Immediately after spending ingesting 100% Limp Bizkit through my ears, I thought 14 straight albums of Korn would be fine. And it was! Korn is great! Most of the time, that is.
I fondly remember the giant Korn poster in my brother's room growing up. I'm pretty sure it was adjacent to the door-height Deftones poster, but I could be mixing up band poster memories there. The color scheme was this orange and brown, with lettering that said -- oh wait, it was straight up the cover of Follow The Leader, what turned out to be my favorite Korn album out of all 14 of them.
That's actually a hard thing to quantify here - a favorite Korn album - because I thought their two most recent albums were some of their best work ever. I'll get to that later. Let's outline my preconceived notions of Korn before I embarked on this journey:
- Their bass tone was wack, but in a way I didn't get
- Sometimes the songs broke down into scat singing
- It was apparently heavy
None of that is wrong, but what were formerly negative perceptions became positive ones.
I started from the actual beginning this time. I didn't jump in at their best seller like I did with Limp Bizkit because I wanted to do it right this time. I was worried early on, honestly. The music wasn't drawing me in as intently as Significant Other did. I was ready to write Korn off by the end of all this, and I was well aware of how many albums I had yet to endure.
Korn, their self-titled debut, does have a lot of samey qualities to the songs and didn't produce a ton of my favorites overall, but I came out of it with an appreciation for the music and the time it came out of. What a revolutionary sound for the mid nineties, man.
Life Is Peachy wasn't all that different of an experience, but I think the songs I ended up enjoying were better than what I heard on Korn. The grooves in "A.D.I.D.A.S." and "No Place To Hide" are nuts.
The guitar work between Head and Munky is inspirational. No matter your opinions on this band, it's hard to deny how in-sync those two are.
Follow The Leader is where things picked up fast for me. That trio starting the album - "It's On", "Freak On a Leash" (FOAL), and "Got the Life" set the mood with such intensity. I don't want to hear how you can listen to those tracks and not bop your head. I had known FOAL before from Guitar Hero, but "Got the Life" and "It's On" were fully new to my ears. I'm pretty sure those two songs alone were on repeat for hours.
Did you know that "Got the Life" was requested on TRL for so many weeks in a row that they had to retire it? And did you see all the documentaries about Woodstock '99? Korn was massive. Name another band that sounds remotely like them that isn't as old as them who can play to crowds that size?
Serious question, can newer bands come in the scene sounding like that and get such mass appeal?
As good of a start that this album had, it loses momentum for me in the latter half.
Issues solidified Korn's high-praise in my mind. "Falling Away from Me" (and the premiere of it on South Park!!) is so good. Again, those guitars are crunchy as hell and produce sounds I wish I had. Where this album gets to me is in how consistent and cohesive it is. The album experience front to back here is tight, not suffering from some of those same mixed-bag results that even later albums have. If I had to pick an early-era Korn album for someone to start with, it'd be this one.
The thing about this next group of albums is that you really don't need to listen to them. It sucks to say that, but unless you want to have a deep understanding of the band or have thoroughly enjoyed yourself in the first four albums, you aren't missing much.
Coming out of the high that is Issues, Untouchables doesn't pack nearly the same punch. My favorite song off this album - "Here to Stay" - is a solid single with heeaaavvy guitars, and "Wake Up Hate" is a fun listen, but I'm looking at the track list now and can't tell you what any of these other songs sound like.
Sure, it's been about six months since I first heard the album, and I should have written this post when it was all much more fresh in my mind, but the point still stands.
Take a Look in the Mirror does not help as a follow-up release either. It's been ranked last by both Head and Jonathan Davis if that says anything. I saw a review on Rate Your Music (I think) where someone said it was as boring as the album cover.
See You on the Other Side is an interesting one! It doesn't feature Head, who left the band at this time, and they worked with The Matrix to produce it. It's a different sound in a weird but good way. I know I said you could ignore this set of albums, but this one is worth the stop along the way. At least listen to "Twisted Transistor" before skipping over it.
The Untitled album increases the weirdness by not having a static drummer anymore. It's an odd, completely average point in Korn's history. I thought it was interesting to hear Korn without Head or Silveria, but it wasn't fantastic.
Korn III is a return to form in some ways, but suffers from the same boring factor that Take a Look had. "Let the Guilt Go" is a fun song though, and they even performed it on Jimmy Kimmel. Sad to see it didn't get any certifications (platinum, gold, etc). It was their first one not to.
Continuing on a path of weirdness, The Path of Totality is largely a collaboration between Korn and electronic producers. I remember when this one came out because there was a lot of shit thrown around about it on the internet. I don't know, man. All these years later I admire the effort.
Look at this article from 2012 where Davis says dubstep is the new electronic metal. The comment section tears it apart, because it's the UG comment section and it was 2012. But you know what? Those guys are wrong and Davis is right. Dubstep is heavy regardless of if it is metal, has guitars, or whatever you use to describe heavy music. The combination of metal and dubstep resulting in this album is perfectly fine and a worthwhile listen, if for nothing other than having said you gave it a try.
I also think this album is starts the return of an upward trajectory in Korn albums. Each album following it gets better and better.
The Paradigm Shift sees the return of both Head and the nu metal tone we originally fell in love with. Solid jams and riffs abound here.
Three years later comes The Serenity of Suffering which has no suffering at all as a listener. So many good songs here! Damn! "Rotting In Vain" and "Take Me" are clear standouts. Going back to that comment about Issues being consistent, as is this one. The first one to be that well connected in a while.
We've reached the point of Korn's true return to greatness. The Nothing is a brain-melting journey of heavy riff after chunky groove. Look no further than the single "You'll Never Find Me" for proof of that. Is "The Ringmaster" a weird-ass track? Yeah, no doubt, but just skip over that one if you want.
Requiem has no bad tracks on it. I'm serious. This album is pure gold and might be the rightful owner of the title of my favorite Korn album. Not a dull moment exists here, with guitars and drums to die for, and melodies woven throughout - both instrumentally and vocally - that refuse to leave your mind. I love the new take on melodic metal showcased here. Davis reigns in his vocals to blend nicely with those detuned guitars that now ring out more than usual with the beefiest of chords.
Listen to Korn. Start from the beginning, skip to the last four albums, and then revist the middle if you really want to. They deserve that spot of being one of my most listened to artists of 2022.