Monday, May 23, 2011

Korn: Korn (1994)

Motion for Reconsideration

Nu metal. The name itself is enough to gag any metalhead over the age of 35, and embarrass those between 25 and 35. As we all know, the genre started with Korn's self-titled debut in 1994, and it has been cause for revilement ever since.

KornBut the album isn't all that bad. In fact, I have fond memories of loving it as a teenager. So I tried to listen to it with fresh ears.

The guitar tone is the first thing that jumps out at me. It's crunchy, and the 7-string guitars let them get heavier than most metal bands of the time. Same thing with the clicky 5-string bass. It sounds dirty. And the drums, truth be told, are quite interesting. The vocals, not so much, but most of the time they're not bad.

If you took someone who had never heard Korn before, and played "Predictable" for them, you could (possibly) convince them this is a new sludge metal band. That's how heavy and dirty this sounds. And that's how the riffs groove.

There's quite a lot of sludge metal on here. "Blind" could pass for sludge, and so could "Need To". Of course, Korn's bad reputation came from somewhere. Part of that is because sludge itself wasn't in favor at the time. But part of it is that they didn't stick closely enough to established metal ideas. "Clown" has some kind of hip-hop inspired breakdown. "Ball Tongue" and "Divine" are basically all hip-hop played on metal instruments, and they suck. There are a lot of weird sections, too, where they use guitar noises instead of riffs, like the verses in "Lies" or "Faget". There's a weird scatting section in "Fake". And "Shoots and Ladders" is just bizarre with its bagpipies (a first in metal!) and reinterpretation of nursery rhymes. Most off-putting of all is "Daddy", due to its vulnerable lyrics about child rape.

It didn't help that they dressed in track suits, and neglected to include any solos. But at its base, Korn's debut is metal, and it's heavy and dirty-sounding. The band wouldn't have been too out of place touring with Crowbar. More power to them for being willing to experiment.

The Verdict: I still like it, years later. Korn gets 4 out of 5 stars. It's only too bad they jumped at a chance for mainstream success a few years later, when they could have gone the other direction and become more metal.


  1. Come on--not one person has come out to tell me I'm crazy?

  2. One of the best moments of my concert-going life was hearing Korn play "Blind" as an encore. They've done their fair share of weird/bad crap, but this album gets at least a partial pass.

  3. I recently listened to Korn's debut album a few months back as I've been going through some sort of musical-nostalgia lately. This album was an absolute favorite of mine when I was like 14 and it first came out. I remember very specifically a few instances where friends criticized the band for their "rap style" sounds and sludgy approach, but I liked it; there wasn't any other band like them at that time. It wasn't thrash, it wasn't grunge, it wasn't power-metal . . . it was all crazy and dirty and (like you said) bagpipes! I wasn't impressed with their follow-ups and after my descent into death metal and black metal a few years later, Korn just become one of those "cute" bands that posers wore t-shirts of when they went to the mall. Yet, Korn's first album was one I had picked up to from time to time . . . but it had been about 10 years since the last time I heard it, so I gave it a go a few months back. Korn may have sold-out and yaddah, yaddah, yaddah, but their debut album was groundbreaking for its time and it still rocks to this day.

  4. I never really liked Korn. I had three of their albums, but that was mostly because I felt like I SHOULD listen to them. Eventually I just came to grips with the fact that I didn't like more than one or two of their songs.

  5. Sorry but Korn and their ilk are one of the main reasons metal stopped being interesting to me from around 1994 (I only returned to the fold a couple of years ago). Listening to it again, it's just so dreary and reminds me of all the appalling landfill "alternative" bands that appeared in the wake of Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney and Pearl Jam yet didn't have the talent. Nevertheless, nostalgia is a very powerful force that shapes our experience of music, more than any other art form, so it's not surprising that you now feel some fondness for it once again.

  6. I'm really not a fan of Korn or the suggestions that it is somehow based on them being "unconventional" or "sludge-not-being-in-favor" back then, because both things to me are truly inapplicable. Johnathon Davis has never understood how to, lyrically or vocally, create more of a legitimately down-trodden atmosphere than a 14 year old. None of the "musicians" in this band have any talent whatsoever.

    Your reasoning behind people not liking it is not more (generally less) reasonable than me saying a major factor in your still liking it, is you trying to justify your past opinion on the matter due to fearing the negative feeling of embarrassment. Some people just don't like to admit they were wrong, even when they were a kid.

    That being said, that might not be true of you at all but, your reasoning was likely true for about 1% (at most) of the people that disliked Korn.

    I love music that pushes boundaries and redefines, if not shattering completely, the convention of any current trends. That being said, it doesn't matter here. No one has done a full cover of a Brittney Spears album with the vocal and drumming tone of Metallica's "St. Anger" album to my knowledge, but aside from for Comedy, would that be good? No.

    Yes, positive and negative opinions of albums are subjective, but trying to then objectively quantify the negative response to an album that just isn't very good, by citing them to some "lack of open-mindedness at the time" is wrong and incorrect.

    People don't like this album because it's not good music. It's poorly written, overly simplistic (sludge isn't the most complex of genres but, it creates an atmosphere that this does not) and is nothing new. Yes I said it, it's nothing new. It's simply taking other ideas and meshing them together to sound "wacky." That is not true originality.

    Yes I agree, Korn got much worse even, but that does not make this album good. The reason it angered metal heads has nothing to do with it "not being metal" (though it's no heavier than any hard rock, the riffs have a crunchy tone to them but, they are not impactful at all) but, more the fact that Korn got to a level of fame where that's what people thought Metal was!

    People lumped all metal into the category of Korn, despite almost all of it containing more talented musicians and less amateur sounding vocalists (even if some metal vocalists just yell or write pointless lyrics). The point is, this is a terrible representation of "metal." That's the anger. The music itself is just genuinely piss-poor.

    This is NOT the alternative, 90's equivalent to today's sludge metal. No, it's the grungy, dirty, ugly, 90's equivalent to modern day EMO. The lyrics downright prove that.

  7. Thanks for the well-thought-out comment. You could very well be right. I'm just trying to lay out my own thoughts on the subject of course, and trying to look at it with my adult mind and decidedly more mature taste in music. You're certainly right that they didn't create the atmosphere sludge is often known for, and lyrically/vocally it's pretty much a mess (I've never cared much about lyrics, but I know these well enough to know that's true). I think the question of innovation is a matter of degree, but you also can't deny they made 7-string guitars as popular as they are, even today in a handful of much better bands.

    It certainly spoke to the young, immature me, and the current me still sees some value in it. All that said, I don't know whether I'd appreciate it at all if I hadn't listened to it then. As monkeydefiesgravity says, maybe it's just nostalgia. I've slowly been removing the nu and alternative metal from my music library as that effect has worn off, but a few of them remain. (I know Spineshank is the go-to example of a bad nu metal band for many people, but I still get a kick out of it. And I still really like Coal Chamber. Not so for many, many others.)