Untitled

Korn

Virgin/EMI, 2007

REVIEW BY: Ben McVicker

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/22/2007

So-called ‘nu-metal,’ originally conceived in the mid-90s as a heavier, more Neanderthal alternative to post-grunge and pop, has thankfully met a swift end with the dawn of the 21st century. All but a few nu-metal pioneers have disbanded or faded into obscurity. The likes of Orgy, Limp Bizkit and Coal Chamber seem like a distant, repressed memory in 2007.

Korn, on the other hand, remains an active group, struggling to reinvent itself amid the chaos of shifting pop trends and personnel changes. And their latest effort represents this, as it is an uneven fair with enough moments to make it worthwhile.

Only three original members are still here -- vocalist Jonathan Davis, bassist Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu and guitarist James “Munky” Shaffer -- and the disc is more of an atmospheric, experimental effort than previous outings. Terry Bozzio (Frank Zappa, Missing Persons), substituting for drummer David Silveria, adds a new dimension to the band’s sound on six of the tracks. Davis and Brooks Wackerman (Bad Religion) handle the drumming on the remainder of the album.

Things open on a mixed note. After some carnivalesque introductory sounds, “Starting Over” kicks things off. The song is littered with minor digital sound effects and Bozzio’s drums have a furious, pounding energy to them, adding a nice contrast to the slow, sludgy guitar and bass lines. Davis’s vocals are surprisingly good, switching from a thin, reedy falsetto to an angry, shout-it-out-loud style during the chorus.

Following the promise of “Starting Over,” however, Korn pulls a 180-degree turn. “Bitch We Got A Problem” is a heinous conglomeration of everything abhorrent in the nu-metal genre: whiny, juvenile lyrics geared toward 13-year-olds, ham-fisted attempts at rapping and mind-numbingly pedestrian music. It's enough to make one give up on the disc right away. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Evolution,” the album’s first single, is a tad more commercial than Korn’s usual fare. It’s a simple, atmospheric tune and the chorus has a certain infectious quality to it. “Hold On” is a bit stronger -- the first of the angry songs on the album, the riff has a great bass groove to it, and Davis’s gravel-throated vocals are quite catchy.

The middle of the album is bogged down by a number of weak and inconsistent tracks. “Kiss” is a feeble attempt at a ballad and “Do What They Say” is an odd mix of atmospheric and industrial rock; while some of Bozzio’s percussion is quite innovative, and the chorus is eerie and effective, the heavier sections are out of place and the whole thing never coalesces.

“Ever Be” is by-the-books, detuned riff rock that lurches by at a snail’s pace, though the outro flirts with being interesting. “Love And Luxury,” featuring Jonathon Davis on drums, is a surprisingly commercial number. If I had heard it on the radio, I never would have guessed that it was Korn. It seems out of place on this album amid all the dark and atmospheric material.

Fortunately, redemption comes toward the end.  “Innocent Bystander” and “Killing” both have a certain intensity and coherency that the earlier tracks lack. “Bystander” is the best of the songs with Wackerman on drums, featuring some contorted riffing and a good hook to the chorus as Davis belts out, “I’m the dictator / The motivator / Shut up, shut up / And do it to yourself.” “Killing,” meanwhile, flirts with being progressive at times, featuring some heavy riffing, signature fills from Bozzio and even some guttural, death-metal-esque vocals. The album closes on a great note with “I Will Protect You,” a spooky and meandering dirge highlighted by a stunning one-minute drum solo.

Normally a diverse palette of tunes would be a plus, but in this case, it exposes Korn as a one-trick pony. The heavier songs, with their grinding riffs, dark atmosphere, and singable choruses, are solid and flirt with greatness at times. Sadly, half the album is fruitless experimentation or rehash -- half-baked ballads, angsty rap-rock or aimless riffing. Nonetheless, it is interesting to listen to the band try and achieve a new sound.

This one may prove to be the black sheep of Korn’s discography, with its three drummers and odd smattering of styles, but there are still enough quality songs on the album to warrant a listen. If nothing else, Korn proves that it still has some creative energy left in them after going the route of MTV Unplugged -- a move that had critics and fans alike wondering if they were about ready to join their nu-metal compatriots in the reject bins of music stores across the country.

Rating: B-

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© 2007 Ben McVicker and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Virgin/EMI, and is used for informational purposes only.