Review Summary: Nu metal godfathers springboard their scene into the mainstream.
Love them or hate them, no-one can deny that Korn have been one of the most important bands in the development of mainstream metal over the last two decades. Their simple, yet effective formula of crunching, down-tuned guitars, hip hop rhythms and schizophrenic vocal stylings was swiftly copied by hundreds of inferior clones. This new form of metal, appropriately titled “nu metal”, would soon invade radio rock and fill the airwaves with bass-heavy nuggets of musical distress. While much of the music to follow them was genuinely awful, Korn had a talent for crafting emotional, metallic anthems that made their first two albums huge successes.
But it was “Follow the Leader” that propelled the bands into the heady heights of mainstream consciousness, and it’s easy to see why. The crushing riffs and tumbling rhythms of old remain, but here they’re married to razor-edged hooks and haunting melodies that make “Follow...” a far more radio friendly proposition than it’s bile-driven predecessors. Opener “It’s On!” doesn’t have the same brutality as “Blind” or “Chi”, but it does boast both a riff perfect for rock club dance-floors, and a truly magnificent chorus. “Freak on a Leash” (the band’s biggest hit to date) continues the trend, moving from a sinister, ambient first half to a heavy yet anthemic second.
Unlike the mixed bag that was “Life is Peachy”, this album is lean and filler-free, every track thoroughly deserving its place on the album (well, aside from the awful, semi-joking Limp Bizkit collaboration “All in the Family”.) It was here that Korn began expand from their signature sound, leading to various musical meanderings that make “Follow...” a thrillingly diverse affair, without sacrificing album flow. The most obvious new flavouring is old-school hip-hop, and rappers Ice Cube and Tre Hardson guest on “Children of the Korn” and “Cameltosis” respectively, dropping ice cool rap verses onto traditional Korn instrumentation. This mashup of old and new works as it makes the music fresh while not sacrificing the band’s integrity.
Forays are made into other genres too. “Got the Life”, another hit single, is perhaps the band’s most danceable song to date, riding a funky slap-bass groove and taking flight with an infectious chorus. On the other hand, “Dead Bodies Everywhere” and “Seed” incorporate sinister industrial metal ambience into their verses, making the ensuing metal choruses sound all the more visceral and aggressive. Most interesting is titanic closer “My Gift to You”, a staccato steamroller of a song that matches previous album closers “Daddy” and “Kill You” for emotional catharsis.
While there’s definitely experimentation to be found, the band has lost none of the emotion and intensity that made them Korn. “B.B.K.”, “Pretty”, “Reclaim my Place” and “Justin” anchor the album’s mid-section with trademark Korn brutality, albeit also incorporating slightly more refined choruses. The latter of these songs is the best of the bunch, a massive bouncing riff and sinister bridge lifting the track to heights unreached by the band before, and “Justin” is probably the finest track here. “B.B.K.” is also notable for its wonderfully bonkers scat mid-section, and for Fieldy’s excellent slap bass- always a highlight of Korn albums, his performance on this album matches those previous with aplomb.
There are, sadly, some minor niggles that deny “Follow the Leader” from classic status. While the band’s 7-string riff assault is never less than impressive, it does become slightly monotonous by the album’s end. Also, there are certain sections of the album (the dull chorus of “Pretty”, the dragged-out intro of “Seed”) that the band lose momentum in, none more so than in “All in the Family”. While the song was probably created semi-jokingly, Durst’s vocal incapability and the nonsensical lyrics make it just plain annoying, and disrupt the flow of what would otherwise be a perfect album structuring.
All things considered, “Follow the Leader” is one of the better albums that emerged from the nu-metal boom of the late 90s, and set its creators up for a successful and influential career. The critics and musical elitists may scoff, but this is a metal album that delivers quick thrills while also displaying an emotional maturity beyond that of the band’s peers- and while Korn may have inspired a wave of dreadful bands, “Follow the Leader” and the other albums they recorded at their pre-millennial peak stand as their true legacy.
Got the Life
My Gift to You
Freak on a Leash