When Korn announced their new album The Nothing, along with the knowledge of the tragic death of frontman Jonathan Davis' wife Deven in August last year, we were under no illusions that their new material wouldn't be insanely dark.
Davis has always channelled his deepest, darkest angst and aggression into the band, and that's part of why it resonates so heavily with listeners – the sheer emotion, anguish and honesty expressed within the music.
This new record, named for the mysterious force in 1984 children’s movie The NeverEnding Story, certainly pulls no punches when it comes to dealing with tragedy, loss, death, grief and all those nasty, negative daemons us humans come face to face with during our lives.
In fact, it's so bleak and heavy, The Nothing gives some of Korn's earlier works – namely Issues – a run for its money.
We've dug deep into the record, track by harrowing track, to bring you the most thorough review possible, and we've even thrown in some insights from the frontman himself...
1. The End Begins
Bagpipes wail out, and we’re immediately in old school Korn territory. Jonathan Davis begins to sing in a low, slow, paranoid voice: ‘What did you mean, what did you mean, now they are free and they are coming after me’.
More vocal tracks are introduced, before JD breaks down in fits of desperate crying. This is the raw emotion shown on Daddy, crossed with the drama of Issues intro Dead, and it’s totally. Fucking. Harrowing.
“I’ve always said I’m not going to keep doing bagpipes every fucking record because it’s expected, or like when I scat,” Jonathan tells Hammer. “I’m like, ‘Fuck no’, because it won’t be special no more. So yeah, I wanted to do a bagpipe intro, kind of inspired by listening to the Issues record that has one. All the pain and crazy shit I went through is in those interludes.”
All the “pain and crazy shit” includes losing his mother and wife, and his grief is writ large across this song and this most personal of Korn records.
The second single to be dropped off The Nothing, Cold was the track that really caught fans attention, with many declaring it should have been the first to be released. It's easy to see why: it is fucking heavy and undeniably old school from the get-go.
The track showcases each member's talents, digging into the band's earlier sound yet still managing to stay vital and fresh. Jonathan Davis really goes for it on the vocals with this one, displaying some of the most diverse singing in his career thus far – his classic melodies and distinctive scatting juxtaposed against some seriously seething growls and wailing that's so spot on it could be mistaken for a synth.
It's the perfect balance of Korn-shaped funky chugs, crushing, frenzied breakdowns and powerful, stadium-ready choruses.
3. You'll Never Find Me
The first single to be released off the album, and its easy to see why they went with it for the fans' first taste of their new record. The intro is indisputably Korn, with a radio-friendly chorus that sounds almost 90s, boasting an eerie almost grunge quality. The classic frenzied breakdown near the end of the track is a nice contrast to the rest of the track's mellow vibe, which turns out to be the calm before the storm – the entire track perfectly encapsulates a feeling of real turmoil and anguish.
4. The Darkness Is Revealing
Echoing the propulsive riffs of songs like Rotting In Vain from last album The Serenity Of Suffering, and peaking with Jonathan’s rapid-fire vocal delivery in the bridge, this song is a candid document of grief. It’s like hearing a diary read aloud, as Jonathan asks the difficult question: ‘How does one start healing, the darkness is revealing.’
“That’s one of the questions in my mind,” he tells us. “You just take it a day at a time, it never really does go away. I mean, now I don’t cry every day. I was crying every day forever. But now, a lot of crying, and that helps at least get whatever’s out, but it never really, truly goes away. It sucks.”
One of the heaviest songs in the recent history of Korn’s back catalogue. Starting with a classic sounding, swirling, mud thick riff attack from Head and Munky, it’s an intense, smash in the face to open the song.
Jonathan Davis then enters and quickly showcases the death metal growl he has been perfecting over the last decade, before the catchiest of choruses knocks you sideways.
The track's real MVP moment is definitely the mid-section where an industrial riff batters you and JD winces ‘God is making fun of me, he’s up there laughing can’t you see’ through gritted teeth. Heavy shit.
6. The Seduction Of Indulgence
At just under two minutes long, this could be viewed as an interlude in the album, built on a military style drum tattoo and a whole bunch of unsettling electronics. Davis croons for the first minute before seething ‘Killing me, raping me, touching me, stabbing me’ under his breath as the song climaxes. Short, and certainly not very sweet.
