For more than a quarter of a century, Korn have been one of metal’s most influential bands. Their ground-breaking meld of downtuned seven-string guitars, hip-hop heavy beats and lyrics that revealed bleak, personal demons not only ushered in the nu metal era and turned them into superstars, it has inspired at least two generations of musicians from a variety of genres. Here are 10 artists that learnt more than a few tricks from Bakersfield’s finest.
So enamored was Max Cavalera by Korn’s 1994 debut album that he roped in its producer, Ross Robinson, to see if he could repeat the trick for Sepultura on 1996’s Roots. Not only that, Max got Korn’s Jonathan Davis to lend his unmistakable vocals to the song Lookaway and drummer David Silveria to add percussion to Ratamahatta as well.
We can’t suggest that Sepultura wouldn’t exist without Korn, but when Max left the band soon after and formed Soulfly he basically spent his first few albums repeating the tricks that he learnt from the Roots years. Which, considering this was Soulfly’s most commercially successful period, ended up working out pretty well for them.
Yes, Slipknot have commercially outstripped Korn at this point, yes, they borrowed just as much from extreme metal, and, yes, they were only really a nu-metal band for one album. But there is no way the Iowan’s success coul have happened if Korn hadn’t kicked that door open for them first. In the years prior to Slipknot, Korn had managed to popularise savagery, nihilism, hatred, pain and concrete heavy, gut punch riffs. Slipknot might have pumped that sound full of steroids, but ultimately, they were still working from a blueprint created half a decade earlier.
They may have originally been inspired by classic death metal and modern hardcore, but deathcore pioneers Suicide Silence branched out further in 2011 for their third album, The Black Crown. Given they grew up when nu-metal boom was at its peak, we really shouldn’t have been shocked that the band added the groove-laden boom’n’burst dynamics of classic Korn on songs such as O.C.D and You Only Live Once. It’s not like they even tried to hide it either, bringing Jonathan Davis into the studio to croon his way through Witness The Addiction. They sealed the deal by covering Blind on the digital album Live And Mental.
Not an obvious one, but vocalist Jeremy Bolm of angular LA post-hardcore band Toucé Amoré has previously spoken to Metal Hammer about how his exposure to Korn represented an “awakening to heavy music”. The band put their money where their mouth is by bringing in Ross Robinson to record their fifth album, 2020’s Lament.
Although the nu metal bounce and muddy riffs are nowhere to be seen, Bolm himself has obviously taken Jonathan Davis’ emotionally open and honest blueprint to lyric writing and appropriated it into a very different style of music. Davis’ decision to open up and reveal everything about his life with such unflinching honesty led to albums detailing his own childhood trauma, that in turn led to Bolm penning 2016’s heartbreaking Stage Four album, which saw the vocalist wrestle with grief in the aftermath of his mother’s death from cancer. It’s hard to imagine a heavy band approaching that kind of topic had Davis not normalised such intense subject matter years earler.
Employed To Serve
One of the breakthrough British artists of the last few years, ETS have charted an interesting career trajectory. Starting life as a wildly unpredictable hardcore band that owed more to Converge or The Dillinger Escape Plan than they did Limp Bizkit or Linkin Park, their love of late 90s nu metal has become blindingly apparent over the course of three albums. By 2019’s Eternal Forward Motion, almost all of the odd time signatures and caustic hardcore riffs had been eradicated and replaced with more straightforward, hulking grooves. The band themselves are more than happy to admit their influences too, with vocalist Justine Jones telling Hammer that “Nu-metal isn’t a dirty word to me, I grew up loving Korn. They’re the best, and anyone that tells you any different is wrong.”
Dubstep super-producer Sonny ‘Skrillex’ Moore may well have a claim at actually influencing Korn himself after working with them on their 2011’s The Path Of Totality album. Jonathan Davis was so inspired by the genre that he even developed his own J-Devil DJ persona, and supported Korn with dubstep sets whilst the band were touring the record.
Ultimately, though, Skrillex owes more to Korn than they to him. He admitting that he was massively inspired to get into music as a young man by the rise of nu-metal, going on to form emo band From First To Last a few years later. Davis has spoken of how the DJ was such a big fan that he jumped at the chance to work with them, and subsequently turned into “a little kid” when he came into the studio to help them create the tracks Narcissistic Cannibal and Get Up! during the Path Of Totality sessions.
Not so obvious, granted, but hear us out for a minute. At one point in the late 90’s Korn were the biggest band in popular music, all by utilising a darkly gothic sound, an image that took sportswear and twisted it into something unusually creepy and with a singer who poured his demons out in his music via oddly unconventional scatted whispers. Fast forward 20 years and the biggest musical artist on the planet is Billie Eilish, an artist with a penchant for gothic darkness, baggy sportswear and expressing herself inner thoughts on her mental health and night terrors through a series of quiet, breathy raps. See, when you put it like that… basically the same thing innit?
Eric Whitney, aka Ghostemane, has made a name by using industrial and nu-metal influences to help create his own distinct and twisted version of trap. While the shadows of Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails loom largest over his work, it’s undeniable that there has been plenty of Korn in his diet too. Just take a listen to songs like Nihil or Inside from his 2018 album N/O/I/S/E and tell us that his slow, quiet creeping drawl that turns into a furious, rapped bellow doesn’t remind you of a certain Mr J Davis, Esq.
Since rising to prominence as YouTube performance artist, Poppy has dipped her toe into many different genres. There’s no doubt that the deep dive she took into metal culture for third album, I Disagree, borrowed heavily from Korn’s signature sound. The quiet-quiet-loud dynamics she employed throughout the album is a nu-metal staple, most of the songs are far more reliant on groove than pace or technicality and, perhaps most crucially of all, her juxtaposing of childlike, nursery rhyme-esque melodies alongside thick, crunching guitars is pure Shoots And Ladders.
Sometime during the last decade, nu metal ceased to be a source of embarrassment.
In the last decade the influence of nu-metal has all but ceased to be considered embarrassing for the current generation of bands. The love from the aforementioned Employed To Serve and Suicide Silence is one thing, but the last five years has seen the likes of Cane Hill, Vein and Ocean Grove release albums that have taken the glory days of nu-metal and the primary, sole in some instances, starting point for their sound. The hottest ticket in this particular scene known as nu-core is Pennsylvanian quartet Tallah, their debut album Matriphagy is a brilliant and genuinely refreshing reworking of that 90’s sound. The band themselves wear their love of Korn openly on their sleeve, with even the albums cover art of a blood-stained toy rabbit disturbingly reminiscent of the Bakersfield legends early sleeves.