KoRn is a band whose influence is something that the vast majority of metal fans choose to be blissfully ignorant of, which is a disservice. After all, it’s thanks to KoRn’s debut self titled in album in 1994 that the infamous subgenre of Nu Metal blossomed with it’s rancid, cardinal petals, shredding through the metal scene with it’s brutal and bastinade rhythms, bludgeoning drum work, and ear shanking guitars textures that ran like blood over the delirious song mixes. But the riff writing and deliciously demented progressions weren’t the only qualities the band had to offer; Johnathon Davis’s animalistic, neurotic and quirky vocal delivery managed to breathe life into the Metal scene, straddling techniques such as yodelling, scat singing, off key pitching and outright snarls and growls akin to death metal screams to create a sound that was truly unique. Behind every gnarly wall of guitars and thick percussion lay Johnathon Davis’s voice, to which are agnate to the sounds of a schizoid, murmuring madman concealed behind a bush, stalking his prey whilst maliciously licking his salivary lips. And yet, lying behind a vocal delivery that screamed lunacy, struggled a tortured mind entrapping years of unresolved misery, all of which tragically unravels on the closing track Daddy, a dreary and desperate attempt from Johnathon Davis to exorcise his childhood demons in the form of music. It’s the most blunt portrayal of the trauma experienced by victims of sexual abuse and rape in music history, and on top of that, the disturbing child-like themes and frustration present on the rest of the album are conceptually tied together. Groundbreaking, influential and emotionally devastating, KoRn self titled feels like an album that should be celebrated by Metal fans universally…
…except the album is almost impossible to separate from the posterior failures of not just KoRn’s subsequent discography, but also the Nu Metal genre as a whole. A decaying corpse for around two decades, Nu Metal is a subgenre home to some of the worst music ever conceived. A genre that was once promising and imbued with creative energy eventually collapsed into an abyss of talentlessness and inauthentic commercialism, failing to innovate and refusing to evolve in even the slightest way. To give a few examples, Limp Bizkit’s debut album Three Dollar Bill, Y’all $ was a youthful, wacky collection of Rap Metal bangers that although limited in objective talent, was not limited in infectious energy and passion. However, as Limp Bizkit’s career continued, their likability waned under the eroding force of Fred Durst’s egregious egotism, resulting in the infamously awful lyricism that has become synonymous with the Nu Metal genre. Slipknot is another band that initially benefitted from their fresh sound, churning out influential works like Iowa and their self titled record, before plunging into mediocrity. Most damningly, however, was the emergence of bands like Disturbed and Papa Roach, two of the most derivative and insulting bands to bloom in the mainstream.
None of this is helped by the fact that KoRn themselves have continued to paint themselves into a corner artistically, spewing the musical equivalent of creative swill for the last twenty years. After releasing five great to good records (KoRn self titled, Life is Peachy, Follow the Leader, Issues and Untouchables), 2002 saw the band at their most beloved, with a solid legacy cemented. They’d fully explored the sonic and textural confines of their funk infused brand of Nu Metal, and thus had a lot to celebrate. Unfortunately, the band, with the release of 2003’s Take a Look in the Mirror, would embark on a downward spiral bankrupt of originality, defiling their legacy with a series of dreadful albums. What sounded menacing and fresh in the nineties started to rot into the realm of corny stiffness and laughability in the 2000s, with TALINM retreading the same ground but to diminishing returns. Any attempts to experiment were blighted by the band restricting themselves musically, like on See You on The Other Side and Untitled. And yet, worse was on it’s way; KoRn 3 Remember Who You Are was a desperate attempt to reignite their classic sound that only drew more attention to their obvious absence of talent and creative energy, and The Path of Totality saw the band at their most shameless, lazily and disastrously shoehorning Dubstep into their Nu Metal soundscapes.
But since the release of 2013’s The Paradigm Shift, KoRn have been slowly clawing back their quality, surely absconding their worst days and heading towards something grander. This isn’t to say KoRn released anything remotely essential in the 2010s; The Paradigm Shift and The Serenity of Suffering were both exceedingly drab efforts, and 2019’s The Nothing was bemoaned with some of KoRn’s weakest song writing yet. However, Requiem is easily KoRn’s greatest album since Untouchables; but again, that’s not to say that it’s anything special.
But whilst Requiem doesn’t do anything to reverse the severe amount of damage done to KoRn’s legacy, it is a collection of relatively strong, inoffensive Alt metal cuts, with one of KoRn’s greatest songs submerged in there, though it’s not worth a full track break down by any means.
Containing nearly 33 minutes of KoRn’s best material in twenty years, Requiem starts off on a decent note with Forgotten, a song that begins with these raw, skittering drum stick clicks and trudging electric guitar that is ultimately nothing new for the band, but reminded me of the twinkling drum symbol hits of the opening track of their self titled effort, Blind, though admittedly not as effective. On Forgotten, KoRn plays with the same quiet loud quiet dynamics they’ve been toying with since their nineties output, yet the vocal switch ups in the pre chorus and the attempt at a soaring delivery in the chorus is appreciated. A tightly structured song, Forgotten portrays a creatively renewed KoRn, a depiction that ensues for most of the record.
Let The Dark Do the Rest is easily one of KoRn’s best songs in a long time, beginning with a ringing that’s reminiscent of circus, before launching headfirst into the thickest wall of electric guitar we’ve seen on a KoRn song in a long time. The drums penetrate flawlessly through the noise, creating an enviable groove. Johnathon Davis gives my favourite vocal performance of the album; it sounds euphoric and clean, a contrast from Davis’s usually raspy, erratic and snarling voice on almost every other KoRn song. The switch ups from blissful guitar walls to Davis’s growling is a marked step up from KoRn’s usual dynamic applications. The bridge on the back half of the track is dispirited yet dulcet, with the slower tempo helping to punctuate Davis’s lyricism. The worst part is that Let the Dark do the Rest doesn’t end with the lingering vocal note at the end of the bridge, instead there’s a couple of seconds of silence before launching into the chorus, a poor structuring choice considering the song had already hit it’s emotional climax. However, that doesn’t distract from the fact that this song is easily a highlight.
Unfortunately things take a dreadful turn on Start the Healing, a song that begins with an interesting riff made up of a syncopated and stuttering melody that’s helped with a fade in, only to have this stop and start riff drone throughout the whole song. Unlike how the guitars and vocals coalesced on the previous song, The instrumental distracts from Davis’s vocals, and whilst the chorus attempts the same euphoria as the last song, the stiff guitar work and hammy singing destroys any impact the song might have had.
The third single that was released before the album, Requiem’s fourth song Lost in the Grandeur is a monotonous cut, but is blessed with lyrics pertaining to feelings of inadequacy, or to be more specific, about feeling the need to project an image of perfection and grandiosity, only to lose yourself in the process. Lyrically stronger than the majority of KoRn’s more recent works, the song is easily carried by it’s sentimental. Additionally the powerful drums at the beginning of the song are absolutely killer.
There is nothing else to discuss about Requiem. Though one last thing I’d love to note is that I’m thrilled to hear Davis’s scat singing in the closing track. Indeed, There are moments of greatness sprinkled throughout amongst the trim track list, though KoRn’s weak use of dynamics and lack of innovation drag the album down. Still though, it’s an improvement over their last eight albums. Perhaps the context of the pandemic and Johnathon Davis’s physical and mental struggles have given him the drive necessary to write better music. Either way, for the first time in a while, I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds for KoRn’s music.