It seems to me that this album’s relative lack of commercial success can be attributed to confusion. “Confusion” is the term I think fits best when describing the general reaction of fans. Many people didn’t quite know what to think when Untouchables came out. It was highly anticipated, if I recall, and it certainly wasn’t what people expected. So as a result, this is one of the most divisive Korn albums – ask three people what they think of it. One will hate it and yell “sell out!” Another will love its progressive tendancies. Still a third won’t know what to tell you. And probably won’t listen to the album anymore. After all, nu metal fans aren’t best known for their patience.
The album itself is a patchwork amalgamation of catchy pop-metal, industrial sludge, experimental creepiness, and trademark Korn aggro grooves. The production is slick and round and the songs aren’t really reminiscent of any sound Korn has had in the past. It is creative and unique in Korn’s catalogue. I’m sure many filler fans were disappointed that this wasn’t Follow the Leader Part Two – but going backwards is a real quick way to end your career in music (as we are seeing with many a mediocre nu metal band that is slipping through the cracks now.) Most of all, this album took risks. Even when the risks don’t work out, you have to give them credit for being bold and foreward-thinking. And, one thing that is important to point out, Jonathan’s voice is incredible here – his time spent with a vocal coach payed off big time on Untouchables.
The best songs on this album are the songs that sound absolutely nothing like anything Korn has ever done. My favorite song on this album would probably have to be the ethereal, beautiful (yes I said “beautiful”, at the risk of immasculating myself) “Hollow Life.” This song proves that there is more than one way to be heavy, as it draws you in and sends creeping sensations down your spine. The grand synth chords and heartwrenching “melody” contrast with the the dissonant power chords chugging underneath, to frightening effect.
Hollow Life isn’t the only song worth mentioning on this album; the slow disco “Here to Stay” is a great opener and single. It’s not the deepest song Korn has written but it’s fun, it’s heavy, it grooves, it’s catchy, and doesn’t sound derivitive or cliche (like some other more recent Korn songs I could mention.) In fact, all of the singles off this album are great songs. “Thoughtless” raises the emotional bar about ten steps with a compelling and melodic chorus. As usual, Jon’s lyrics aren’t exactly timeless poetry, but they have the strange power to invoke your sympathy regardless. Then “Alone I Break”… well, it’s a suicide song. And a really good one: these are some of the most honest, simple, least pretentious suicide lyrics I’ve ever seen. Which makes the song kind of scary, to be honest. The tune is haunting (and of course the video is bizzare, but strangely appropriate.)
Some other impressive non-single tracks include the meloncholy “Hating”, the exceptionally heavy and misanthropic “Beat It Upright”, and the worthy closing track, “No One’s There.” I’ve attempted to fit all of these songs on homeburned ‘best-of’ cd’s and they represent the most promise for Korn’s future with their sentimental melodies and intriguing sonic textures. “No One’s There” is in fact probably my favorite song here behind “Hollow Life”, as both songs take an uncharactaristic approach to Korn’s familiar emotional intensity.
Even the so-called-’mediocre’ tracks have their moments. The somewhat predictable aggro track “Bottled Up Inside” has some cool harmonies and riffs in the chorus. The groove of “One More Time” is deffinitly listenable, if not necessarily a highlight of the album. “I’m Hiding” is mostly lukewarm but has an amazing chorus.
The two most annoying songs for me would have to be the Static-X-ish moshing track “Embrace”, and “Wake Up Hate” which sort of like Marilyn Manson-meets-Ministry-meets-… well, Korn. Even though I don’t particularely like either of these two songs, I approve of the chances the band took in writing them. Wake Up Hate in particular resembles nothing else Korn has ever done or has done since. I don’t think the industrial shoe fits on Korn’s feet, but I would rather be disappointed with the chances the band took than the chances the band didn’t take.
This may very well be the last great Korn record… but if that turns out to be true, it was a good way to go out. Despite it’s shortcomings, I strongly recommend this album both for devote fans of the band and casual listeners… it stands as a monument to what Korn once was: a beacon of innovation and creativity in a mostly shallow and predictable genre of music.