Korn will forever be linked with their spearheading of the so-called “nu metal”
movement, a more accessible variation of metal that emphasized hooks and melodies over imposingly dense arrangements or screamed, unintelligible vocals. The band formed in the early part of the 1990s in Bakersfield, California, and originally consisted of five members: singer Jonathan Davis, bassist Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu, guitarist James “Munky” Shaffer, drummer David Silveria and guitarist Brian “Head” Welch.
An Unsettling Debut:
In 1994, the band released their self-titled debut. Korn found Davis expressing his alienation in often-upsetting terms, incorporating low groans and demonic recitations of childhood nursery rhymes to suggest a society’s loss of innocence. His words were matched by the band’s metallic guitar textures, although on a track like “Shoots and Ladders,” Korn also wielded unconventional instruments (such as bagpipes) to unsettling effect. While there was unquestionably an immaturity in the group’s approach to their disturbing messages, Korn set into motion the sound and themes the band would refine during their career.
Picking on Mr. Rogers:
was not a massive success, the band didn’t let its lack of commercial impact inform their follow-up. If anything, 1996’s Life Is Peachy
was even darker than its predecessor. Again, Davis juxtaposed happy childhood images with enraged adult angst, notably on “Mr. Rogers,” a song about the famous children’s television host
. Notably, Life Is Peachy
also brought the band’s interest in rap music to the fore with their cover of Ice Cube
’s “Wicked.” Despite its hostile, moody material, Life Is Peachy
hit the Top 10 of Billboard
’s album chart, suggesting that there was an audience for Korn’s brand of misanthropy.
Korn Hit the Mainstream:
Korn made their breakthrough on 1998’s Follow the Leader
. Though still working in a metal vein, Korn further emphasized hip-hop elements in their music – particularly with their rhythm section and keyboard sound effects – to produce a rap-rock amalgam of the two genres. Davis was still angry on Follow the Leader
, but his tortured howls were smoothed down slightly by the brighter hooks in songs like “Freak on a Leash” and “It’s On.” Signaling the ascendance of the nu-metal/rap-rock era, Follow the Leader
also included a duet with Fred Durst, the frontman of Limp Bizkit
, the period’s other significant rap-rock group.
Family Values Tour:
With Follow the Leader
a major success, Korn launched a festival concert series called the Family Values Tour that year. Hoping to bring together the best rap and metal acts, the first Family Values Tour featured Korn, Ice Cube and Limp Bizkit. Since 1998, the tour has been an almost-annual event, taking its longest break between 2001 and 2006. Subsequent editions have included Puddle of Mudd
, Stone Temple Pilots
, and collections of live performances from the tours have been released as CDs and DVDs.
Capitalizing on Success:
Now embraced by the mainstream, Korn took full advantage, releasing their next album, Issues, only 15 months after Follow the Leader. Although a commercial hit as well, Issues lacked the spark that made Follow the Leader such an artistic leap forward. Focusing less on rap-rock and staying true to their metal roots, Korn didn’t necessarily break any new ground on Issues, though that probably helped on the charts, as three singles, such as “Falling Away From Me,” enjoyed strong airplay.
Korn in a Shifting Musical Landscape:
Korn wouldn’t release another new album until 2002. By the time Untouchables
hit shelves, the mainstream music landscape had shifted away from nu-metal toward moody, atmospheric rock. Reflecting the changing sonic landscape of the early 21st century, Untouchables
completely did away with hip-hop rhyming and rhythms, favoring eerie tones that sometimes recalled industrial-rock artists like Nine Inch Nails
. Korn had lost a little of their late-‘90s popularity, but “Here to Stay” and “Thoughtless” demonstrated the band still had some significant juice on the singles charts.
Going Back to the Basics:
As when they put out Issues hot on the heels of Follow the Leader, 2003’s Take a Look in the Mirror came out 17 months after Untouchables. Representing a back-to-basics consolidation of their strengths, Take a Look in the Mirror played like a more mature, sophisticated version of their self-titled debut. Mainstream rock audiences still embraced Korn, but the band’s place in the zeitgeist had long ago been given away to exciting new groups on the horizon. For a band who started off flaunting their shockingly antisocial lyrics, Korn, ironically, had become respected industry veterans.
Before Korn would record their next studio album, three events would occur. The first was that the band released a best-of compilation, Greatest Hits, Vol. 1. The second was that the band ended their relationship with their longtime label, Epic, and moved to Virgin Records. But the most important of all was the announcement that guitarist Brian Welch was leaving the band because of his conversion to Christianity. Taken together, these three developments helped to indicate that Korn had closed the door on one era of their career and were moving hesitantly into a new one.
2005’s See You on the Other Side
found the band flirting with sleek accessibility by hiring the pop producing team known as the Matrix, but the album failed to reverse the gradual commercial decline of the group. Drummer David Silveria exited the band after See You on the Other Side
, and when Korn released their next album, only three of the group’s original members were still on board. 2007’s Untitled
was considered both a critical and commercial letdown.
'Remember Who You Are':
Working with producer Ross Robinson, who had been behind the boards on Korn’s first two albums, the band released Korn III - Remember Who You Are
on July 13, 2010. During that same time, Korn were one of the headliners of Rockstar Mayhem
Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu – bass
Jonathan Davis – vocals
Ray Luzier – drums
James “Munky” Shaffer – guitar
Essential Korn Album
Follow the Leader
Even those who object to Korn’s theatric gloom and metal riffs were swayed by Follow the Leader
, a fruitful melding of commercial interests and brooding angst. Or perhaps it was simply that the band members were writing better songs: Tracks like “Freak on a Leash” wouldn’t have had nearly as much power if they didn’t feel like universal examinations of self-doubt.
Life Is Peachy
Follow the Leader
Take a Look in the Mirror
Greatest Hits, Vol. 1
See You on the Other Side
(live album) (2007) (Purchase/Download
Korn III - Remember Who You Are
The Path of Totality