Korn Untouchables (Epic, 2002)
After changing heavy music for an entire generation and arguably forever, Korn found themselves at something of a dead end. After following up their legendary debut album with an album that was received with lukewarm praise (don’t shoot the messenger, I fucking love Life Is Peachy) and then capturing people by the million with their breakthrough album Follow The Leader, the Bakersfield band released Issues, the weakest album in their career at that point in time. Having mastered the ‘swell and burst’, ‘pull and release’ dynamic on their first two albums and gone for more melodic pastures on their next two records, Korn had to go back to the drawing board and, in doing so, created one of the most grossly overlooked bodies of work of the 21st Century. Plus it’s well known that it is Jonathan Davis’s favourite Korn album so let’s delve into it.
What is for certain is that this is the most eccentric, musically complicated and out there record Korn ever made. The leading single, Here To Stay, may have carried all of the trademarks of a Korn classic, but from there all bets were off. Make Believe involved Jonathan Davis’ voice being layered and turned into a twisted and tortured symphony of disturbing voices and pain-saturated ad-libs, while the band’s guitar assault throughout the album would go from eerie effects and unconventional build up play to pure savagery in an instant on the likes of Bottled Up Inside, Embrace and one of the album’s standout moments, Thoughtless. Sinister and dark as night, the video for that track would best sum up this period in Korn’s career. The narrative of bullies pummelling a lead character played by Aaron “yeah, bitch” Pauly may have been familiar but the band themselves would play in what looks like a giant space-aged cocoon whilst dressed like goth rock stars from the year 2040. A leap away from the norm and it fitted like a glove.
The making of the record was the most expensive of Korn’s career (upwards of 7 figures) but those extra zeroes and the external work of producer Michael Beinhorn can still be heard today. More excessive than the band’s early days or the forays into dubstep and EDM that would follow, a song like One More Time had its groove element in tact but was swarmed in melody, spooky elements, alternative heaviness that was different to the bombast they’d been famed for and with a chorus to die for.
Perhaps bravest of all, this was an album that saw nu metal’s scene leaders make an album that shit all over the thought that the bands that inhabited the genre were meatheads only capable of playing lumpen, bone-headed music for morons. Patient, deadly and with a surprise waiting around every corner, this is Korn’s album when it comes to showing off just what they are capable of as songwriters beyond “why don’t you get the fuck out of my face…now!”
So why is it not spoken about as one of Korn’s greatest achievements? Well, there’s always the fact that this is a lengthy album that is best enjoyed as a body of work that can lead you into a whole world of innovation, unconventional soundscapes and an album that showcases a sound they hadn’t managed before or since. Only one song is shorter than 3:50 and there’s 14 of them in total so it’s tough going if you’re a goldfish or only like Trash Talk. It’s an album that requires your attention and some time but the pay off is one of the most ingenious albums around. If you want to embrace the darkness and be taken on a gothic noir exploration into the heavier side of JD’s nu romantic mind, that gives you something extra back on every single listen, this is your album.