Korn's ninth album is their "returning to their roots" record. Uh-oh.
Despite being a full decade past its expiration date, completely eclipsed by a new generation of metal acts, nu metal continues to attract a very strong core audience in America. Although their sales have dwindled with each successive record after the 1998 smash Follow the Leader, Korn, one of the subgenre's progenitors, has continued to enjoy unfathomable success. First-week sales of the band's last six albums have rapidly declined, but then again, that's been the case for popular music in general, and while Korn's fanbase is nowhere near as strong as it used to be, they're still a band with a big enough following to still sell 63,000 copies of their new album in the first week. A slim number compared to ten years ago, but these days, that's still good enough to give you a number two spot on the album chart.
The fact that Korn continues to draw this well is more inexplicable than impressive. Ever since the Bakersfield, California band's original-sounding 1994 debut (it seems a lifetime ago that Korn was a somewhat intriguing deviation from the metal status quo) and the admittedly brilliant, nu metal high water mark "Freak on a Leash", it's been a sharp downhill decline, each album sinking deeper and deeper into self-parody. The same boring, down-tuned riffs by James "Munky" Shaffer, Reginald "Fieldy" Arvizu's bass so low you can feel the loose strings vibrating, and singer Jonathan Davis continuing to spout comically self-loathing poetry like a kid a third his age. Not only does nothing change whatsoever on their ninth album Korn III: Remember What You Are, they've reunited with producer Ross Robinson and simplified their approach even more in an effort to give their career a good kick in the pants. So, now that the majority of American Korn fans have already scooped up this record, what about the rest of us? Is it worth our time?
One of the best things about metal is that it can be a genre that embraces being stupid better than any other. A lot of this stuff can be big, and bombastic, and wonderfully dumb, but since day one Korn has sucked every ounce of fun out of metal music, coming across more as a depressing encounter group for spoiled suburban teen males than anything else. Say what you will about the simplicity of their music; this is horribly depressing, often hateful stuff, and the trend continues on Korn III. "Why don't you just leave me alone!" howls Davis petulantly on lead-off track "Oildale (Leave Me Alone)". Oh, we want to, Jon, trust us. Atop a soupy, bottom-heavy mix by Robinson that render's Shaffer's guitar work barely audible, Davis carries on like a child throwing a tantrum in the cereal aisle: "You're such a piece of shit! Nothing but a heretic! Sucking the life out of me! Fucker you're done without me!" Charming. And the bile doesn't stop spewing for a good 45 minutes.
Remarkably, there are a few scattered moments that listeners can actually latch on to, that is if they can make it through "Oildale" without tossing their stereo or iPod out the window. New drummer Ray Luzier provides a bouncy groove beat on "Fear is a Place to Live". Davis can be an engaging vocalist when he tries, and his sneering melody on the pulsating "Let the Guilt Go" is an admittedly strong moment. Out of the album's eleven tracks, the contagious "Pop a Pill" is the one keeper, Shaffer and Arvizu launching into an effective, creeping riff as Davis does his usual emotional breakdown shtick, but with a hook that manages to hold our attention. Never mind the fact that it resembles late Faith No More, more than anything else.
That's as good as Korn III gets, though. All the other songs bleed into one another to the point where it's difficult to tell any of them apart, Shaffer's riffs unimaginative, and Davis's whining going from overdrive to complete overkill: "Move On" ("What the fuck do you want from me / I am just a human being"), "Lead the Parade" ("This shit will fucking take my life"), "The Past" ("Can't you see the pain in my eyes?"), "Never Around" ("I am weeping / Just searching / Love is never around"), "Are You Ready to Live?" ("I am ready to die"), "Holding all These Lies" ("I am nothing / I am disgusting and so much more"). This isn't catharsis, it's caterwauling. If you and your friends like to beat each other up in mosh pits while whimpering that daddy didn't hug you enough, then by all means, wallow along with this miserable, miserable record. The rest of us will keep on enjoying life. Hell, the fact that I don't ever have to hear Korn III again is enough to put a smile on my face.