Review Summary: In 1998, Jonathan Davis infamously sang the line, "they never see me fall from Grace" in Korn's hit single "Freak on a Leash", seemingly unaware of what would happen 13 years later.(This review is #4 in my "Regretting the Past" series, a series that looks at albums that either ended the careers of artists, or were said artist's first efforts that they clearly don't want anyone to know about, or albums so bad that they forced the band back to the drawing board. Previous reviews in this series will be linked to in the comments section for this review.)
Like many others, I have become a slave to the true crime nesting instinct. I really don't know what it is that makes these bite-sized case files on horrible crimes against humanity so addicting, but I could think of a couple reasons. For one, they offer more insight as to why somebody would do such a horrible thing like rape and murder than a hollywood Whodunit or a Murder Mystery would. For another, there's something mesmerzing about raw evidence, such as deposition tapes, surveillance footage, or interviews with people affected. Going back to my first point: nobody knows exactly why people do such a thing, but there is one undeniable catalyst: ego. Like it or not, lots of things happen when ego goes unchecked, and both horrible things are indeed really only more extreme cases, but it's not even just that. Unchecked ego manifests itself in many different ways.
So where am I going with this, exactly? Glad you asked: have you ever wished you had a time machine, if only for the purpose of going back to, say, production of a movie that either ended up being a disappointment (The Phantom Menace, Prometheus, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crytal Skull
) or outright terrible (Fant4stic, The Room, Dark Phoenix
)? Or in this case, since this is an album we're talking, an album? I know I certainly do for both, but it's the idea of sitting in the studio and observing a day in the life of musicians and producers, watching them make conscious decisions that lead to such terrible pieces of music that tantalizes me. It would certainly make Regretting The Past reviews easier to write, and there's a number of cases like this that have come to mind as of late- Opeth's Heritage
, Beach Boys' Summer in Paradise
and Stars and Stripes Vol. 1
, The Clash's Cut the Crap
, Lauryn Hill's MTV Unplugged 2.0
, and most recently of all, Korn's bizarre foray into brostep that ended up being the bafflingly titled The Path of Totality
. And the reason that that album seems to be coming to mind most as of late is pretty simple: one man named Jonathan Davis.
There's certainly no denying that Davis is a passionate individual. One could listen to a song like "Blind" and get a perfect idea of what Korn is all about in a nutshell. The intro builds up to a roar of "AAARRREEE YOOOUUU REEEEAAADDYYYYY???", and you are henceforth plunged into a mid-tempo banger with vicious vocals, a simple but very catchy and driving riff, and most bizarrely but simultaneously appealing: a jazzy outro, and that song pretty much makes it clear that Korn are their own genre, in a way. It's reasons like that why we have encapsulated moments like Davis' trauma-induced mental breakdown that makes up the second half of "Daddy", the bagpipe-driven "Shoots and Ladders"- a very tongue in cheek tune about the darker meanings that lie in nursery rhymes, the beat-boxing and scatting that occurs midway through "Freak on a Leash", total bangers like "Falling Away From Me" and the record-breaking 96 "fuck thats" in "Y'all Wanna Single". Like it or not, these come from the very interesting mind of one Jonathan Davis, and if you told Davis about the idea of Korn being their own genre, he'd likely shake his head in complete and total agreement.
