the unlikely global phenomenon that is KORN is something i still find truly fascinating. tagged with spearheading what came to be known as NU METAL (an AGGRESSIVE METAL / HIP HOP hybrid) in the 1990s, the band and its sound was most prominently rooted in the ALTERNATIVE ROCK / FUNK METAL of a previous generation of ECLECTIC bands, namely FISHBONE and FAITH NO MORE / MR BUNGLE. throw in some NEW ROMANTIC posturing a la DURAN DURAN and more than sprinkling of GANGSTER RAP like ICE CUBE and DR. DRE and you have the basic TOXIC mixture that KORN drew from in the early 1990s.
the thing about their self-titled debut KORN (EPIC, 1994) is the context of how their sound landed in the ALTERNATIVE ROCK / METAL scene of the mid-1990s. this was a moment of transition as many of the THRASH METAL bands of the 1980s were still holding on to a sound (sans METALLICA) that some in retrospect deride as "type-writer metal" which is highly TECHNICAL and contains riffage that is COMPLEX and extremely uptempo. to be considered a METAL band equated to mastering that sound. KORN changed all that. their riffs were SIMPLE and the tempo was pulled way way back. the focus was on the GROOVE, not the tempo or technical wizardry, and the lyrical content. singer JONATHAN DAVIS on tracks like "BLIND," "FAGET," "SHOOTS AND LADDERS," "CLOWN" and especially "DADDY" seemed to be exorcising some deep childhood trauma of the sexual kind, a deeply DISTURBING cultural taboo that was never part of the vernacular of heavy music before, which was itself EMPOWERING in nature. DAVIS presented, much like KURT COBAIN before him, an emotive and introspective archetype of an ALTERNATIVE MASCULINITY. one that was unleashing a PRIMAL SCREAM against the ills of society and how badly it had treated him during his most VULNERABLE years as a child. i believe that such was a paradigm shift in METAL and ALTERNATIVE ROCK as many bands seemingly modeled themselves on such in their wake to present date.
sonically the band had a UNIQUE two-headed guitar attack a la BRIAN "HEAD" WELCH and JAMES "MUNKY" SHAFFER, both tuned down multiple steps with intertwining parts that buttressed the SLOW, plodding HEAVY riffs but just as importantly enhanced the lighter counterpoint melodies (often in opening riffs). bassist REGINALD "FIELDY" ARVIZU was less a traditional musician in the MELODIC sense and acted more as an extension of the percussion section with his slapping bass lines that really forward-propelled the songs themselves beyond the FUNK drumming of original percussionist DAVID SILVERA. in totality the band presented an OFF-KILTER but sonically POWERFUL front that empowered DAVIS to brave out and expose himself lyrically. it should also be noted that this record is one of the DEFINITIVE early ROSS ROBINSON productions that pushed his career forward and no doubt helped him land later work with the likes of GLASSJAW, SLIPKNOT, LIMP BIZKIT, SEPULTURA / SOULFLY, AT THE DRIVE-IN, CANCER BATS and even THE CURE. i saw KORN once at OZZFEST 2003 and was not prepared for how HEAVY they came across live. they blew the other bands away that night and i was absolutely not expecting such beforehand.
my only gripe with KORN was how DAVIS wrapped his own MISERY in the HOMOPHOBIC tropes of schoolyard bullying. that always seemed CALLOUS and a bit unnecessary in my opinion. even if your early years were TRAUMATIC and you were severely picked on by bullies and abused by adults, what is the purpose of utilizing the language of EMASCULATION that wrongly incorporates TERRIBLE slurs against the LGBTQ community. as if they are beneath you. there is so much unadulterated RAGE and suffering in DAVIS' persona and maybe it would be NAIVE for their to be some semblance of EMPATHY or COMPASSION mixed in somewhere, but that is my feeling. it goes further as such calcifies into MISOGYNY and on some level we are all degraded for our complicity in seeking refuge in DAVIS' misguided rage, as such would play out in the needless VIOLENT outbursts of their fans (a la WOODSTOCK 94) directed at women.
