Before we proceed, it should be said that Korn’s 1994 self-titled album, and thus this article, tackles themes of homophobia and abuse, and while care has been taken to address these issues with respect, some amount of discretion may be necessary.
Nu Metal is often heralded as the bravado-laden runt of the metal subgenres, cast aside as a relic of the late 90s and early 2000s or as music for the angry white boy. But, with three words, a ride cymbal, and the strained vocals of a mortuary worker, Korn spat a new, disgusting life into the metal scene in 1994, asking the world, and many teens’ worried parents “aaarreee youuuu reaaaaadddyyyyy?”.
The answer to this question seemed a resounding yes, with Korn selling over 100,000 copies of their debut album in their first week, and going on to sell over 2 million copies up until this day. Widely heralded as the birth of Nu Metal, Korn’s influence on the metal scene is unmistakable, and their 1994 debut album would introduce important staples of the Nu-Metal subgenre that would remain relevant even now.
‘Blind’ opens the album and is a macabre introduction to Nu Metal. The plodding and melancholy vocals of the verses contrast heavily with the tortured chant of the bridge. The wailing distorted guitars alongside the captivating vocal style of Jonathan Davis, create, to borrow a phrase from Peep Show‘s Super Hans, a “powerful sense of dread” which many Nu Metal collectives would build upon. Slipknot‘s ‘Scissors’ and ‘Prosthetics’ from their 1999 debut album utilize this style brilliantly, resulting in nothing short of audio horror.
Davis’ erratic, often incoherent shouts and outbursts of gibberish, first notable on ‘Ball Tongue’, form the base for what would later become a heavy influence of rap on the genre, and something that Korn would themselves build upon with tracks like ‘Twist’ and ‘Freak On A Leash’. This rap influence would grow to be a crucial part of Nu Metal, with Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit’s 2000 albums Hybrid Theory and Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavoured Water, fusing metal and rap and tying the two genres together like never before.
A powerful force throughout the album is the dark and brooding baselines. ‘Need To’ is underpinned with a grimy slap-bass sound that reminds a modern listener of L.D 50 era Mudvayne, especially on a track like ‘Dig’.
Where Korn’s debut album truly created Nu Metal, however, was in their unapologetically open and emotional representation of dark and traumatic personal experiences, and the use of music as a coping mechanism. The archaically-named ‘Faget’, a song touching on Davis’ struggles with his sexual identity, and the bullying he was subject to, as a result, takes that now established oppressive atmosphere, punctuates it with some incredible breakdowns, and turns a middle finger to the face of bigots and bullies. “All my life, who am I?!” Davis screams, and with it ties Korn, and Nu Metal, forever with the oppressed, the downtrodden and the people who just need an escape from the world.
‘Daddy’, the elephant in the room, the horrible dive into the depths of a mind tortured, is an uncomfortable listen, undoubtedly. A harrowing recounting of the abuse Davis suffered as a child, Daddy stands as a testament to the raw emotion, rage, pain and anguish that shapes Nu Metal. Korn, and Davis, gave everything that had to this album. No stone was left unturned, and no topic was off the table. Jonathan’s very real tears close the album, effectively introducing the world to the real anguish and raw emotion that Nu Metal encapsulates.
These themes, while uncomfortable, and tragic, are intrinsically linked with the soul of Nu Metal. Later offerings like Disturbed‘s ‘Down With The Sickness’, take this same idea of reframing tragedy and overcoming trauma through music. Nu Metal was a crutch for many in the late 90s and early 2000s, and for a genre so often attributed with depression and teen angst, it’s these raw and unfiltered outpourings that prove that Nu Metal was, and forever will be, more than simply songs for white boys with anger issues and energy drink addictions.
When Korn breathed their 1994 album into the world, they laid the foundations for a sub-genre that would go on to divide and conquer. Many hated Nu Metal, but many loved it. Korn, Slipknot, Disturbed, Deftones and many many more bands made their names in the genre, and while they branched out and grew up with their audiences, Nu Metal formed a large part of the teen counterculture of the 1990s and 2000s. No one band had as large a part in cultivating the sound, look and feel of Nu Metal as Korn has, and no album encapsulates exactly what Nu Metal is better than their 1994 self-titled banger.
Korn is available through Immortal Records. Check out the video for ‘Blind’ below!