Korn - Korn
Nu-Metal, Alt. Metal
14 songs (1:10:18)
Release year: 1994
Korn, Immortal
Reviewed by Goat
Archive review

Of all the bands blamed for starting the Nu-Metal scourge, Korn generally get the brunt of it. It’s hard not to criticise people for thinking this; it was the band’s 1994 debut that set the whole movement off, and whilst the groundwork for the creation of the genre may inadvertently have been laid by Faith No More and Primus amongst others, those bands still have a good deal of respect in even the more underground Metallic circles. That’s not the case for Korn, however, and on the fifteenth anniversary (give or take a few months) of the band’s debut full length, it’s worth digging it out and giving it another listen to see just what all the fuss was about. Or is it? Well, as someone who admits to thinking that Korn has a few enjoyable moments on Issues and Untouchables, I find Korn itself to be pretty poor. The best bands connected to the whole Nu-Metal world played to their strengths, and so we have the atmospheric musings of Deftones and the controlled tribal chaos of Slipknot – whether you like them or hate them, you have to admit they’re well-oiled machines that do their thing well.

Korn, at this early stage of their career, had not yet managed this, and so a lot of the time this album just doesn’t work, as close as certain parts are. A combination of Metal, Funk, Hip-Hop and Grunge, if you want to take Korn at all seriously you have to suspend that disbelief and take the album for what it was intended to be, a cathartic expelling of emotions dealing with Davis’ experiences with childhood abuse. Now, I have every sympathy for those people who were abused as children, a terrible thing to happen to anyone, but for something so horrible the intended effect here just isn’t as creepy as it’s supposed to be. I’m not the horror connoisseur that my colleague Charles is, but I find the vague bodies-in-the-basement atmosphere that Death Metal giants like Cannibal Corpse can create in the midst of their typical brutality distinctly creepier than the over-the-top sobbing and crying of Davis on Daddy, for example. Leaving aside the question of whether he was actually abused or not for those more cynical than I if you can accept that the album is the primal, rough-hewn cry of the abused teenager, then you will appreciate it for what it is. Otherwise, Houston, we have problems.

One thing that certainly holds the band back is the extremely amateur-sounding production, giving the guitars a very strange tone, weak and lifeless and in the background compared to the all-powerful bass sound, often referred to as ‘popcorn’ yet which drives the music in a kind of Hip-Hop cadence. It’s interesting how at moments the riffs touch on a strangely Industrial sort of atmosphere, but they rarely manage to do much with it. The drums sound terrible, too, there’s no way of sugaring that particular pill. As for the one and only Jonathan Davis, his vocals are, being as kind as possible, an acquired taste. Not only does his voice have an annoying whine to it, but his growls and ‘scat’ chanting are little short of dreadful. Any good moments that the album has are in spite of him, not because of, and more often than not he spoils it – Shoots & Ladders is a great example, opening with bagpipes in a strangely epic build-up before Davis starts singing nursery rhymes. Any time that a band attempts to create atmosphere by chanting ‘knick-knack paddy-whack give a dog a bone’, you know something’s either seriously wrong with the lyricist, or he wants you to think that there is.

The best moments on the album come from the sort of Primus-for-retards sound of the bass-drum interaction, but they’re almost always ruined by Davis. People generally state opener Blind to be one of the better tracks, and it is at first, even with Davis’ ARE YOU READY? nonsense, but it continually drops the heaviness in favour of faux-atmospherics, and it’s truly amazing how mind-bogglingly simplistic the riffs are. Ball Tongue opens with a nice groove, but continually swaps the heavy riffs for the meandering whininess of the verses, something that some people would probably point to as evidence of the band’s grasp of dynamics, to which I reply with hearty laughter. From then on, aside from some nearly decent churnage at the start of Need To and the first bit of Divine, there are few moments worth listening to. I’d post some sample lyrics for you all to have a chuckle at, except that they make Deicide’s read like Shakespeare and I simply haven’t the willpower to go searching for some.

Childhood and adolescence generally are a difficult experience for most people in some way or other, yet I like to think I dealt with my problems by getting drunk and discovering extreme metal rather than identifying with role models like Davis. Admittedly, there was a fair bit of complaining, and at worst a depression that I still sometimes struggle with, but Metal helped me in those formative years, and going more or less straight from Iron Maiden to Darkthrone meant that in later years Korn and the like would be a curio, nothing more - not to mock those who started with Korn and discovered proper Metal later, of course. As I said earlier in the review, I do appreciate the odd bit of later Korn, when they learnt to write songs after discovering how popular this sort of music could be, but early Korn is not worth your time, plain and simple, and anyone that says it is are the sort of people that, well, enjoy listening to Korn! There’s nothing here that Primus didn’t do a million times better and without the whining to boot, and whilst Korn may have some sort of twisted place in Metal history, that’s no reason that anyone should actually have to listen to it for that reason alone.

Killing Songs :
Ball Tongue, barely
Goat quoted 28 / 100
Adam quoted 40 / 100
Thomas quoted 10 / 100
Elias quoted 80 / 100
Other albums by Korn that we have reviewed:
Korn - Issues reviewed by Danny and quoted 85 / 100
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