in my estimation its always interesting how KORN and a lot of the NU METAL bands borrowed sonic aspects from bands like FAITH NO MORE but none of their sense of INCLUSIVITY. instead it all became a channel for something truly INSIDIOUS and on some level deeply solipsistically NARCISSISTIC. as if their suffering was UNIQUE and ISOLATED them from the human experience instead of the other way around. one could argue DAVIS suffering made him more human and like those around him, even those that felt the need to hurt him and others like him. life is a cycle of PAIN.
what i remember about KORN's fourth album ISSUES (EPIC, 1999) as a teenager was how quickly it was released on the heel of the previous year's landmark FOLLOW THE LEADER (EPIC, 1998). in my opinion the band was on a trajectory with their first three records that saw them expand their sound with confidence with each subsequent release. this role of their's ended with ISSUES, which sounded like a retread and to some extent the rest of their career has been an attempt at capturing the magic of those first three releases.
when i hear ISSUES singles like "SOMEBODY SOMEONE," "MAKE ME BAD" and especially "FALLING AWAY FROM ME," all i can think about is "FREAK ON A LEASH" from FOLLOW THE LEADER. i understand that the record was seen as a gift to fans by the band, case in point all the alternative fan-created cover designs, but in retrospect the record just comes off as uninspired and a step backward for a group that was quite innovative at its time. quite literally they were the leader rallying a movement of like-minded bands during the late 1990s and with this record they unfortunately stepped into self-parody. they ended up following themselves.
i remember getting this record in SACRAMENTO while on a trip visiting family alone from boarding school in MASSACHUSETTS during my sophomore year. i remember being excited about the release but a little uneasy at how quick it came out. my instincts about quality control were sadly correct and for me this album remains the ugly duckling of their extensive discography. in fact, only when KORN released their DUBSTEP hybrid record THE PATH OF TOTALITY (ROADRUNNER, 2011) many years later, which included some of the best JONATHAN DAVIS choruses to date in "NARCISSISTIC CANNIBAL" and "GET UP!," did i even begin to notice them again.
if you are interested in KORN my suggestion would definitely be to check out their first three records: KORN (EPIC, 1994), LIFE IS PEACHY (EPIC, 1996) and FOLLOW THE LEADER. you can pretty much skip ISSUES entirely.
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
with the revelation in recent years of his diagnosis with PARKINSON'S DISEASE, the cable documentary THE NINE LIVES OF OZZY OSBOURNE (A+E, 2020) has the feeling of a long-form EULOGY about the beloved and celebrated singer. PARKINSON'S is a long-term auto-degenerative disease (much like life itself) that attacks the nervous system and is highly debilitating. so stands to reason that now is the best time speak with the man and have him reflect on his life in depth.
to its credit, THE NINE LIVES OF OZZY OSBOURNE is as much concerned with the narrative surrounding the iconic and massively influential career of OZZY OSBOURNE as it is with his private relationship with his family, with special attention to his wife/manager/business partner SHARON. notable participants in this documentary include three of his adult children (AIMEE, KELLY and JACK) as well as former bandmates RUDY SARZO, TONY IOMMI and GEEZER BUTLER and industry peers like ROB ZOMBIE (WHITE ZOMBIE), JONATHAN DAVIS (KORN), MARILYN MANSON, POST MALONE, ICE-T (BODY COUNT) and record producer RICK RUBIN.
i will not try to hide my adoration of OZZY. suffice to say i have dedicated not one but two radio show episodes to him and his massive influence (DEER GOD RADIO 12: OZZY OSBOURNE and DEER GOD RADIO 133: OZZFEST). i have also written in the past about watching him perform at OZZFEST JAPAN in 2015 (linked HERE), which in my opinion didnt go well (note: i was not aware of his condition at the time i wrote it). in my opinion the allure of OZZY is his ability to be an everyman. he's not a MYTHOLOGICAL figure like ROBERT PLANT, phenomenal poet like BOB DYLAN or JOHN LENNON or have a preternaturally stellar vocal range / stage presence like RONNIE JAMES DIO or ROB HALFORD. to me he has something more valuable, he makes great music seem TANGIBLE and within reach of his audience. his lyrics are immediate and direct with little need for fancy decorations to show off his cleverness. there is a reason that his work in BLACK SABBATH has influenced every generation of modern rock music since (NEW WAVE OF BRITIS HEAVY METAL, PUNK ROCK, THRASH METAL, ALTERNATIVE ROCK, DEATH METAL, HARDCORE, SLUDGE METAL, METALCORE, POST HARDCORE, BLACK METAL, etc.). and a lot of that has to do with the unique PERSONAL relationship OZZY has with his audience.
