Review Summary: The accumulation of 20 years of professional musicianship, 10 studio albums and the return of Brian ‘Head’ Welch has brought us the latest and possibly greatest Korn album of all.
As is constantly proven, Korn’s sound is an ever-changing and ever-evolving beast. With each release, new elements are introduced and fresh sounds are created inspiring some to criticise while others are enthralled in the originality of every album. Never knowing fully what to expect in the next instalment of Korn keeps things interesting and each release contains a sound that is different, yet familiar. Some very bold changes have been incorporated into the mix over the years, most notably the dub-step infusion during the innovation that was ‘The Path of Totality’. So naturally, the combination of uncertainty and the hype that was garnered from the confirmation regarding Brian Welch’s return sparked a unanimous expectation for this album shine like no album previously had. So the big question is; has it?
The answer comes in the form of an 11 track (13 for the deluxe edition) disc containing some of the best work that I have had the privilege of listening to, and that Korn have had the ability to produce. Perhaps it is the return of Brian, or the enthusiasm of the band members, or even the new producer; Don Gilmore – but whatever the reason may be, Korn have made an album that has lived up to the expectations set by fans who have entertained the hope of a reunion bringing about an album that would blow them away, but never truly believed it would happen. This album has revived the Korn elements that made them who they are, and still delivers the shock factor and surprise modifications of each release. To delve deeper into why this album is the big deal it’s made out to be, the key factors and causes must be addressed.
Firstly, the foundations of the Korn sound, the dual guitar assault on the senses – it’s back! And it’s as hard hitting, brain pounding and adrenaline fuelled as we all remember it to be - with renewed vigour. Over the course of the ten year separation, both guitarists have had to lift their game, since they couldn’t rely on one another to back them up and perfect their sound the way they used to. James ‘Munky’ Shaffer, determined not to replace Brian, took over the role as lead guitarist and, needless to say, had the large expectation to continue the signature sound on his own. He has definitely lifted his game over the years to fill the spot that has grown in size and shrunken in company. While James was forced to fill the void, Brian had the task of creating his own sound, while still sounding like the old “Brian ‘Head’ Welch” of Korn. His solo work showcases his guitar work as well as his vocal abilities and he has grown as a musician since leaving Korn. Both of these guitarists have been forced to improve due to the separation, and although it’s not the way they wished for it to happen, it has indisputably been beneficial for each of them as individuals. Now, fast forward 10 years after the separation. Gone their separate ways, both professional guitarists in their own right that excelled when they were together, now add 10 years of unaided experience and put them back together again. What you end up with is their signature sound dipped in gold and worn around the neck of guitar gods. This must have been obvious to the members of the band too, because the first thing you hear when you put the CD in and play ‘Prey For Me’ is the unmistakeable growl of two professionals playing off each other, an obvious tribute to fans who have been anticipating an energy overload. The track ‘Lullaby For a Sadist’ demonstrates the acoustic ability of the guitarists in a stunningly eerie sound that attracts your attention immediately. No wonder it was used on the teaser trailer. The unbridled assault on the track ‘Tell Me What You Want’ (deluxe edition only) harkens back to ‘Take a Look in the Mirror’, the last album that Brian performed on before his departure. So, now we know that the two guitarists are back in full swing, so what of the other members? Well:
Reginald ‘Fieldy’ Arvizu has regained his signature bass slapping that gave old Korn it’s back bone. His bass playing has matured much since the first few Korn albums, and this is obvious in throughout the album. Some of his best work throughout his entire career can be witnessed in this album, which is saying something. Ray Luzier demonstrates his worth in tracks like ‘Mass Hysteria’ and ‘Love and Meth’ where the drums are foregrounded and played to perfection, layering the album in a way that just screams HEAVY! Ray is able to bring something to the band that David seemed to lack, intricacy. The drumming in this album is exceptional and coupled with the guitars and bass creates an almost surreal feeling that Korn missed on their last album. While the dub-step did meld well with Korn, it drowned Ray out and overpowered the guitars, whereas now, you can grasp the full instrumental experience.
This album does contain some electronic influences, but they are much more subdued than they were on ‘The Path of Totality’. In songs such as ‘Love and Meth’ the electronic aspect acts as a support to the song and isn’t a focus point. ‘Spike In My Veins’ is a perfect example of how the electronics can meld perfectly with Korn and contribute to the sound rather than steal it and leach off the guitars the way it did on TPOT. The other instruments are easily audible in ‘Spike In My Veins’ and that’s a great improvement over ‘The Path of Totality’ which caused a confusion between what was electronic and what was authentic. Noisia contribute to the song immensely and since it was originally a JDevil it was naturally going to display dub-step and the way it was done was so exceptional that it makes this track an absolute standout.
Another track some might be worried about is ‘Never Never’ but the track makes sense when it is taken into context. It is a nice break up from the rest of the heavy songs and keeps the album fresh. Great technique. The great thing about this album is that each of the songs has something unique and memorable about it that stops the songs from melding into each other and becoming forgettable. Point is, there is no filler, which is to be expected with over 20 songs being written by the band during production and only 11 making their way onto the standard album.
Vocally, this is some of Jonathan’s best work yet. He tries some very different vocal methods and even switches between a combination of them during ‘Love and Meth’. This track especially displays some of his vibrato as well as the screams that made ‘Take a Look in the Mirror’ shake with force. The closing track on the deluxe edition, ‘Tell Me What You Want’ is probably the best example of his heavy vocal abilities as he screams; “Tell me what you want! Tell me what you want! *** you! Go away!” with all the force of the self-titled album’s ‘Blind’ and TALITM’s ‘Right Now!’. ‘Punishment Time’ begins with some of Jonathan’s softer vocals and then breaks into a harsh melodic chorus, making this track shine. The lyrical content has changed majorly since the first three albums, and the subject matter switches over myriad topics, keeping things interesting. There are plenty of angry songs, and a ballad style track in the form of ‘Lullaby For a Sadist’ as well as some interesting lyrics that suggest an apology to ‘Head’ in ‘Prey For Me’. Overall, the vocals are exceptional and powerful, and at times even beautiful, a commendable effort by Davis.
In conclusion, the tracks I strongly recommend are;
*Prey For Me
*Love and Meth
*Spike In My Veins
*Tell Me What You Want (deluxe edition only)
Buy this album for its revival of the Korn that changed the music scene, for its adrenaline fuelled instrumental attack on the senses and its infallible vocals.