Review Summary: The first album of the nu-metal genre is also arguably the best one, with a really dark atmosphere as well as one of the best vocalists in its genre.
Korn are a band that thrust themselves to the forefront of the metal scene with their brash, inventive sound that they showcased on their early works. Unfortunately, since then, it has become trendy to hate on this band due to the fact their music has grown stagnant over the years and they have consistently resisted any form of experimentation until their most recent album, The Path To Totality, which turned out to be a complete train wreck. The band rose to fame throughout the 1990's as the catalyst of the nu-metal movement. They created the sound that bands such as Limp Bizkit and Slipknot would bastardize by using heavily down-tuned guitars, rap rhythms and angst-filled lyrics. These qualities propelled them into the bedroom of every teenager who wasn't hiding under a rock right from their first album, their 1994 eponymous release.
Their first effort is pretty much unanimously considered to be the pinnacle of Korn's talent embodied in an album, with its prominent and catchy bass lines, vocals that speak absolute volumes of emotion without even needing to know the lyrics, and the highly simplistic riffing that was surprisingly effective. This is an atmospheric piece of nu-metal made up of twelve tracks that absolutely drips emotion from the creepy introduction to Blind through to the crying and improvised tortured screams that close Daddy. The thick guitar tones lay down a solid back drop for the vocals to build off, with Jonathan Davis really letting loose every bit of anger and frustration possible on each track here. The opening scream of "Are You Ready" that kicks off Blind is pretty much the perfect way he could introduce himself on this album, and he never lets go of the listeners throat, jumping between rapping (Divine), screams of pure torment (Faget) and the most creepy clean voice one could imagine. Davis is the best thing about this band on here, despite the fact that his usually whiny voice embodies pretty much every negative thing many would say about the nu-metal scene in general.
The riffs here are rather simplistic in nature and do not change particularly frequently but they also get their job done very well. Ball Tongue starts off with a quicker pace than, say, Clown's sludgy and slow middle section, and it is these minute variations in speed that keep the album feeling interesting. Whilst Jonathan Davis is the focal point of Korn's first release, it is the changes in musical textures that keep it alive and ticking. The omnipresent bass is another factor of the band that can not be ignored as Fieldy truly is in a class of his own on Korn's early records. His bass lines are fantastically written so they play off the guitars whilst being completely audible throughout and often go off and do their own thing, with the occasional little bass fill to be found. The drumming is the first thing one will hear when they first start up this album, with the cymbal crashes at the start of Blind being the perfect introduction to the unprepared listener, and it actually suits this release really well. There are no really technical fills or complex beats to be found here, but this is more of an organic album where every instrument flows as well as can be and each member of the band knows and conforms to his role in creating a dark and yet fun and harrowing album.
The actual tracks are a great bunch and any of these could easily make a "best nu-metal songs" list should one be published. The outrageous bursts of rage-driven screams in the second half of Blind are perfectly remedied in the second track with the unintelligible but enjoyable chorus and funky bass lines. Need To contains some really neat vocal work whilst Clown makes good use of a slower pace than the rest to hammer a message home to the listener. Divine has more hip-hop influence in the first half than the other tracks and this makes for a nice change in style, whilst Faget is just pure unadulterated rage aimed at the people who accused Jonathan Davis of being a homosexual. The bag-pipes that introduce Shoots And Ladders may come as a shock to some, but they work really well when mixed with the nursery rhyme lyrics, but then its back to the aggression with the next four songs. Daddy is the closing track, and this is a rather controversial number given that it is about Jonathan's experiences with sexual abuse and the denial that his parents showed him when he attempted to seek help from them. This is one of the creepiest tracks I can ever remember listening to, and by the point Jon bursts into real tears at the end, the listener should be close to doing exactly the same thing. This is an album that really will take a hefty toll on your emotions.
All in all, Korn put together a stellar piece of work with their debut album that truly deserves the attention it received. This was ground breaking for its time, and contains some smashing tracks such as Blind and Clown, which showcase the band at their peak. Anyone who has not heard this should check it out, and anyone who hasn't heard it in a long time should dig it back out and once again slip into the world of Jon Davis, Fieldy, Head, Munky and David Silveria and the sickening atmosphere they created here.