When you listen to this C.D., make sure you remember the year it came out: 1994, when nu-metal WAS still new. Jonathan Davis and Company popularized and essentially created this genre and gave birth to so many other bands. Korn are to nu-metal as Nirvana are to grunge: they weren’t the first ones on the scene, but their respective genres wouldn’t be the same without them.
Speaking of Nirvana…no, Korn didn’t “kill metal.” In a way, they actually helped save it. You see, grunge was the genre of choice in the early 1990’s. There were a few metal bands (i.e. Prong & Megadeth) who remained, but heavy metal was more-or-less dead during that period. Then, around 1994, it was time for grunge to disappear. This may be because bands like Nirvana & Soundgarden broke up, or it may be because bands like Helmet and Korn formed. It may not be the heaviest music around, but nu-metal is a lot more metal than grunge was.
Korn do combine elements of Helmet and Rage Against the Machine, but (for the most part) this album had a very original sound. Head and Munky get by without soloing (as does every nu-metal band), because they are two of the most talented axemen in nu-metal. Their bottom-heavy, downtuned guitars (another Korn innovation) rumble and crunch.
Now, with two guitarists, one bass player (which, granted, is usually inaudible), and a catchy drummer, one might think this is a fairly typical nu-metal band. That’s where Jonathan Davis comes in. He helps separate Korn from everyone else. Calling him “weird” and “crazy” are understatements. Jonathan, who is supposedly a survivor of sexual abuse, is a true head case who puts his heart and soul into every song (as if he’s reliving that childhood drama). All of these things and more make this album an all-time great. Almost every song is great.
1. “Blind” is Korn’s first-ever single, thus it is their first hit song. And to this day, it may still be their most famous song. It begins with David (the drummer) playing distantly, with light tapping on the high-hats, but as soon as the opening riff begins, it’s an instant classic. It is a simple, but world-renowned guitar riff, which whines a little and pierces the air like a dagger. The other guitarist comes on and initially makes a low beeping noise, but both guitars eventually conjoin, and Mr. Davis lets out a cry of “Are you ready?!” This is followed by a funky groove and restrained vocals. The song builds, and the last verse is highlighted by an ascending yell of “I can see, I can see, I’m goin’ blind.” The songs continues to build, gaining volume and speed. Then, when you’d think there would be a climax… the song pauses (for about a second) and the remainder of the song is light strumming. This whole song is very catchy, and it has good lyrics.
2. I’ve always thought it’s cool how Jonathan can go from calm to insane in the same song, and “Ball Tongue” is a perfect example of that. This is one of the heaviest songs on here, with punching guitars and a famous soft to heavy, calm to crazy song structure. The choruses have yelling and some scat, and Jonathan gets so out of control that he needs to gasp for air. The ending drums sound very raw (they’re always raw on this C.D., but here they sound like pots and pans.)
3. “Need To” has a Helmet-esque stop, start beat and a hip-hop-ish drum beat.
4. “Clown” opens with a dumb little skit, with the band members arguing in the recording studio. When the actual song begins, there’s a good give-and-take trade off between the guitars (which are almost “booming”) and drums. They eventually come together and play, though. Vocally, most of this is sung with an occasional whisper. The choruses are louder, but the real yelling begins during this song’s bridge. Lyrically, this song is about a Korn hater, dressed as a clown, who yelled at the band…before getting pummeled by a security guard.
5. “Divine” has funky staccato riffs, and, near the end, Jonathan goes from a growl to a yell.
6. “F*get” has more stop-start, almost bobbing riffs. Many people perceive this song as a homophobic message, but it is not. It’s about a rumor that Jonathan (who builds to a yell several times in this song) was gay in high school. Evidently, this was not a rumor he was happy with.
7. “Shoots and Ladders” is very creepy. The first minute and twenty seconds is a bagpipe solo, then the guitars begin and Jonathan sings, very ominously, many different childhood nursery rhymes. His singing turns to panting around the 3:35 mark, then he lays down another ascending yell of “Nick-nack, patty-whack, give the dog a bone” (with a background of crunchy guitar riffs and simultaneously playing drums.)
8. “Predictable” opens with a rusty sounding riff, which is only audible in one headphone. This is followed by a bark of “Go!,” distorted and lurching riffs, and thumping drums.
9. “Fake” begins with a fast riff and drum work. Things come down for the verses, which have tame, brooding vocals. But you know it won’t last…the song ends with Jonathan spouting more gibberish and even experimenting with his death metal voice.
10. The guitars on “Lies” aren’t as dominating as usual. There is some swirling guitar noise, but I enjoy the catchy, jazzy drumming and weird growl/belch that Jon lets out.
11. “Helmet in the Bush” has a chugging riff, and more supple crooning (with some whispering) throughout. It ends with a towering, demonic voice, but, for the most part, “Helmet in the Bush” is rather anti-climatic and forgettable. It’s the only track on this album that falls flat, but it is immediately overshadowed by…
track 12, “Daddy.” This song is infamous and has obscene lyrics about the singer’s mother molesting him as a child. The beginning, which is properly and clearly sung, is kind of confusing, because it is an apology to his mother (!) The next part of the song (after the first ten seconds) has almost spoken word vocals, with lyrics like: “Child, you look so pretty…” From that moment on, Jonathan becomes progressively more crazy. “Daddy,” the only song Korn have vowed to never play live, is a personal favorite because by its end, Jonathan has officially lost it. He is now crying the verses. The feelings and emotion on display here are almost indescribable. You just can’t fake this kind of emotion! He is yelling and crying; hurt and livid. The words “sad,” “depressing,” “touching,” and “intense” don’t begin to describe this song. Plus, it is sung with so much conviction, the listener can really feel what he is feeling. The listener is emotionally drained by the time this song hits 15 minutes. At about that time (when there is no more yelling, only sobbing), some female vocals make an appearance, sing for a little bit, and the song draws to a close.
So, this might be the best hard rock/metal album of our time, and the best nu-metal C.D. ever. Most Korn fans think this is their best album, and there are even many people, who aren’t Korn fans, that love this album.
I think there are a few greater metal albums that came out in the 1990’s (i.e. “Vulgar Display of Power”), and there is even another Korn album that I prefer over this one (“Follow the Leader.”) But Korn’s self-titled debut is definitely in my top five for favorite C.D.’s. Part of it’s charm is that it is Korn at their most raw, emotional, stripped down, and pure. If you listen to “Untouchables,” then come back and listen to this, it sounds like two completely different bands.
This album is a must for all nu-metal fans, and it’s probably even essential for casual metalheads. But, if you’re new to the band, even though this might be their finest hour, it isn’t necessarily a good representation of them (since it is so raw). One thing is for certain, however: if you only buy two Korn albums, make sure this is one of them.
Now, if you’re looking for family friendly, light-hearted music, you’ve purchased the wrong C.D. But if you want an incredible C.D. that is a wild roller coaster of emotion, look no further.