Review Summary: Interesting....
Fathers of Nu-metal stand! Who would have guessed back in 1994 that a band with a whiny croaker as their vocalist, two sludgy down-tuned seven string guitar wielding axe-men, a bassist who slaps away his five string like there is no tomorrow and a drummer going back to the use of acoustic drums after the electronic drum frenzy of the 80s and early 90s would have helped break a perennially boot-legged form of music still reeling from the death of glam and the waning of thrash and heavy sonic assaults into the mainstream? I don’t think many saw that coming. But as it so often happens in life (being stranger than fiction and all), it happened. Nu-metal was born and thus far it has survived.
Zip forward 13 years. Several chart topping albums and a roller coaster career ride later, the band starts to look like it’s, well… growing up. While still trying to keep the whole angry thing going, it’s very apparent that they are, in a way, maturing with their musical styling sounding more restrained with each album. See You…
also saw them experimenting with sonic dynamics, softening up to give more haunting melodies to perpetuate their “dark” sound and it worked. Then they announced Unplugged
and everyone just got confused.
Admittedly, it gave me a headache when I tried to think of how they would pull off stripped down versions of their songs. I’m sure it gave the band their fare share of them too. After all, their songs are known for the brutal sonic assault of the twin seven stringed Ibys. At this point some smart a** within the band think tank must have got a “rad idea” and said “I know… let’s change the arrangements on the songs completely!...” and then suddenly shut up not knowing how to go about executing said “rad idea”.
Enter close friend, film composer and producer Richard Gibbs (Queen of the Damned, Dr. Dolittle etc…). His creative mind added four celli, two basses, two cimbassos, two bass /contrabass trombonists, a saw player (that’s right… A bowed saw…), a glass harmonica player, choir bells, and a six person taiko ensemble to the KoRn lineup. In addition to this they ended up adding several percussion kits. So how did this incredibly diverse, large (for an unplugged thing since it’s supposed to be an intimate experience) orchestra work out for the band? Surprisingly well, actually.
It’s very apparent here that their modus operandi was to a large extent a direct progression from See You…
, namely to keep the songs dark when going soft, one has to make them haunting, more melodic and atmospheric and load the low frequency end of the orchestra (which is what Wagner did to make his music dark) which is very apparent from the list of orchestral instruments added to the KoRn ensemble.
The first thing that one notices while listening to the “new versions” of the songs is the whole latino thing they have going. A very large set of percussion instruments used see them going into a very salsa style and it becomes glaringly apparent in the first song itself: Blind
. Why glaringly? Because it’s not pulled off well in the opener. The beginning sounds… well… just bad. The rest of the song picks up… and grows on you after a couple of listens but still… just no. This was definitely a mistake. The other song that was a mistake on this concert was Creep
, a Radiohead
cover, since it contains nothing special and is marred by Jon’s whiny voice (especially when he goes into the high “Run!” of the song).
The rest of the songs, however, reflect good song choices, and when executed, show that they have been well thought out. Highlights include Freak On A Leash
featuring Amy Lee, who is spectacular in the song, especially in the bridge. The song starts soft and haunting and climaxes very well. Twisted Transistor
is also very well executed with the main riff being carried off by the strings section which, with the percussion, gives the whole song a very oriental-meets-tribal feel. The piano at the end of the song gives it a very nice touch (as with most other songs).
The other guest appearance on this record is by Robert Smith and The Cure and their mash-up Make Me Bad/In Between Days
is actually entertaining. Both songs were well selected and merge well. The rest of the songs have their highlights like the backing in the verses with the chunky bass riff in Got The Life
, the string staccato sections in Coming Undone
and the Taiko Ensemble in Throw Me Away
, and end up being oddly satisfying listens. The diverse orchestra used also helps overcome the all-the-songs-sound-the-same problem that many complain about.
The band members themselves get overshadowed at a lot of points in the concert but they have their moments. Munky’s guitar work throughout proves that, while he is no guitar god, he can definitely play. The small yet well done flamenco styled solo done after Blind
is definitely his moment. Fieldy’s bass is chunky and heavy as usual. Jon Davis has both high and low points, high points being nearly all KoRn songs where he sings solo, sounding not too harsh for the music playing in the background and pulling off soft sections pretty well and low points being overshadowed by Amy Lee on Freak…
, which was totally an unwarranted cover to do.
If there was one word to describe what KoRn has managed to do here, it would undoubtedly be “Interesting” – in a good or bad way is for each one to decide. This blend of music and musical genres is not something that can be heard very commonly and therefore warrants at least one listen to decide for yourself whether it is something you like or not, even if you hate the band’s original music. As an unplugged I would possibly think this is a bit over the top but as a performance, I really liked it. One must admit, whether a fan or not, that it takes balls to go to this degree of experimentation and then come out with something that works, surprisingly, this well within the context of the songs. Overall, better than good but a shade below great
My rating: 3.3/5
P.S: The fact that I don’t talk about lyrical content is an indication of how redundant I find them.