I dunno, something interesting.

    Anyway, fact is, three tracks from the Korn record are on my frequent-play IPhone list. They really fascinate me. They sound so freaking weird. The rhythms, which you know where time corrected in ProTools, still sound so *off*. The melodies are kind of crazy, kind of obsessive. There’s nothing mechanical, nothing normal about this record.

    For me, it’s just the opposite of suck–what can I tell you?


  18. Commented by: Ian

    In 1979 the punk/comedy group The Dickies had a blip of a hit with their punk cover of Sabbath’s “Paranoid” which people thought was hilarious.

    It was hilarious, of course, because Sabbath were dinosaur losers whose records were pretentious, silly junk.

    Obviously, the 1979 view was kind of wrong.


  19. Commented by: Ian

    Here’s another monumental gaffe from 1979.

    For five years or so, Sparks were *gods* of glam rock who could pretty much do no wrong. They were favorably compared to The Beatles in terms of the brilliance of their songwriting and arrangements.

    Then in 1979 they shacked up with Giorgio Moroder and created ‘Number 1 Song in Heaven’, which was all electronics, early sequencers and the like.

    Across the board, without exception, the jury was in: Sparks officially sucked and sucked hard. Audiences (in the US; Europe kinda liked it) hated it. Critics hated it.

    Of course, all those electro-pop groups in the 80s, Eurythmics, Yazoo, all that sort of thing, they didn’t much mention Sparks, as ‘Number 1 Song in Heaven’ had created the synth-pop they traded in and now we have Goldfrapp still taking tips from the book Sparks had written, back in 79 when everybody *knew* they sucked, no two ways about it.


  20. Commented by: Clauricaune

    Excessively long, confusing and kinda redundant review full of band naming, made me think you barely had an idea of what you were saying.

    Anyway, I did check out the album just because I was curious and thought that, who knows, there might be something good in this after all. Wrong. It’s just the usual boring and sorta obnoxious music I know Korn for.

    Now you’re actually comparing Korn to Black Sabbath, Ian. What the hell? You got all the context wrong there (since the very beginning, Sabbath got a lot of crap from people who didn’t even like metal in the first place, but they still had an extremely solid fanbase and a hell of a lot of bands following in their steps by 1979), apart from the very evident fact that Korn has as much revolutionary potential as the Quebec sovereignty movement.

    Man, just admit you have a very personal fetish for this band and quit trying to justify it in terms of supposed musical genius.


  21. Commented by: Ian

    I’m not comparing Korn to Sabbath, just shifting popular opinions of them and how that might happen with the former. Same things about Sparks.

    It’s the internet; no argument has been won to date. But kudos for throwing some hard ones without the intent of drawing blood.


  22. Commented by: Clauricaune

    And kudos to you for taking it that way. Sorry if I sounded a bit too agressive there.

    Anyway, you’re right: music is subjective, and this is just another discussion. No one’s agreeing with you, but yeah :P


  23. Commented by: Nick Taxidermy

    Ian, even though I don’t like Korn and don’t even want to listen to this record, I’m amped on Sparks and glad someone else likes them.


  24. Commented by: gabaghoul

    I first got into Korn in 94 with the debut, ignored them through their Follow the Leader boom and then enjoyed Issues, Untouchables and Take a Look in the Mirror quite a bit. Unfortunately, I found this new one to be more of an irrelevant cultural anachronism than a heroic return to form. Though I will admit it’s a big step up from the last one.

    All that said, this was one of the most interesting and passionate reviews we’ve had on the site for awhile, so thanks for a great read Ian!


  25. Commented by: gabaghoul

    you also know how to generate a talkback section, which is more than I can say for most of my reviews. insert sad panda here.


  26. Commented by: Ian

    Hey, thanks. And I’m glad there’s another Sparks fan here–what a frighteningly genius band. I imagine these guys are in their *sixties* now and they refuse to stop innovating and being hilarious.

    I’m glad I could stir things up a little–really. The good thing about a well known band like Korn is we all know about them so we can all like/ have a beef about them. Arguments galore!


  27. Commented by: Biff_Tannen

    I always here people saying that ‘the first Korn album was pretty good’…. NO, it wasn’t. It was fucking terrible. Sometimes I’ll hear an old Korn track on the radio and it actually sounds worse then it did then.

    nic nack paddy whack give a dog a bone….. HOLY SHIT, what an abyssmal song.


  28. Commented by: rycro

    Ian,

    I have not heard the album, so can’t say whether any vocals sound like Devin.

    As for Faith No More, I would agree that Epic probably influenced some Nu Metal bands like Korn to do Slap bass, etc. But to say Faith No More is Nu Metal as a blanket statement is way off. Listen to songs on the same album as Epic, like Surprise Your Dead or Wookpecker From Mars. Neither of those are even close to a Nu Metal sound. I think Faith No More is one of the hardest bands to label as a specific genre. Songs like Evidence and Jizzlobber show you the range this band had. I’m praying for a new album now that they are touring together again.


  29. Commented by: Old Pick Axe

    I liked Korn much up until ISSUES.

    After that, they turned into a big ball of “meh salad” for me. But if this album is as interesting as you say, I’ll have to check it out.


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