The A-Z Of Korn

Korn circa 2000
Korn circa 2000 (Image credit: Mick Hutson \/ Getty)

The backwards ‘R’. The dreadlocks. The mic stand. These images alone are evocative of Korn, and that’s before you even hit the play button. The Bakersfield bunch in question took the bouncing, belligerent racket of bands like Primus, Rage Against The Machine and Faith No More and put their own sickening twist on it, thus effectively giving birth to nu metal. While the genre was buried by the bands that popularised it, Korn have survived. More than survived, actually. Thrived. As they prepare for the release of their 12th full-length, The Serenity Of Suffering, and a UK arena tour with Limp Bizkit, we cast an eye back on 26 items that make Korn so unique.

A is for… Autobiographies

Everybody and their dog does an autobiography at some point (even Doug The Pug’s got his own book), so it makes sense that the sordid stories of Korn would be blotted upon page. Bassist Reginald ‘Fieldy’ Arvizu scribbled alongside New York Times bestselling author Laura Morton for his 2009 confessional, Got The Life: My Journey Of Addiction, Faith, Recovery And Korn. Yeah, Fieldy crucified atop bass guitars on the front-cover is ridiculous, but the way he talks about his wife Dana is the sweetest thing since blue Smarties. Guitarist Brian ‘Head’ Welch trumps Fieldy though, having unleashed Save Me From Myself: How I Found God, Quit Korn, Kicked Drugs, And Lived To Tell My Story two years after his 2005 Korn exit; Stronger: Forty Days Of Metal And Spirituality came in 2010 and, following his 2013 reinstatement, Head published With My Eyes Wide Open: Miracles And Mistakes On My Way Back To Korn this year alongside author Carol Travor. Bloody hell, that was a mouthful.

B is for… Brian ‘Head’ Welch

The man has a penchant for awkwardly-titled autobiographies and Jesus, but Korn’s seven-string king hasn’t always been a goody two-shoes; his crippling drug addiction was one of the reasons he originally severed ties with Korn. Instead of banging his head every night, he devoted his time to raising his child, following the path of God and even crafting a solo career and another project, Love And Death. And even if you choose to ignore Head’s wonderful ‘love thy neighbour’ attitude of the past decade or so, you’d still be in awe of him solely for comprising one half of Korn’s signature, call-and-response guitar sound completed by James ‘Munky’ Shaffer. As interesting as some of Korn’s Headless records were, you can’t deny that sense of fulfilment coursing through your ears when The Paradigm Shift dropped.

C is for… Cartoons

Korn’s ground-breaking, arse-shaking single Freak On A Leash came armed with the greatest video: cartoon kids break into somewhere they shouldn’t, a police officer pursues and trips up, everything goes tits up, a bullet frays the nature of reality and vocalist Jonathan Davis has a rap battle with said bullet. Right Now continues the cartoony trend, involving footage from Lloyd’s Lunchbox; our plucky protagonist Lloyd tries to pull his tooth out with the old door handle trick but somehow manages to remove his entire skull. The band also appeared in an episode of South Park, handily entitled Korn’s Groovy Pirate Ghost Mystery – they’re essentially Mystery, Inc. and they end up playing Falling Away From Me. So Korn quite like their cartoons, then.

D is for… David Silveria

Korn’s original drummer served behind the stool until 2006, when he left the band and started running steak and sushi restaurants instead. Seeing as Silveria had bigger fish to fry (geddit?), the band recruited Brooks Wackerman and Terry Bozzio for the Untitled album, roping in then-Slipknot sticksman Joey Jordison to fulfil live duties before Ray Luzier became Korn’s permanent drummer in 2009. Silveria has since been a bit frosty towards Korn, calling Fieldy a “cowardly little bitch”, criticising the band’s post-Follow The Leader output and, most bizarrely, posting on his Facebook: “Korn fans need to flood the Korn site telling them Korn isn’t Korn without the original five!!!” Sure, Silveria’s groove is a vital component in those early Korn records… but they seem to be doing just fine without him.

E is for… Eminem

Eminem and Korn never joined forces at the peak of their respective powers, but they did tag along with Ice Cube and donate portions of their videos to Anonymous’ Omnipotent short in 2014. Around the same time, Davis joined broadcasting maniac Alex Jones to spout conspiracy theories about Obama. Still not as mental as Ministry’s Al Jourgensen telling Jones he was going to star in Glee, though.

