Review Summary: The inception of a new genre…
Less than a year after the release of their first demo tape, Neidermeyer’s Mind in 1993, Korn began recording their full-length, self-titled debut album with producer Ross Robinson. Whilst the demo album suffered from a poor reception, the band members realised the sound they had built for themselves was innovative; something new and unique. Yet to be categorized, the fusion of hip-hop and metal defined Korn as pioneers of the genre now generally referred to as ‘nu-metal’.
When the three former members of L.A.P.D. (guitarist James Shaffer, drummer David Silvera and bassist Reginald Arvizu) enlisted the additional guitarist Brian Welch to their band, one crucial ingredient was missing from their line-up that was necessary in order to make the act complete; a vocalist. When the quartet discovered the then voice of local band ‘Sexart’, Jonathan Davis, singing at a small venue, they collectively knew they had found what they were searching for. Immediately after the show the members approached Davis about joining the band and shortly afterwards the final line-up was realised as ‘Korn’. With a strange concoction of heavy, clicking bass lines, punchy drumming and down-tuned dual guitarists, coupled with the coarse nature of both Jonathan’s lyrics and vocal style – Korn had something fresh and different to offer the music scene. A previously unexplored mixture of bass heavy musicianship sprinkled with electronic effects and hip-hop influences. Korn’s debut album was far more successful than the demo album, receiving much better feedback, and deservedly so.
From the explosive opening track ‘Blind’, listeners are exposed to Korn’s unique style. The down-tuned guitars rumble while Jonathan screams his lyrics; “ARE YOU READY!?!?”. Reginalds’ bass playing is showcased, easily audible in the middle ground between the assaulting guitars and the upbeat drumming. No other track could make the statement of what this album is all about quite like ‘Blind’, especially for its introduction. Surprisingly, although the demo didn’t fare very well critically, the band still included 3 of the 4 demo tracks on this album (‘Blind’, ‘Daddy’ and ‘Predictable’ (spelled ‘Pradictable’ on the demo) while the 4th track ‘Alive’ was not released until the album ‘Take a Look in the Mirror’), they are more polished and feature better instrumentation then the demo versions, but these tweaks are very minute in comparison to song structure and content.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things about this album is how loud the bass guitar is. Instead of being submerged under the sea of other instruments, the bass takes over as one of the most formidable instruments in the fray. If not quite centre-stage, Arvizu is certainly given a clear space in which to assert his percussion-style bass playing abilities. Most notably, the track ‘Need to’ exhibits a few choice sections (specifically at the 2:46 mark) where the guitars are completely quite, Jonathan whispers his lyrics, Silvera’s merely taps the high hat…and Arvizu is left to dominate the few seconds with his bass playing. Whilst it’s not the longest ‘bass solo’ it reiterates how determined the band was to achieve that low bass sound, to the point where the bass is merely ‘accompanied’ by the ambient instruments. There are myriad other small sections like this opened up for the bass to shine in, interspersed throughout the album, again, reinstating the bands low-bass intentions.
Even the guitars are down-tuned to drop-A to achieve the undertones of darkness. With both Brian and James on guitar, they laid down the foundations here on this record for their famous dual guitar attack synonymous of Korn. Each and every track is permeated by the low growl of the guitars, the roles of rhythm and lead guitar regularly interchanged by the guitarists. The most aggressive battering from the guitars might be on the track ‘Ball Tongue’ in which the dual guitars dominate with their down-tuned chugging. On the track ‘Faget’, the rhythm guitar thunders along with the track, while the lead guitar punctuates this with some higher notes picked slowly throughout the long verses. Both guitarists truly complement each other which one of the main reasons this album was so successful. The power and ferocity felt on tracks ‘Clown’ send bass-heavy beats reverberating into the listeners eardrums.
The drumming throughout the album is groovy and succinct. Much like the guitar during ‘Faget’, the sharp drumming cuts through the thick guitar and bass sound like a blade through butter. It adds a more buoyant edge to otherwise darker songs. David is a competent drummer, relying more on groove and power than on intricacy, but that’s just what these raw tracks require.
Jonathan Davis carries the majority of what makes Korn so unique in his voice. While almost all of the aforementioned musicians and their styles were unique at the time of this albums conception, Jonathans’ distinctive voice and mixture of a variety of vocal styles truly makes this band stand out in the crowd. During the course of the album Davis utilizes a various vocal techniques, including Screams, Growls, Dry Lung Vocals (at the end of Helmet in the Bush), death growls, clean singing and whispering. This, united with his strange, intriguing voice makes each and every track interesting.
Although Jonathan isn’t the strongest lyricist, he manages to paint some truly disturbing visual images in the head of the listener, particularly on the track ‘Daddy’ in which he waves a story of a father who sexually abuses and rapes his son, to which the mother is aware but does nothing. This is a euphemism for Jonathan’s own childhood predatory encounter at the hands of a female neighbour. The emotion pouring from Jonathan throughout the song is so raw and primal, and the audio imagery so vivid, you cannot help but feel emotional in one way or another while listening to this song. Truly a ‘highlight’ of the album depending on how you look at it, but the song is certainly unforgettable. Many artists can successfully emulate emotion and make it appear genuine, but is it possible to ascertain whether or not the emotion Davis displays is authentic? Well, apart from his obvious and very personal connection to the theme, he ends up breaking down, shouting profanities aimlessly at his childhood assailant before giving in towards the end of the song, his sobs accompanying the then softened guitars and drums and thus the track ends after a soothing female artist voice can be heard in the background. The mood is incredibly depressing, an excellent closer to the album, which is every bit as intense as it seems.
Korn recorded the tracks on this album ‘live’ with all the instruments playing together. Presently, most bands record each instrument separately for the final album; however, this doesn’t quite capture the feeling an atmosphere a live recording has. For example, ‘Daddy’ would not have been anywhere near as hauntingly dismal as it is if Jonathan had tracked his vocals alone. It would have been edited and cut or re-recorded for the final version. At the beginning of the track ‘Clown’ the recording is left un-cut, and the track starts out with the band discussing how the song starts when the count cannot be agreed upon. In the midst of their efforts to regain tempo you can hear people laughing until a voice in the background shout’s “Hey we’re recording, Start”. Moments like these which give a much deeper feeling for the atmosphere and cement the bands authenticity would not be possible without the ‘live’ recording method. Even the production, which isn’t cut an polished suits the albums raw, emotional mood.
Korn’s debut album was the first album of the never-before-seen genre ‘nu-metal’. It is a bass heavy, angst ridden vessel of catharsis.
*Helmet in the Bush