Music review: Return of the Freaks

Few bands have more loyal followings than Korn, and few bands have tested the strength of that loyalty more than Korn.

Written by Shantanu David | Published:December 24, 2016 12:42 am
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Every classroom had one: the weirdo, the loner, the kid who just didn’t get along. While outcast from the “mainstream”, these singular kids, when they came together, totaled up to a significant tribe. In the early ’90s, just as the world was recovering from its grunge hangover and experimentally plucking at the strings and lines of alternative, a bunch of those kids got together and together forged the music of their tribe, and forged is the word. Korn, with its churning bass lines, down tempo hooks, grating riffs and a violent drum line all built around vocalist Johnathan Davis like the circles are around hell, found an audience in the disaffected and the desolate, if not exactly the disenfranchised. The band harnessed their unfiltered rage into a groove that was as dark as it was rhythmic, while rejecting the du jour technicolor pop sensibilities of the day, creating their own sound and incidentally the entire genre of nu-metal — which helped usher a whole new generation into the chthonic soundscape of metal and beyond and influenced bands as varied as Slipknot, Linkin Park and Three Days Grace.

Few bands have more loyal followings than Korn, and few bands have tested the strength of that loyalty more than Korn. Starting with a tonality that was so underground you needed a mine shaft to access it for their first few albums the band graduated to a more rhythmic place. Guitarists Brian “Head” Welch and James “Munky” Shaffer seemingly played each other’s frets, one’s melodies folding into the others by some strange alchemy, while drummer David Silveria smacked the vellum like he enjoyed it. But the two most distinctive features were the thrumming of fingerstyling, bass slapping bassist Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu and Davis’s vocal stylings, wherein he not so much sang into the mike as he hurled his fury and contempt at it. Albums like Issues, Life is Peachy, Take a Look in the Mirror and See You on the Side made up the playlists of people who found a connection with the music and simultaneously argued about how exactly to categorise the band’s constantly evolving sound. Davis himself once remarked, “I always thought of us a funk band, to be honest”.

The departure of Welch and Silveria from the band in the mid-2000s saw a drastic change in the band’s sound, even though Ray Luzier proved a completely suitable replacement for Silveria, and Shaffer is more than capable of constructing and holding complex melodies by himself. Apparently still restless, the band experimented with elements of electronica and dubstep, even taking out the gauche dub metal album, Path of Totality, for which we will hold a moment’s silence and then move on. Happily, those days are behind us and along with Welch the band also returns to the sound that won it so much favour (and a couple of Grammies) in their 12th studio album, The Serenity of Suffering.

The album implodes with Insane, heavy with drums and bass, and a seemingly easy chord progression. Davis is there in all his fury, alongside some slick turntable work by guest artiste, C Minus. Another guest appearance is by Slipknot and Stone Sour vocalist Corey Taylor, who sears A Different World with his guttural intonation. But you don’t really hear the old Korn until the second track, Rotting in Vain. Its familiarly visceral title apart, it is hear you clearly hear the old menace which Munky, Head and Fieldy churned out together so melodically and somehow organically, ably supported by Luzier on the skins, and all held together by Davis’s delivery. Like his bandmates, Davis has only become more adept at his own particular instrument and modulates it with finesse, ranging from his characteristic drawling growling and scat singing to falsettos to a chanting that’s only as creepy as it is effective in the track Everything Falls Apart. A critic once remarked Davis is the eye of the storm that is Korn. It that’s so, then come back out into the rain, kids. The water’s just fine.

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