so all that being said, i thought it was particularly interesting that THE NINE LIVES OF OZZY OSBOURNE moves past the more tabloid-bating aspects of his career (biting the heads off doves and bats, pissing on THE ALAMO, snorting ants on tour with MOTLEY CRUE) and delves into his failings as a father with his first marriage and the time he was so out of his mind on drugs that he attempting to strangle his second wife SHARON. to me that relationship with SHARON is the crux of this film and the central node on which his life and career hinged. the daughter of OZZY's former manager DON ARDEN, it was SHARON that basically willed OZZY to move on with his career after being dismissed from BLACK SABBATH in the late 1970s. her PATIENCE with his ADDICTIVE PERSONALITY which included drugs and infidelity is almost saint-like in some aspects, even as recently as a few years ago. interestingly the very recent public shaming of OZZY for his dalliance with a longtime hairdresser was completely omitted from discussion in the film. that was an interesting decision since here most of his poor behavior is limited to the 1980s.
with that one omission in mind, the film does a pretty good job of providing a portrait of a legendary musician that doesnt delve into HAGIOGRAPHY as is often the case. by his own admission OZZY is flawed human just like the rest of us. maybe his extremes are further out then us mortals will ever go (example: attempting to strangle your wife while intoxicated) but it is precisely his FALLIBILITY that makes him one of the most beloved frontman of all time.
and perhaps one of the greatest as well.
despite growing up in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA and actively listening to the massively influential local ALTERNATIVE ROCK radio station 106.7FM KROQ out of LOS ANGELES, i didnt come across BAKERSFIELD's KORN until i was living in NIGERIA shortly after their second album LIFE IS PEACHY (EPIC, 1996) came out.
the three things about this record that stood out to me as a preteen were the self-scathing, almost T.M.I. lyrics of JONATHAN DAVIS, the pronounced bass of FIELDY that served more of a percussive than melodic function and the down-tempo, down-tuned dual guitar attack of guitarists HEAD and MUNKY. i think the sound of KORN can be described as a brick wall falling on top of you; it is one cohesive, machine-like unit repeatedly pummeling your senses with wave after wave of claustrophobic yet strangely hypnotic massive grooves. examples of this on LIFE IS PEACHY include "GOOD GOD," "NO PLACE TO HIDE," "TWIST," and "ASS ITCH." a big reason for the visceral impact for these songs is the aggressive production work of ROSS ROBINSON, who is historically celebrated for his ability to motivate (or coerce) stellar performances from his clients. along with KORN's debut, LIFE IS PEACHY is another defining example of this ability, especially with regards to DAVIS.
i have always had an odd appreciation for DAVIS' work since (much like his peer KURT COBAIN) he is definitely not playing it safe in his role as a METAL frontman or falling into cliche tropes of aggressive masculinity the genre is famous for. if anything, his aggression is aimed inward and his lyrics and performances are almost public sublimations for the immense pain he went through growing up an artistic kid in the conservative cultural backwater that is BAKERSFIELD. on later albums this scatting style of singing he trail-blazed on the first two KORN records comes off a bit forced, rote and even hackneyed, but on LIFE IS PEACHY it still carries a compelling sense of authentic ethos and aggression. like other GENERATION X icons like BILLY CORGAN, it is a bit disappointing to see DAVIS degenerate into a conservative parody of himself as a closet conservative since he was a bit transgressive and progressed the METAL movement forward with his lyrical subject matter (which included topics like CHILD ABUSE, SELF-LOATHING, BULLYING, SUICIDE, DEPRESSION and SELF-ISOLATION).
listening back i can look past the more cartoonish tracks on this record (like "PORNO CREEP" and "A.D.I.D.A.S.") and see an emerging group influenced by hybrid bands like FISHBONE and FAITH NO MORE trail-blaze new sonic terrain that propelled the band its peers forward for the rest of the decade. LIFE IS PEACHY is most definitely a record worth revisiting.