F is for… Follow The Leader

While everyone’s got their favourites, Follow The Leader took Korn’s loose, funky metal hybrid and shoved it down the mainstream’s throat. Lead singles Got The Life and Freak On A Leash still refuse to age, while the immortal chorus of Dead Bodies Everywhere remains one of the most eagerly awaited moments through any Korn set. The heartfelt Justin, a tribute to a late fan, proved that Korn still had heart even when they were recording high on drugs with people having sex all around them. Scaling the top of the US Billboard 200 upon its release and having since shifted over 14 million copies worldwide, Follow The Leader was evidence that Korn were most definitely, ahem, here to stay.

G is for… Guest Slots

Following Davis’ hospitalisation due to contracting ITP, a rare bleeding disorder, Korn played Download Festival 2006 alongside a cast of stars. Those who dared step into Davis’ oo-ragga-aggaing shoes were *deep breath*: M. Shadows of Avenged Sevenfold, DevilDriver’s Dez Fafara, Skindred’s Benji Webbe, Corey Taylor from Slipknot, Trivium’s Matt Heafy and, er, Jesse Hasek from 10 Years. It took Taylor a decade to get his fix once more, guesting on the nu metal naughtiness of A Different World from The Serenity Of Suffering. Aside from Taylor, Korn have buddied up with Fred Durst, Nas, Tre Hardson, Ice Cube, Chino Moreno, Cheech Marin and loads of electronic music producers… but we’ll talk about them in a little bit.

H is for… Heptadic Heaviness

The call-and-response. The wobbly vibrato effect you thought was a keyboard. Munky and Head’s seven-stringed assault was one of Korn’s innumerable defining qualities, and it remains one of their most enduring. As soon as that downtuned thudding kicks in, you know it’s Korn; many have tried, but the band’s list of imitators pales in comparison to the genuine article.

I is for… Immortal/Epic

Korn’s home from their 1994 debut until partnering with EMI and Virgin Records for See You On The Other Side and the criminally overlooked Untitled, the Immortal/Epic partnership saw the release of Korn’s ‘classic’ albums. Following their stint on Virgin/EMI, Korn jumped ship to Roadrunner Records for Korn III: Remember Who You Are and The Path Of Totality, flirting with Prospect Park and Caroline on The Paradigm Shift before returning to Roadrunner for their new record.

J is for… JDevil

Jonathan Davis’ EDM alter ego is just as mad as it sounds. If you saw Korn on The Path Of Totality’s tour, then you know. If you missed it: Davis arrived in a gasmask, fiddled with his laptop, removed said gasmask to reveal blackened gums and contact lenses before dancing like a right loon. The average Korn fan might not soil their pants over JDevil’s recorded output, but as a live proposition Davis brings the same feral energy to his dubstep dabbling as he does to his day job.

Jonathan Davis in JDevil mode

Jonathan Davis in JDevil mode (Image credit: Getty)

K is for… Korn Kage

A prop implemented for Korn’s Family Values tour in ’98, the Korn Kage made a brief resurgence for three shows in 2013. Alongside Davis’ ‘The Bitch’ mic-stand (personally designed by the late H.R. Giger, that is), the Korn Kage was an iconic part of the stage show; lucky fans were ensnared in the Korn Kage, flanking the stage as the band played. A bit like what Metallica sometimes do but more gnarly-looking. Korn also teased a song entitled Kage for The Paradigm Shift, but aside from a snippet on their excellent Reconciliation documentary, the Rage Against The Machine-inspired track has yet to moisten ears any further.

L is for… Life Is Peachy

A record that’s oddly dismissed by some as simply ‘the album between Korn and Follow The Leader’, Life Is Peachy met the second-album-blues in a boxing ring and battered it. This is how you follow up one of the ‘90s’ definitive albums – Life Is Peachy opens with the 49 second scat that is Twist, packs an absolute anthem in A.D.I.D.A.S and harks back to the painful, immeasurable nastiness of Daddy with Mr. Rogers and the album’s climax, Kill You. When Korn pull these songs out of their back pocket on tour… have you seen them play Good God?!

M is for… MTV

Back in the days when MTV cared about music, Korn were kings. Got The Life’s overblown, stupidly extravagant video proved so popular, it was the first clip to be officially ‘retired’ from the channel’s Total Request Live programme; Freak On A Leash, Falling Away From Me and Make Me Bad’s videos were also given one in the back of the head. Korn’s relationship with MTV even mutated into a competition to design Issues’ cover art and an MTV Unplugged performance. If you’re expecting something akin to Nirvana’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night?, you should probably, well, listen to Nirvana’s Unplugged session. However, if you want to hear Evanescence’s Amy Lee warbling along to Freak On A Leash’s silly, acoustic scatting; if you want to hear the Cure’s Robert Smith whisper “make me bad” with real panache; if you want to hear Korn’s anthemic crunch compressed in the oddest of manners, then their Unplugged outing is for you.

