It was the 1990s. Glam metal had fizzled out, black metal was infecting Scandinavia, and Pantera were trying to keep the ‘heavy’ in heavy metal at a time when grunge was becoming a phenomenon. Over in the hip-hop world, gangster rap was entering its zenith thanks to genre defining releases like Nas’ ‘Illmatic’ (1994), Biggie’s ‘Ready to Die’ (1994) and 2Pac’s ‘All Eyez On Me’ (1996). When the golden era of grunge died with Kurt Cobain in 1994, five musicians from Bakersfield, California took a chance and launched one of the most disruptive genres in metal’s history – nu-metal. Korn were unlike any other band at the time – groove laden, hip-hop-influenced metal with sickening personal lyrics and saddening wails. Korn would go on to blanket MTV, pack out stadiums, lose a guitarist, lose a drummer, collaborate with dubstep artists, and do songs with rappers like Ice Cube and Nas. Twenty-five years into their career, Korn retains the same lineup (except the drummer), and continue to release new music.
As the godfathers of nu-metal launch their 13th album, ‘The Nothing’, on September 13, there’s no better time to take a look at the downs and ups of a mighty discography.
12. The Path of Totality (2011)
Korn were the band to popularise the merging of hip-hop and metal, so it’s no surprise they eventually tried to flip conventions again, 17 years after their debut. Their emergence was enough to make some metal purists wince, but mixing nu-metal with dubstep with artists like Skrillex pushed even Korn loyalists to the edge. In a vacuum, ‘The Path of Totality’ isn’t bad, but time goes on, and time isn’t kind to this experiment.
11. The Paradigm Shift (2014)
‘The Paradigm Shift’ sees Korn shake off much of 2011’s EDM influence and move to a more modern nu-metal sound, which is more palatable than ‘The Path’. Prey For Me kicks the album off with a bang and Never Never is a decent anthem, but it’s not enough to compete with the gems in their catalogue.
10. Untitled (2007)
2007’s ‘Untitled’ has a good level of creepy industrial cranks and twists. The riffs are memorable enough and the songwriting is solid. Pushed along by tracks like Starting Over, Bitch We Got a Problem, Evolution and Hold On, Korn do command attention, but unfortunately they lose it on many of the other tracks.
9. See You on the Other Side (2005)
Korn made a very cleanly produced record in 2005’s ‘See You on the Other Side’. The tracks all follow a similar formula but that’s not a bad thing, for the album did spawn several memorable cuts like Twisted Transistor, Throw Me Away, Open Up, Coming Undone and Tearjerker.
8. Life Is Peachy (1996)
‘Life Is Peachy’ is a contentious record. Some love the erratic nature, emotional instability and vulgarity. Others struggle to latch onto a theme. And of course, it spawned the single A.D.I.D.A.S., which was both a teenager’s favourite acronym to snigger at and the brand of clothing the band famously wore in the early days. But tracks Good God and No Place to Hide are dragged down by the likes of Kunts!, which is embarrassing shock value stuff, and Wicked, which is not so hip (hop).
7. Korn III: Remember Who You Are (2010)
Korn get back to their best in 2010 – anguished vocals, crunchy guitars, clunking bass and inventive songwriting. Messed up songs like Pop A Pill, Let The Guilt Go and Are You Ready To Live? bring the angst back and that’s when Korn are in their element.
6. Untouchables (2002)
‘Untouchables’ doesn’t have as many ‘hits’ as the rest of the top-ranking albums, but Here to Stay, Thoughtless and Alone I Break have enough power to push this record above others in the back catalogue. Thoughtless is a timeless song about bullying and Alone I Break is one of the best monologues Davis has committed to record.
5. The Serenity of Suffering (2016)
‘The Serenity of Suffering’ took many by surprise. Just when critics were counting on another ‘Paradigm Shift’, the crew showed the world why they deserve a special place in metal history. JD’s vocals are back to their best and Munky, Fieldy, Head and Ray play their instruments with a new fervour. Insane, Rotting in Vain, Black Is the Soul, A Different World and Take Me all combine to make this Korn’s best ‘modern’ album.
4. Korn (1994)
Korn’s self-titled release deserves a high rank in this list, but unlike many other metal publications, we’re not giving this the number one spot. Yes, it was the first nu-metal album ever released. Yes, it had a massive impact on artists to follow. However, the Korn sound is still in its infancy here. Davis’ wails are spot on, but his gutturals are still developing, and Munky and Fieldy haven’t found their signature guitar sounds just yet. Songs like Blind, Clown, Faget and Shoots and Ladders are classics, and of course, Daddy takes the cake for one of the most messed up songs ever written.
3. Take a Look in the Mirror (2003)
In 2003, Korn released one of their most popular albums, ‘Take a Look in the Mirror’. It’s slickly produced and spawns memorable tracks Right Now, Did My Time, Everything I’ve Known, Alive, and of course, the strange but endearing Y’All Want a Single. This is the time when many newer fans jump on the Korn bandwagon.
2. Issues (1999)
At number two in this list, ‘Issues’ is as well known for its cover art as it is for its music. In the same year that Korn plays Woodstock, they release an album that further refines their sound and gains a new legion of fans. Tracks like Falling Away from Me, Trash, Beg for Me, Make Me Bad and Somebody Someone are still close to many fans’ hearts.
1. Follow the Leader (1998)
‘Follow the Leader’ is Korn’s best album. It isn’t as groundbreaking as their first, which introduced the world to nu-metal. It isn’t their most experimental. It is, however, groovy, resentful and eerie. And that is the Korn sound (crudely boiled down) that nobody can replicate.
If someone hasn’t heard tracks like Got The Life, It’s On!, Dead Bodies Everywhere, Pretty and Reclaim My Place, you can be damn sure they’ve heard Freak on a Leash. Perhaps their best known song, it also summarises the band. Korn is a freak on a leash. The kilts, hip-hop metal, HIV tattoos, scat, bagpipes and unapologetic anger and sadness are what they’re willing to share with the public. Imagine what they don’t share.