Jonathan Davis is one unhappy dude. As the lead singer of nu-metal group Korn, he’s helmed the band for nine albums and dozens of tracks about pain, sorrow, hypocrites and misunderstood underdogs, the unfairness of fame and the stress of trying to please everyone. And though the band’s new album, “Korn III: Remember Who You Are,” revisits those familiar themes, don’t be too bummed: His frustration is all for your benefit.
After years of disappointing albums — like 2005’s “See You on the Other Side” and both 2007’s untitled release and “MTV Unplugged: Korn — it makes sense that Davis and Co. would be pissed off. Their lineup has been in flux since 2003, with original drummer David Silveria leaving the group and guitarist Brian “Head” Welch ditching the band for God (Welch was never replaced, but new drummer Ray Luzier joined the group about three years ago). In the meantime, the kind of angry rap-metal pioneered by Korn and bands like Limp Bizkit has given way to new trends, and no wonder.
But Korn taps into that well of societal frustration on this album, with nearly 45 minutes of 11 tracks that sound like the band did nearly 20 years ago — no synths or layering, just straightforward sound shaped by producer Ross Robinson, who also worked on 1994’s “Korn” and 1996’s “Life Is Peachy.” As a result, the instrumentation is loud, the riffs huge and the hooks practically nonexistent. Each song sounds like the musical embodiment of a gushing wound, with oodles of emotional pain, aggressive guitar lines and smashing drums.
And though the lyrics sometimes sound as if they were swiped from an angst-ridden 15-year-old girl’s diary, for the most part, Davis is able to effectively transform his discomfort and disconnect with the outside world into emotionally affecting tracks. “Oildale (Leave Me Alone)” shows that Davis’ warbling singing style is still in prime condition as he pleads, “Why don’t you just leave me alone?/My heart’s gonna break from the fall/Holding on to petty things/Feeling all the hurt it brings,” while “Pop Is a Pill” takes a swipe at prescription drugs and other easy routes to comfort. It’s not Oscar Wilde or anything, but as a declaration against what Davis sees as society’s vices, it will do.
In fact, Davis stated in interviews last year that “Korn III: Remember Who You Are” would be a concept album centered on five ideas linked to man’s downfall — pharmaceutical drugs, organized religion, power, money and time — and it’s obvious on tracks such as “Pop Is a Pill” and “Move On,” which discusses one’s helplessness against other people’s expectations, that the ideas stuck around.
But overall, “Korn III: Remember Who You Are” is a fine example of the band’s way of attacking head-on the fears and frustrations that drive them on a daily basis. It’s a return to a form for a band who, for the past few years, has failed mightily at rising out of obscurity — and it’s probable that ditching the Matrix had something to do with it. After all, before they worked with Korn, they co-wrote “Sk8er Boi” for Avril Lavigne. That’s never a good sign.
Written by Express contributor Roxana Hadadi
Photo courtesy Roadrunner Records