The Kerrang! Chart
The Kerrang! Chart: The best new music this week
The ultimate new music countdown – every Friday!
When fans debate who should be next to step up to the plate as main stage headliner on the mammoth European metal festival circuit, it’s bewildering that Korn aren’t at the front of the conversation. Ever since forming in Bakersfield, California in 1993, effectively kicking off the nu-metal phenomenon with 1994’s self-titled debut and proving themselves a live force to be reckoned with their landmark Ozzfest 1996 run, they have been part of the metal furniture: a safe-bet household name whose prolific consistency has been proven over the course of 13 studio albums and countless foundation-rattling performances.
There has been drama. The departure of guitarist Brian “Head” Welch due to struggles with addiction and newfound Christian faith in 2005 raised eyebrows, while the departure of drummer David Silveria in 2006 further destabilised the original line-up. With Head back in the fold and Ray Luzier behind the kit since 2007, however, alongside the core trio of Jonathan Davis (vocals), James “Munky” Shaffer (guitar) and Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu, fans have been able to sit back and appreciate what’s perhaps the most underrated catalogue in modern metal.
Go on, just imagine this Top 20 as a festival-smashing setlist! And that’s discounting the countless brilliant cuts we’ve had to leave out…
We await your suggested tweaks in the comments!
Korn have always been at their best when plumbing into the deepest darknesses of the human condition. The lead single for their 12th album The Serenity Of Suffering found them delving in headlong, with a fractured exploration of that “black place” people can find themselves stuck in with an abusive or rotten relationship. ‘I wouldn't be angry if things would stay the same,’ Jonathan sings. ‘You're fighting the torment that helps me feed my pain / The suffering is fading, I scream into the sky / Repulsion invades me, I say goodbye…’ Meanwhile, the colossal bombast and deployment of unhinged scat-singing harked to their late-’90s heyday. The skin-crawling music video, starring Glaswegian star Tommy Flanagan, is their late-career standout.
After the outright explosiveness of its first two singles – Here To Stay and Thoughtless – the third promo from fifth album Untouchables felt like a jarring change of pace. Written during one of the lowest ebbs of Jonathan Davis’ life, Alone I Break deals with suicidal thoughts (‘I will make it go away / Can't be here no more / Seems this is the only way / I will soon be gone’) and a deeper existential pondering (‘All this shit I seem to take / All alone I seem to break / I have lived the best I can / Does this make me not a man?’). Its unique instrumentation – shifting from juddering nu-metal to more expansive balladry – sets it apart, while the song’s cathartic, ultimately affirmative afterglow makes it one of Jonathan’s favourites in the Korn catalogue.
The 1998 Family Values Tour was a legendary nu-metal run, with the line-up of Korn, Limp Bizkit, Ice Cube, Orgy and Rammstein running across the United States from September 22 ’til Halloween. The song after which that run was named finds the ostensibly chalk-and-cheese frontmen of the top two bands (Jonathan Davis and Fred Durst) good-naturedly ripping each other to shreds. ‘You stuck-up sucker, Korny motherfucker,’ raps Fred, with Jonathan replying, ‘You look like one of those dancers from the Hanson video!’ Jonathan has since reflected to Noisey that it was “the dumbest fucking track Korn ever did”, but it remains a fan-favourite distillation of that absurd moment in time.
2010’s third nominally self-titled album came subtitled Remember Who You Are, and was intended to represent an emphatic return to the spring-loaded, hard-hitting sounds with which the Bakersfield crew had made their name. Unfortunately, its songwriting – for the most part – lacked that raw impact, with singles Oildale (Leave Me Alone) and Let The Guilt Go failing to recapture past highs. Ironically, it was this tortured rumination on addiction and the narcotic experience that would do just that, with lyrics like ‘Feeling things crawl on me / I need my fix today / This is way beyond me / I can't live without you today’ melding into its staggering blend of chaos, confusion and poisoned euphoria.
There was a startling darkness right at the heart of Korn’s brilliant 13th LP. Frontman Jonathan Davis has stated that The Nothing is the Bakersfield giants’ most emotionally heavy record ever, but given the tragedy that unfolded last August – the singer’s wife Deven passing away from an accidental drug overdose, leaving him alone and his sons without their mother – it hardly needs to be said that the music written in its wake reflects a descent into the deepest, darkest black. You’ll Never Find Me is one of the record’s most powerfully unsettling moments, with a back-and-forth struggle between sadness and rage eventually breaking down into Jonathan’s authentically anguished screams.
In the wake of 1999’s Columbine High School shooting, the media were quick to point the finger of blame at the edgy, outsider brands of contemporary music riding a high. Although many artists struck back with vicious condemnation, Korn opted for a more daringly empathetic treatment. Thoughtless examines what exactly bullying and marginalisation can do to a young mind, finding the twisted logic in trying to get revenge on the persecutors and daring to tackle it head-on. The churning musicality and blunt video brilliantly forced their difficult point home.