N is for… Neidermayer’s Mind

After the dissolution of Fieldy, Munky and Silveria’s band L.A.P.D, the filthy threesome stole Davis from Sexart and Head from Creep, creating the wholesome, classic-era Korn we’re all so familiar with. Holing up with producer Ross Robinson (don’t worry, we’re doing him in a bit) in 1993, the band recorded their Neidermayer’s Mind demo. And it’s all right. Predictable, Blind and Daddy appear in crude preliminary forms, while some of Alive’s riffs were crowbarred into Need To before the band gave the song a proper reworking on Take A Look In The Mirror. Overall, though, Neidermayer’s Mind is a crude, unfinished work; Korn would perfect their craft the following year, reserving their space in heavy metal’s VIP parking lot.

O is for… One

Take A Look In The Mirror was the dictionary definition of ‘mixed bag’ upon its 2003 release, but the album’s really not that bad. Really. Did My Time, Y’all Want A Single and Right Now are each singles of the most colossal kind, Break Some Off and Let’s Do This Now are metallic gems and the downtrodden, dismal ballad (well, almost a ballad) Counting On Me is a unique prospect in the Korn canon. The album’s final track, the cheekily titled When Will This End, finishes in a blanket of silence before treating us to Korn’s live retelling of Metallica’s One, which is now plastered onto the end of Shoots And Ladders during their gigs. We’d love to hear them play it long enough to get to the solos, mind.

P is for… Path Of Totality, The

Yeah… it’s still weird, even five years later. Surely you remember Korn storming Skrillex’s set at Coachella 2011, leading the bemused crowd through Get Up! before having a crack at Blind and pissing off. The Path Of Totality’s collaborations with DJs and producers like Downlink, Kill The Noise et al. was less hit and more miss and fall into a pile of online hate mail, but at least Korn had the fucking nerve to try it. Narcissistic Cannibal remains an iron-clad classic and, as The Serenity Of Suffering phases out modern electronics in favour of the creepier effects of yore, The Path Of Totality remains an anomaly within Korn’s catalogue and rock music in general.

Q is for… Queen Of The Damned

Interview With The Vampire was great. Even Tom Cruise was great. Queen Of The Damned… not so much. The (sort of) sequel concerns a vampire fronting a rock band and it’s worth watching just for Davis’ cameo as a ticket tout. The songs played by Queen Of The Damned’s blood-sucking band were composed by Davis and Richard Gibbs – he did music for Battlestar Galactica, he’s all right. Davis’ recording contract for Korn prevented him from warbling over the top of said songs, so he roped in a few mates; Disturbed’s David Draiman, Marilyn Manson, Chester Bennington from Linkin Park and more all had a pop. Stick Queen Of The Damned on if you’ve seen literally everything on Netflix and have nothing left to watch.

R is for… Ross Robinson

Korn arguably created the nu metal genre and a generation of copycats, but it also birthed a monster: Ross Robinson. He’d worked with Fear Factory beforehand, but Korn’s debut popularised the ‘Korn sound’ and, as such, made Robinson the hottest calibre of shit. The super-producer clocked out on Follow The Leader, serving as Davis’ vocal coach but nothing more. Twelve years later, he returned to the desk for Korn III: Remember Who You Are. Luzier’s takes were constantly interrupted by Robinson, who decided to kick the drummer’s kit and shout at him for a week or so; Davis’ wife was sat in front of him during takes, at Robinson’s request, amidst other torturous devices that sent Korn’s frontman into a depression. While the crackling energy of early Korn will never be recaptured, Robinson’s horrifying inclusion ensured Korn III: Remember Who You Are was a zero-bullshit, no-Pro Tools confirmation of the band’s longevity.

S is for… Serenity Of Suffering, The

Munky said The Paradigm Shift was gonna be a proper Issues and Untouchables throwback. Nah. This is it. The Serenity Of Suffering is a bit of a belter; the opening salvo of Insane and Rotting In Vain is reminiscent of the aforementioned period, while Davis’ unhinged, savage guttural vocals have been perfected in the past few years; were Korn to split up, he could definitely burn all his sportswear and have a go at death metal. The Serenity Of Suffering sees Korn rejuvenated and fully focussed following Head’s reinstatement and Davis’ relative absence during The Paradigm Shift’s conception.

