Review: Korn – ‘Rotting In Vain’

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The Bakersfield boys are back once again with a new record that fuses their raw first-era sound with the more nuanced electronic elements of their two most recent third-era ventures.

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This is a nu-metal track, but let’s start off with a brief discussion of the subgenre’s distantly related EDM cousin: so-called brostep. In 2011, around the time that dubstep wobbled over the Atlantic and into the mainstream via North American acts like Skrillex and Excision, something strange happened. Perhaps it was – as Simon Reynolds thinks – due to the increasing size of audiences, facilitating a move from smaller clubs to larger outdoor venues. With a change of scene comes a change of vibe, and the more aggressive sound complemented that new vibe accordingly. Brostep’s UK originator, Rusko, quickly came to regret his creation, admitting, “brostep is sort of my fault, but now I’ve started to hate it in a way… It’s like someone screaming in your face.” Now, this stateside-landed subgenre had become a sort of Frankenstein’s monster, with its creating Victor blushing remorsefully from across the pond.

Anywho, Korn was quick to realise the potential that this Americanized offshoot presented: namely its face-melting, ear-splitting brutality. Ever the musical pioneers – let’s not forget they pretty much invented nu-metal – they collaborated primarily with the aforementioned North American brostep leaders – plus Dutch outfit Noisia, amongst others – to produce a one-of-a-kind album, The Path Of Totality. A marriage of oddly related styles, this album injected Korn’s sound with a much-needed blood infusion, even if a mere novelty it proved to be. Not entirely successful in the fusing – the climax of Cronenberg’s The Fly comes to mind – it at least consolidated the move away from their somewhat confused second-era. On their next, and most recent album – the modestly-named The Paradigm Shift – they ditched the all-consuming brostep, but thankfully not completely. Hints here and there remain, lending an air of freshness to what is possibly their strongest effort since the seminal Follow The Leader. This tangentially brings us to the song at hand, ‘Rotting In Vain,’ which again retains elements, albeit often buried in the mix, of their brostep adventure.

The video plays like a classic Roger Corman/Edgar Allan Poe picture, although only if he’d had funky dreadlocked Cali-hooligans as his monsters. A powerful and mysterious protagonist emerges straight away, one who incidentally shares a certain je ne sais quoi with Vincent Price, the campy cult hero of the Poe cycle. An ingenious conceit sees him awaken the band one-by-one as they all lie slumbering in different rooms of the house. He blows sharply into a gas mask, his breath shooting into their bodies via a long tube, bringing them all to life. The array of fragmented skeletons that they awaken to harbours – perhaps intentionally – a strong resemblance to those in the dilapidated farmhouse of Tobe Hooper’s infamous 1973 masterpiece The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, although the overall set-up is far too 19th-century gothic to warrant too close a comparison.

But what of the actual music? Well, after a synthy, effects-laden intro, the band launches into a blistering riff that recalls that of early-ish single ‘Falling Away From Me.’ In fact, that’s not all they share: with a clean but spooky guitar riff; a mode-shifting chorus; and lyrics focusing on psychological oppression, the newer track has an eerie déjà vu echo of the older one about it. Nevertheless, that doesn’t detract from ‘Rotting In Vain,’ which sees Korn exploring territory at once familiar yet refreshingly new. That newness, for me, comes from the still-wet residue that their radical brostep chemistry-experiments have left behind, and it promises great things to come on their upcoming album, due for release in October. It’ll be hard to top The Paradigm Shift, but I certainly wouldn’t put it past them.

‘Rotting In Vain’ is out now via Roadrunner Records

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A curmudgeonly Music student who likes to spend his days watching an obscene number of films whilst growing increasingly grumpy with the noise-mongers around him. He has on occasion also been sighted out and about performing with his band Nine Ace Deck, for whom he sings and writes songs. And when not doing either of the above, he takes great pleasure in composing music for the short films of the Wessex Films Society. Make sure to like his Facebook page (above right) to keep up with all the latest ramblings...

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