Following the lukewarm reaction to Remember Who You Are’s throwback sounds, album number 10 found Korn pushing into the future with the help of some of the brightest luminaries in electronic music. Although the broader album was a somewhat patchy affair, its second single felt like a truly rounded-out realisation of what they were aiming for. Working with dubstep supremo (and erstwhile From First To Last frontman) Skrillex and New York’s Kill The Noise, Narcissistic Cannibal takes the viewpoint of someone whose self-obsession has become all-consuming against a backdrop of syrup-thick melodies and salty electronic distortion. Tasty.
For those old enough to remember the release of the lead single from 2003’s Take A Look In The Mirror, it will forever be inextricably linked to that grotesque Lloyd’s Lunchbox animation that served as music video, with the titular Lloyd working through a catalogue of depraved acts of self-harm. The song itself seems to have been written in a rage, with Jonathan cribbing from the Limp Bizkit songbook to imagine ‘one of those days’ as some of his band’s most bludgeoning riffage smashed down around him. ‘I'm feeling mean today / Not lost, not blown away / Just irritated and quite hated…’ Relatable.
It was, by a distance, the least successful single of the time, but the third drop from fourth album Issues has endured as a fan-favourite and currently stands as Korn’s eighth-most-played song on setlist.fm. Jonathan Davis’ vocals are at their most androgynous high-end as he dissects a rotten relationship from the perspective of a pleading partner growing resentful of their closed-off counterpart. ‘I can't stand to let you win / I'm just watching you / And I don't know what to do / Feeling like a fool inside!’ It’s a benchmark for the band’s titanic rhythm section, too, with bass and drums crashing like waves in a storm.
If You’ll Never Find Me represented the emotional nadir of Jonathan’s traumatic, grief-stricken experience falling into The Nothing, then Cold is its cathartic counterpoint. Beyond existential angst, there is anger, and it flows from between the seams of this taut, deep-grooving anthem: a promise that this was a record less concerned with the downward spiral than the battle against it. ‘Set the bait and I'm waiting / In a state of concentrating,’ the singer spits, finding something close to a swagger. ‘I'm gonna knock this motherfucker down, down, down, down, down!’ We’re with him every step of the way.
For pre-teen metalheads in the mid-’90s, the titular acronym (All Day I Dream About Sex) on this second Life Is Peachy single was a chuckle-worthy delight that hilariously tied into the band’s sportswear-clad aesthetic. The song pretty much matched up: a simple banger built of elastic snap and boxing glove punch, with Jonathan’s carnal lyrics pseudo-lasciviously smeared over the top: ‘I don't know your fucking name, so what let's / Screwing may be, the only way that I can truly be free / From my fucked up reality!’ The equally fucked-up, Joseph Kahn-directed music video – envisioning the death of the band at the hands of a pimp and his prostitutes – even cheekily referenced the singer’s past life as an apprentice mortician.
The second single from See You On The Other Side might just be the most accessible song the band have ever written. Working with renowned songwriting and production collective The Matrix (whose other collaborators include Avril Lavigne, Shakira, Britney Spears and Tokio Hotel), they tapped into the primal force at the heart of their signature sound, stripping it back to a massive core riff that sounds like a giant hitting stride and allowing Jonathan to run wild over the top, deconstructing the universally-relatable experience of coming apart under pressure. Used frequently in TV and at sporting events, it emphasised Korn’s vast superiority to the countless butt-rock contemporaries otherwise clogging up the American metal mainstream.
Originally featured on the soundtrack for iffy 2003 action sequel Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life, Did My Time saw Korn fleshing out discarded Untouchables ideas into an angsty anthem deemed perfect (by studio bigwigs) for the videogame adaptation’s teenage audience. With retrospect, that treatment seems reductive. Jonathan Davis’ wrangling with the realisation that finding fame and fortune doesn’t ease life’s irritations (‘Realise that I can never win / Sometimes I feel like I have failed / Inside where do I begin / My mind is laughing at me…’) and the sweeping instrumental treatment showcased a maturity that was better appreciated when the song resurfaced on the tracklist for Take A Look In The Mirror.
The second single from Follow The Leader feels like the moment Korn truly nailed their alternative rap-metal blend. Running a schizoid stylistic gamut from playful poking via numbed dissociation to outright ferocity, it perfectly marries the genre-bending sound to a sense of authentic internal tumult as the band grapple with whether they really even want their newfound fame. ‘Hate, something, sometime, someway,’ Jonathan distinctively rattles, ‘Something kick off the for me / Something, inside I'll never ever follow / So give me something that is for real.’ Regardless of that celebrity uncertainty, it only sling-shotted them further into the spotlight.
It didn’t have quite the pop-metal crossover potential of Coming Undone, but the lead single from See You On The Other Side marked a huge step towards the mainstream in itself. Discarding many of Jonathan’s vocal oddities and much of his trademark gutteral rage, their first song dropped following the departure of Head is held aloft by Munky’s brilliant, rubbery power chords. Its ode to the power of song (‘A lonely life where no-one understands you / But don't give up because the music do!’) felt like a real reaffirmation of intent. The music video, where the band are swapped out for rap icons Lil Jon, Xzibit, David Banner and Snoop Dogg (“This song ain’t about booty – it’s about transistors!”) is a Spinal Tap-esque classic.
