Korn : Untouchables

Korn blow the opposition to atoms...

The received wisdom about Korn is that they deliver on the odd numbers. Album one, ‘Korn’, revitalised metal, dragging it out of the middle ages into the modern era. Album three, ‘Follow The Leader’, took the form into the mainstream, blowing boundaries and preconceptions. Album four, ‘Issues’, was dense and impenetrable. This, album five, is meant to be a return to former glories.

It begins with a sound like nuclear war breaking out. The ultra-downtuned bass and skull-crushing beats of ‘Here To Stay’ are harsh, overpowering and unforgiving, yet oddly comforting: with all the reports about three million quid being squandered on a grand, sprawling folly, it’s good to know Korn can still rock like Armageddon.

Then it goes very wrong, very quickly. ‘Make Believe’ apes Bauhaus’ theatrical 80s goth, while ‘Blame’ melds a sludgy rattle with wet Dave Gahan-isms, ‘Hollow Life’ takes Jonathan Davis’ 80s obsession a little too far by recalling the little-boy-lost mewlings of Seal and Tears For Fucking Fears. Fifteen minutes in and you’re convinced Korn have lost it bigtime.

Then it goes very right equally as quickly. Davis stops giving into melodrama and remembers that he has a lot to be extremely angry about. ‘One More Time’ feels like a journey into hell with the massed ranks of the damned. ‘Thoughtless’ marries the taut grooves of [a][/a] with a refrain of [I]’why are you trying to make fun of me?'[/I], the pounding industrial drive of ‘Wake Up Hate’ recalls Ministry, while ‘No One’s There’ turns claustrophobia into a symphony.

Throughout it all, Davis seems to be on the brink of mental crisis. He’s obsessed with blank faces and falling through space – classic breakdown imagery – and yearns for a time when he [I]’could fly'[/I] (again, a standard cipher for freedom and lack of responsibility). On occasion he muddles his ideas with gothic nonsense, but mostly he’s sharp and compelling. There are moments of Korn-by-numbers when Davis falls back on simple [I]’change/strange'[/I] rhymes and moments when it sprouts wings and soars majestically.

‘Untouchables’ is a record that grows spikes with each listen and is by turns exhilarating, confusing, inspiring, embarrassing and astonishing. Whether it’s worth three million is debatable (clue: no) and you do get the feeling that the songs are in the wrong order (great start, upsetting follow up, sturdy middle and amazing end – can that be right?). But even at their most, shall we say, challenging, Korn blow the opposition to atoms.

Ian Watson