7. Finally Free
A more mid paced stomper, that begins with some odd guitar tones before a snaking groove and a melancholic vocal line from Davis starts the song in earnest. Davis calls and responds with himself before a huge chorus, the kind that the best of the second half of Korn’s career has been built on, enters.
Just when you feel like you’ve got a handle on what Finally Free is a hulking breakdown comes in and the whole thing drops like an atomic bomb. A brilliantly dynamic banger.
8. Can You Hear Me
Can You Hear Me is quite simply spine-chillingly haunting. What a tune. Those lyrics!
"Can you hear me/'Cause I'm lost and I may never come back again/And while my heart keeps holding on/I know I'll never be the same again"
The lyrical content itself is enough to give you goosebumps, whether or not you are aware of Jonathan's tragic loss.
The personification of grief as "it", a child, during the verses, makes it all the more harrowing – this feeling, this ghost-like child, is ever-present and has a life of its own that the vocalist is separating it from himself to try and nurture it and avoid the pain it brings him.
The reality hits during the chorus, the grief is too much, unavoidable.
While the melody itself might be one of the most formulaic and radio-friendly on the entire record, its still no doubt a powerful ballad that displays the band's ability to create diverse music while still staying authentic and recognisable.
9. The Ringmaster
Davis has always had a whole bunch of different characters in his vocal range, here we get a high-end register yelp as The Ringmaster opens.
Musically it’s not a million miles away from the sort of cut we got on 2013’s The Paradigm Shift album, with some typically idiosyncratic cymbal work from drummer Ray Luzier. Mid-song Davis loses his shit and goes on a scatting rant, which is always a treat and serves as the songs highlight.
10. Gravity Of Discomfort
Starting with the elastic thump of Fieldy’s bass, we are immediately thrown into something resembling Untouchables-era Korn. Grooving, driving and lucid.
‘Hate, dominate, everything I’ve got on my plate’ croons Davis during the chorus, like much of the album the singer appears to be working through a lot of the problems that have dominated his life over the past year.
This is Korn bulking up the sound of their past and working with their own catharsis, and is as glorious as that sounds.
Again, Davis is on top form here. His pre-chorus wailing of the things in his head ‘Tearing all my joy out’ is massively affecting. Then a chorus comes in that manages to be both pop-hook catchy and utterly disturbing.
The songs mid-section is where things get really weird, starting with a death metal growl that is juxtaposed with super slick guitar work, before Luzier goes full drum and bass and Davis has a full on break down.
The song closes on a massive climax where Head and Munky’s guitar tones sound as heavy as they did on Korn’s classic self-titled debut and Luzier goes full thrash metal/blastbeat crazy. You’ll need a lie down after this one.
12. This Loss
A proper journey as The Nothing starts to come to an end. The main talking point will surely be the jazz lounge style mid-section which is oddly reminiscent of Happiness Is A Warm Gun by The Beatles, featuring some languid, louche guitar work, some crooning from Davis before Korn dive you straight back into some pummelling groove metal.
It’s a trick they’ve never pulled before in their career, and it’s, frankly, pretty amazing to hear. There’s very little warning of that moment from the songs creeping opening, icy guitar tones and a melancholic vocal hook gives way to a guttural and grinding chorus, with Jonathan barking ‘I wanna take it back’. An undoubted album highlight.
13. Surrender To Failure
One of the slowest songs on the record, and possibly the most difficult listen. Over a drum beat that feels simultaneously stately and anxiety-inducing, Jonathan begins to work towards a kind of conclusion to the record. He talks about being lost, how God already knew what would happen, and his theory that because he’s done good things in the world, he’s been beset by misfortune.
“I felt like I was constantly being hounded and fucked with my whole life because of all the good I’ve done in the world,” he explains. “There’s a lyric in the record where I say: ‘For every good thing I’ve done there’s a price to pay, and the price has left me horrified’. And the record itself is just me dealing with that.”
Ending with the heart-wrenching line ‘I failed… I failed… I failed...’, this is Korn’s most painful album yet, and a testament to Jonathan’s fearless vulnerability and inner strength in the face of tragedy.
The Nothing is out now, grab your copy here. Check out the full story of the new record in Metal Hammer's exclusive interview with Jonathan Davis inside the latest issue.