Interestingly enough, it's that very reason why The Path of Totality
ends up being such a giant pile of shit: it was not just the whole reason for its existence, but also the entire marketing campaign
for it. When asked repeatedly why Korn "went dubstep", Davis would often respond with stock responses like "it's not a Dubstep album. it's a Korn album", or my personal favourite, "Korn was dubstep before dubstep even existed". And that second point is fair enough, but it leaves you to wonder why the blue fuck that in order to prove it, they would resort to working with producers like Skrillex, Downlink or even Excision. True, Korn has always had electronic leanings in their music, but just listening to lead single "Get Up!" makes it abundantly clear how ill-advised this direction was: the band use it as a substitute for riffs and hooks. You know how Korn usually have their songs driven by simple, but very effective riffs? It's literally taking every iota of me to remember a single riff from that song, and that was the song they used to promote the album
Granted, there are shockingly some moments where Kornstep kind of works. Track #4, "Illuminati" is driven by a descending riff mixed with some pretty spot-on production from Excision, with much of the electronics being left to the verses, and a VERY interesting bridge where it sort of feels like all hell breaks loose for a few seconds. Sure, the lyrics are full of eye-rolling Libertarian wet dreams such as "You built this house of shame"
, or "An infection is what we are now"
, but it's hands down the best song on the album. Similarly, sophomore single "Narcissistic Cannibal", while not a particularly great song, is a song that feels like Korn blending nostalgia with their new direction. It's built around a blend of heavy riffs and wubs, and even the vocal melodies are insanely catchy. It's admittedly impossible to not get the line "And you're so cynical/A narcissistic cannibal/Time to bring myself back from the dead"
stuck in your head. This song really does slap; the chorus itself is catchy in all the ways that make a good Korn chorus, with even little sprinklings of 80s style synth in there for good measure.
Sadly this is where all the good things about the album stop. The remaining 40 or so minutes simply refuse to justify their existence in any way that's meaningful, or even catchy. The opening track, "Chaos Lives in everything", is the perfect summary of everything that's about to swing your way. After an admittedly interesting drum n bass style intro, the song immediately kills any intrigue set by substituting riffs or hooks for the thing that kills any promising album: overload
. Wubs and womps smack you in the face, and Davis' vocal performance shockingly phones almost everything in.In fact, that's one thing about the album that is very shocking: for an album that Davis was so very insistent on selling as "Korn in its purest form", he feels like a side character on his own album. There's hardly any memorable vocal performances or melodies to be found on the album- in fact, I'd even go so far as to say you could count the amount of actual melodies on this album as a whole
on Mickey Mouse's fingers. Songs like "Sanctuary" only further prove this; every time I have listened to that song I have found myself wondering if he just spoke the lyrics and they were autotuned to sound somewhat musical, because dear lord, even just thinking about his vocals make me want to fall asleep.
Particularly irritating about this album is the wasted opportunity that is Excision's presence on it. Even back in the days when Dubstep was the "in thing", which in turn made it an easy target, Excision was one of the few Dubstep producers that people did like, mostly because of his Metal influences. And the only track where this potential is realized is the already-mentioned "Illuminati". Weirder still, "My Wall" is the one song where he has the sole producer credit on, and he still feels like a non-entity on it. Excision has produced some primo metal-influenced Dubstep- "Brutal" is a fine example. But the fact that his presence on this album is completely wasted is downright insulting. It's the one thing that the album unironically has going for it, and it's completely wasted. Even weirder still, despite not being "good" songs, they're the closest the album gets to being as good as it could have been, "Narcissistic Cannibal" notwithstanding. "Tension", which he co-produces with Datsik and Downlink, has very promising verses, but its insanely boring chorus lacks the one thing that it takes music like this to work: actual hooks
In fact, that's precisely what makes The Path of Totality
so interesting. For an album where Korn tries to force 11 "bangers" onto it, 13 if you own the special edition, there is not a single hook or even a memorable riff to be found, save for the one that drives "Illuminati". It's very clear upon listening to the album that ego was the one thing that was driving it. I would particularly love to sit in on what lead to a song like "Sanctuary", because while there are indeed worse songs on the album than it, I would just love to hear what lead to a conscious decision to make a song so BORING. The worst thing that any electronic album can be is boring, and it's also the worst thing that Korn could do. In the past, even Korn's worst songs had something that made them stick out in a way or two, and the fact that an album so drowned in overload and lacking subtlety could be so boring and void of any personality is a phenomenon that is one that doesn't come often. Especially when it's coming from Korn.
FAILURE, FIASCO, or SECRET SUCCESS: