photo & text by nacrowe
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.