Across songs like Daddy and Faget, the concepts of corrupted childhood and innocence lost are writ large across Korn’s self-titled 1994 debut. Third single Shoots And Ladders lacks the personal insight of those wounded cuts but more than compensates with its hookier-than-a-butcher’s-window appropriation of several nursery rhymes and an ear-catching first deployment of Jonathan’s bagpipe skills. There are a host of classics bunged in – Ring A Ring O’ Roses; One, Two, Buckle My Shoe; London Bridge Is Falling Down; Mary Had A Little Lamb and more – with their original inspirations (the Black Death, urban depredation) clearly alluded to. Skin-crawlingly unforgettable.
They’d been on the boil for the four years leading up to this point, but it was with the ethereal aesthetic and understated menace of Freak On A Leash that Korn properly bubbled over into the mass-mainstream consciousness. That hauntingly glassy intro could’ve been lifted from the darker end of hip-hop, and Jonathan’s rhythmic delivery sounds almost rapped, but the song builds from the 60-second mark into a nu-metal masterclass full of crunching riffage and twisted angst. ‘Sometimes I cannot take this place,’ rings its outsider creed. ‘Sometimes it's my life I can't taste / Sometimes I cannot feel my face / You'll never see me fall from grace.’ The simian-sounding scat and explosive breakdown that drop three minutes in remain, for many fans, peak Korn.
Nu-metal might have been on the wane by the third year of the, er, nu-millennium, but the lead single from fifth album Untouchables was tangible proof that Korn were Here To Stay. Where their last couple of releases had showcased a stricter dynamic control, this felt like the explosive release of years of pent-up frustration and wrathful fury. Featuring a rhythm section pummelling away with sledgehammer force, buzzing, static-heavy six-strings and Jonathan’s seething delivery (‘For once inside awaking / I'm done, I'm not a whore / You've taken everything and / Oh, I cannot give any more / I'm here to stay / Bring it down!’) there was no slowing down or giving up. A Best Metal Performance GRAMMY duly followed.
Chosen as the lead single for Issues ahead of all-conquering follow-up Follow The Leader, Falling Away From Me reworks a similar formula with greater potency and emotional impact. The song might’ve premiered during their legendary appearance on farcical early South Park episode Korn’s Groovy Pirate Ghost Mystery, but the combination of eerie ambience, crushingly heavy grooves and even heavier themes of domestic abuse ensured its place as an all-time classic. The spine-tingling bridge – ‘Pressing me, they won't go away / So I pray, go away’ – might be one of their most purely affecting moments, while that ‘Beating me, beating me / Down, down / Into the ground’ remains prime mosh-pit fuel.
‘ARRRE YOU REAAADY?!’ It’s the immortal line that started the nu-metal movement: less an introduction to the Bakersfield outcasts than a spontaneous call-to-arms. Artists like Faith No More, Helmet, Rage Against the Machine and Ministry played their parts in breaking genre boundaries and the popularisation of rap-rock, but it was Korn’s distinctive debut that truly crystallised the nu-metal attitude and aesthetic: all down-tuned guitars, rubbery five-string bass, hip-hop beats, heightened angst and wilful weirdness. Blind felt like its purest iteration. Originally written for Jonathan’s previous band Sexart, the addition of an extended intro and that signature ramped-up rhythm section – not to mention Ross Robinson’s quality production – brought it to life. ‘How deep can I go in the ground that I lay?’ Jonathan asks, daring to delve deeper than mainstream metal had before. ‘If I don't find a way to sift through the grey that clouds my mind / This time I look to see what's between the lines / I can see, I can see, I'm going blind / I'm blind!’ To the contrary, these were visionaries who would shape the following quarter-century of heavy metal evolution.
Korn: Monumental – their epic new livestream, straight from the set of Stranger Things: The Drive-Into Experience – takes place on April 24 at 1pm PT / 4pm ET / 9pm BST / 10pm CET. Get your tickets now at kornlive.com.
The Kerrang! Chart
The ultimate new music countdown – every Friday!
After teasing it all week, Korn have finally dropped the latest track from their upcoming album Requiem – and it’s a biggie.
What does ‘Pulling away this veil I see…’ mean?!
Danny Brown and his live band tore through a faithful rendition of Korn’s nu-metal classic Freak On A Leash at the Red Bull SoundClash in Chicago…
Korn will be hitting the road with Chevelle and Code Orange for a 19-date tour in support of new album Requiem.
System Of A Down and Korn will be taking their huge double-header to Phoenix and San Diego in early 2022…
Danny Wimmer Presents’ 2022 festival season will kick off with Welcome To Rockville in May – and they’ve delivered on their promise of ‘biggest line-up yet’…