T is for… Tour!

We touched on it earlier, but Korn’s Family Values tour was an absolute beast in its heyday. The original jaunt had Orgy, Limp Bizkit, Ice Cube and Rammstein all supporting Korn. Just imagine that. Rammstein supporting Korn. Anywhoo, the package was a key component in getting the nu metal ball (tongue) rolling; 1998, ’99, 2001, 2006 and 2007 all bore witness to a Family Values tour, lineups spanning the likes of Trivium to Ja Rule, Primus to Walls of Jericho. The tour returned as a one-day affair in 2013 at Broomfield’s First Bank Centre, but that upcoming Korn/Limp Bizkit tour has the potential to be ’98 all over again if Bizkit turn up and give it some.

U is for… Untouchables

It’s the best Korn album. It just is. Aside from packing one of Korn’s bounciest singles in the form of Here To Stay, the band’s fifth LP is brimming with invention. Wake Up Hate is a bubbling pot of squelching, electronica-drenched bile; Davis’ vocal on Beat It Upright doesn’t stop at tingling your spine but rather snaps it, garnishes it with riffs and licks it clean; the slower, moodier showings on Hating, Thoughtless and No One’s There are a different breed to the emotional missives from the first two records, but impactful nonetheless. Untouchables’ pitch-perfect delivery is alleged to have cost $750,000, but estimates go up to $3 million. Well.

V is for… Voodoo Doll

That iconic ragdoll adorning Issues’ cover was transformed into an officially merchandised teddy and has been imitated the world over, its cutesy, ‘please love me’ face subject to merciless bootlegging. Still cute, though. If you’re after something a bit beefier and can stomach forking out, Korn’s Untouchables lineup got a makeover from Gruntz Figures and Hot Topic in 2002. Steer clear of eBay unless you’re loaded.

W is for… We Care A Lot

Celebrating three decades of destruction, Metal Hammer roped in some of our favourite bands to cover, well, some of their favourite bands. Being immeasurably influenced by Faith No More and massive fans of the band, Korn have had a demo version of We Care A Lot kicking about since 2003. They polished it off and gave us a shiny new version, and what a birthday present it was – preserving the charm and parodic nuance of the original, Korn booted the classic track into 2016 with the subtlety of disasters, fires, floods, and killer bees. Davis also appeared on The Enabler, a track from original FNM vocalist Chuck Mosley’s solo album Will Rap Over Hard Rock For Food.

X is for… Xmas!

Korn’s cover of Kidnap The Sandy Claws popped up on 2008’s Nightmare Revisited soundtrack: a playful, alternative tribute to Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. It was the first time the band recorded with Luzier behind the kit, but not the first time they’d gotten festive; Christmas Song, a warped rendition of a yuletide classic, is a B-side from their debut while the ridiculous Jingle Balls pops up on the All Mixed Up EP.

Y is for… Y’all Want A Single

According to Munky, Take A Look In The Mirror’s seminal moment was born when Korn’s management said, “We would really like to have a smash hit single, man, can you dig it?” The result of this exchange, the anti-everything Y’all Want A Single, is 197 seconds long and contains 89 F-bombs. That’s an average of one fuck every 2.21 seconds. Hot Dog, eat your, er, hot dog out.

Z is for… Zeeland High School, Michigan

Just before Follow The Leader stomped over mainstream culture come 1998, Zeeland High School’s assistant principal Gretchen Plewes suspended poor student Eric Van Hoven for wearing a Korn shirt. That’s it. “Indecent, vulgar, obscene and intends to be insulting,” is what Plewes said of Korn, resulting in the band filing a cease and desist order against her and the school; free Korn shirts were given away outside the school, with local policemen even handing some out. Hopefully Zeeland High School has learnt to chill out since then – it’s not exactly the Jesus Is A Cunt shirt, is it?

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Alec Chillingworth

Alec is a longtime contributor with first-class BA Honours in English with Creative Writing, and has worked for Metal Hammer since 2014. Over the years, he's written for Noisey, Stereoboard, uDiscoverMusic, and the good ship Hammer, interviewing major bands like Slipknot, Rammstein, and Tenacious D (plus some black metal bands your cool uncle might know). He's read Ulysses thrice, and it got worse each time.