Korn’s Blind: how a rewritten version of another band’s song invented nu metal

Korn against a colourful backdrop
(Image credit: Mick Hutson/Redferns)

This is where it all started. The groundwork had already been laid with the musical cross-pollination of Faith No More, the rap-rock polemic of Rage Against The Machine and the concrete-heavy grooves of Helmet and Prong, among others. For good or ill though, the movement that would come to be known as nu-metal was birthed with the release of Korn’s monstrous first single and debut album opener Blind.

The sinister, skittering cymbals, that jagged, repeated slash of guitar and its counterpoint riff. Frontman Jonathan Davis growling, ‘Are you ready?’ like an invitation to a riot – which in a way it was. The song launched Korn and a thousand follow-the-leader wannabes into the musical mainstream, but its genesis goes back a little further.

A version of Blind had been written and played live in the clubs in the early 90s by Davis’ pre-Korn outfit SexArt. The band also featured guitarist Ryan Shuck who would go on to co-found Orgy and play with Julien-K and Dead By Sunrise – the latter with Chester Bennington.

“When my first band broke up, I asked my friend Ryan, who went on to join Orgy, if I could keep the song. The way we did it was completely different to the original version anyway,” Davis added. “What was I going for lyrically? I have no fucking idea, brother! This was just a stream-of-consciousness thing; it was all over the place. I think it’s about being blind to your reality; blocking the shit out that you don’t want to see or hear.”

“The riff came from Jonathan’s old band, SexArt,” guitarist Munky told Metal Hammer in 2020. “Head and I saw them play at some little club and I remember thinking the riff was pretty cool – it was in a different key, but still really heavy. It felt like new territory; like something I’d never heard before.”

How much of the song was actually rewritten and how freely it was given to Korn remains a matter of debate. The main songwriter in SexArt was drummer Dennis Shinn and neither he nor Shuck were originally credited for Blind (or Daddy, which also originated with SexArt) when it appeared as the opening track on Korn’s self-titled debut album, released in October 1994.

In a 2006 interview with God Is In The TV under his pseudonym Menace, Shinn alleged that Davis “had actually had stolen the songs that I had written in SexArt”. It was only after the pair took legal action that they were credited on Korn’s Greatest Hits Vol. 1 a decade later, as well as all subsequent releases featuring the songs. “Despite the old drama, ego maniacs and their politics brought forth, I am always very proud of what I wrote, and thankful for Korn, doing such a great job representing the music for all these years,” wrote Shinn on Instagram.

For his part, guitarist Head claims the song had “many writers”, while acknowledging that Shinn and Shuck wrote the original before Korn changed it up. “We came in with the cymbal part, and Munky came up with the 'Dan-a-nan-na,' then we decided after it kicked in we were going to bring it all right down. That was all Korn rewriting it,” he told Head told Metal Hammer.

And whatever the exactitudes of the original composition of the song, there’s no doubting that it was Korn’s delivery – along with the eerie-to-hulking sonics captured by producer Ross Robinson – that made Blind such a visceral gut-punch of a song.

According to Davis, the demo version of Blind was recorded using a purloined guitar belonging to hair metal/shock rock troupe W.A.S.P. "When we were doing the demos, I think it was W.A.S.P. was doing their record or some shit," the singer told Rolling Stone. "So when W.A.S.P. went home at night, we'd sneak in and use their shit, so we'd be up all night. And [Robinson] gave us wheatgrass to keep us up. Yeah, the demo of 'Blind was one of Blackie Lawless' guitars, I believe. Fucking funny, huh?"

The recording process as the band moved onto the debut album was unconventional. Davis has said he recorded Ball Tongue while high on crystal meth and his breakdown at the end of Daddy was genuine – with Robinson having motioned at the rest of the band to keep jamming as the singer wept.

“He's a fucking sadistic bastard, that motherfucker,” Davis told Rolling Stone as they looked back on the 20th anniversary of the album. “I love him, though; don't get me wrong. But yeah, I think it gets him off. He had his way and was digging in to me and pulling shit out. I was already writing stuff about it, but to get the performance out, he really just poured salt on the wound.”

The version of Blind that made the album, ushering in one of the most impactful debuts in metal history, as well as serving as the lead single, was reworked once more from the cut on the Neidermeyer’s Mind demo. It was also a slowburner. Initially released as a promo single, it never bothered the charts and the album never rose above No.72 on the US Billboard 200 chart. It made a big noise in the underground, however, and served as an introduction to Korn and their new breed of metal.

"It was a powerhouse, that was such an important song for us, we started playing it around Los Angeles, and we always opened with that song, because we were saying 'Get ready, because this is a new thing, this is a new sound, you're going to be seeing some freaky looking dudes going nuts onstage!' Head recalled.

By the time the end of the century approached, Korn were global stars who transcended the metal ghetto and Blind had taken on its own monstrous life. The band’s set at the infamously chaotic Woodstock ’99 event was one of the weekend’s highlights, providing a safety valve outlet for an increasingly agitated crowd. It was one of the moments that didn’t descend into outright anarchy but the energy was immense throughout – starting with the response to that instantly recognisable intro.

"I remember the intro," Davis says on the Trainwreck: Woodstock '99 documentary. "We're walking out, I come walking out and I see that fucking crowd. I'm like, 'What the flying fuck?'"

Speaking of the sheer volume and energy of the crowd, he continues: "When you see it with your own eyes it's just ten times more shocking… I look over and I see just waves as the sound travelled all the way to the back… there's no drug, there's no nothing on this planet that can give you that fucking feeling of having a crowd in your hand like that."

More than two decades on from that and three from its original conception, Blind still stands as an all-time classic and a seminal moment in metal history.

Paul Travers has spent the best part of three decades writing about punk rock, heavy metal, and every associated sub-genre for the UK's biggest rock magazines, including Kerrang! and Metal Hammer