Review Summary: The buttered side of Korn
First things first: the Korn you knew in middle school is gone. They were already coming dangerously close to committing artistic suicide with "Take a Look in the Mirror", which was lukewarm and excessively contrived. My feelings towards that album have softened a bit over the years, but I still couldn't help thinking that maybe Korn were done for.
Well, in a way, they were. "Mirror" was the old Korn's death cry, and when Brian Welch left the band, the final nail was hammered into the coffin. However a lineup change and a label change seem to have conspired to create something that is, if nothing else, creative and new.
The album kicks off with the propulsive, but melodically challenged, "Twisted Transistor." While definitely not my favorite song on this album, it is representative of the changes to Korn's sound. At first listen, this album reminded me of Orgy. Indeed it borrows heavily from the softcore industrial sounds of Nine Inch Nails, Orgy, Static-X, as well from one of their stated influences, Ministry. Even when there are no electronics in the mix, the aggressive pulse in most of these songs still bring to mind industrial music.
The band also seems to have discarded the impressionistic chords and rich wall-of-sound textures in favor of a more horizontal approach. No doubt this is a result of Head leaving the band - without another guitarist to bounce ideas off of, James Shaffer's guitar parts reflect a thrashier sensibility. The low-tuned guitars in many cases have lost their bass-y definition and now act as an abrasive noise texture. Fieldy's bass lines no longer seem to double as percussion parts and he is more taken to using the fuzz pedal.
This is just about the least-heavy thing Korn has put out. But, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I think Jonathan Davis has burned out the temper tantrums that fueled his misogynistic rage on earlier albums, and any attempt to recapture that kind of sound would come off as forced and cheesy.
Starting with the disappointing but still listenable "Twisted Transistor," the album steadily gets better every song. "Hypocrites" is a relatively more traditional heavy/aggressive song with a southern-fried guitar riff a bit reminiscent of Pantera or Down. "Souvenier" is interesting mostly because it sees Korn experimenting with time changes, something that has almost never factored into Korn's pop-oriented song structures.
Then we come to what I consider to be the first real highlight of the album - "10 or a 2-way." It begins as a raunchy Marilyn Manson-esque cabaret rocker... but then the chorus rolls around and knocks your head off with unanticipated heaviness. It's all the more effect because the album as a whole isn't that heavy; so when it's heavy, it really stands out.
Another highlight (and this album sees more and more of them as it goes on) is the melancholy "Throw Me Away" which reminds me of the Untouchables record with its wealth of sentimental ballad stand-ins. And that's a good thing. Other highlights include the funky, tuneful "Open Up," a Static-X-esque sing-along called "Liars," and in my opinion the crowning achievement of this album, "Seen It All." The last track mentioned is a supremely creepy and dramatic song that reminds me of Angel Dust-era Faith No More. It is more than worthy of Korn's closing track.
Unfortunately, it isn't the closing track. The actual closing track is a quiet, haunting sort of pseudo-ballad called "Tearjerker." The dumb title belies its subtleties, but even then its more of an afterthought to "Seen It All" which is the kind of last impression Korn SHOULD be trying to make.
Most of the other songs are pretty good, although a few of them like "Politics" and "Getting Off" get a little boring after awhile. There are no appallingly horrible tracks (which is more than can be said about Take a Look in the Mirror) and the highlights are in abundance.
This album defines Korn as going in a new direction, and while I'm not decided if it were for the better, Korn could have done a lot worse at the time.