Since the release of 2002’s colossally expensive and ultimately unsatisfactory fifth album ‘Untouchables’, it feels like Korn have been in a bit of a slump. Universally recognised as one of the founders of nu-metal, a genre which, for better or worse, has proved to be quite influential, they rode their success for all it was worth.
At one time, the band had their own US touring festival, big name clothing sponsorship deals and, their former drummer David Silveria even got a Calvin Klein modelling gig. But, as the genre’s appeal waned, so did theirs.
In spite of this, they rigidly stuck to their guns, pumping out more tales of teenage alienation and seemed fairly satisfied to watch the venues they booked get smaller and their festival slots get closer to lunchtime without much of a fuss. And then enter ‘dubstep’…
When the band announced earlier this year that they were putting together a ‘dubstep’ EP, which they then decided would become a full record, reaction was split between people recoiling in horror and general bemusement. Was this a desperate plea for attention? A band in crisis?
Months went by and then, quietly, the band dropped ‘Get Up!’, their collaboration with Skrillex, onto the internet and there was genuine shock from those who heard it about just how well the band’s sound fused with Skrillex’s influence. Could this album, which had all the hallmarks of a horrible experiment, actually, you know, be quite good? Let’s find out…
‘Chaos Lives In Everything’
Normally, the beginning of a Korn album is marked by a barrage of crushing, down-tuned guitar riffs, but this time we’re greeted by ten seconds of a basic loop of a drum machine and then an almighty swoosh of a dubstep break. Although the track ultimately builds to an fairly conventional, guitar heavy chorus, it’s a nice statement of intent.
‘Kill Mercy Within’
This one feels more like ‘Untouchables’ era Korn, starting off with a spiky, distortion smothered riff, with the dubstep edge kept largely under the surface. Again it builds to a chorus you could pluck from any of their early releases. This may well be a plea to nu-metal hardliners to keep persevering with the record.
The beats are given centre stage this time, with singer Jonathan Davis basically freestyling over a sludgy, ‘wob’ heavy refrain. Lyrically, this could be from ‘Follow The Leader’ or ‘Issues’, with Davis talking about “putting up a wall each day” and his anger boiling over.
You’ve heard this one, with Skrillex working the magic that has allowed him to sell out two shows at Brixton Academy on the back of a handful of YouTube uploads. A simple piano loop builds to a crushing barrage of beats and then cascades into an absolute earworm of a chorus.
This one doesn’t really work. The beats are again at the forefront, but end up being buried by Davis babbling about a “house of shame“. Sounds unpleasant that.
‘Burn The Obedient’
They’re back on form with this one. A maniacal Davis vocal bridge is fused with a dense refrain, which culminates in an absolute stomper of a chorus that will make festival goers want to punch the air.
An underwhelmer and a strange choice for a single, the beats meander underneath the verses rather than enhance them and the chorus is pretty forgettable.
The rockiest one so far and the closest thing the record has to the band’s self titled, game changing debut. A menacing guitar riff is made to sound doubly intimidating by a hammering of brooding beats and Davis is allowed to swagger through one of his best choruses for years.
If anyone still doubts that Korn can pull this off, then they need to go to any rock club, hang around until the DJ gets bored of playing System Of A Down and Metallica standards and decides to mix things up a bit with ‘Get Up!’. The place will explode. For the uninitiated, Skrillex and Munky, the band’s dreadlocked guitarist, spend the whole track trying to outdo each other for powerdrops while Davis coos menacingly in the background. They then all collide for a shout-along chorus. The album’s absolute highlight.
‘Way Too Far’
The album’s mellow moment, with Davis crooning against a beat arsenal that’s actually pretty gentle and even throwing a few harmonies in the bridge. Is there such thing as a dubstep ballad?
The closer starts out a bit like ‘Insomnia’ era Faithless, with a galloping refrain and some string samples building to an almighty crescendo and a whallop of a chorus. Davis ends the album in the same angry ranting mood that he began his career with back in 1994, with his last words in fact ending up as “you’re never there when I need you“. Don’t let anyone tell you he’s mellowed.
It’s hit and miss for sure, but for a band so associated with – and ingrained in – a genre, and a full 10 albums into their career to try something this weird takes some serious brass neck. Some of the tracks, in particular ‘Get Up!’, ‘Let Go’ and ‘Burn The Obedient’ fly out of the speakers and its amazing quite how much power the dubstep elements adds to the mix. Of course, there’s are a few duff tracks, but for an idea that initially had about as much good will behind it as Sepp Blatter’s recent re-election campaign, a lot of words are going to have to be eaten. And, when ‘Get Up!’ drops the next time you’re out, get involved. It’s brilliant.