In the year of Britney Spears, the members of angst-metal quintet Korn may have considered what they could do to accommodate teeny-pop's sunny Zeitgeist. Their answer: nothing. The Southern California band's fourth album, "Issues" (Epic/Immortal), is just as belligerent and tormented as its predecessors. There must be some market for Korn's intransigence, however, since the disc entered the Billboard charts at No. 1, selling nearly 600,000 copies in its first week.
Actually, the band did make one concession: "Issues" is available in both regular and "clean" versions. Yet simply purging the four-letter words from such songs as "Trash" and "Dirty" is hardly sufficient to pacify Korn's turbulent vision. The quintet, several of whose members have said they were victims of childhood abuse, has issues that can't been laundered that simply. Korn retains its vision of a life that is barely preferable to death, whether things are going well or not. "Every time I get ahead/ I feel more dead," announces singer (and occasional bagpiper) Jonathan Davis in "Dead."
Korn follows grunge's recipe of woozy verses and hammering refrains, but its philosophy recalls hard-core punk's. The album's centerpiece, "Wake Up," finds meaning only in the band's solidarity: "You are my brothers/ Each one I would die for/ Let's just take the stage/ And remember what we play for." It's telling that, in one of the rare moments in which Davis isn't contemplating suicide, he extols another form of self-annihilation.
Like Rage Against the Machine's latest album, "Issues" was produced by Brendan O'Brien, and both discs balance rich textures and sheer immediacy. Where Rage draws heavily on hip-hop, however, Korn plays punk-metal embroidered with drum loops and trippy melodic interludes. Although both styles are visceral, Korn's is less nuanced, more ham-fisted. That's unsettlingly appropriate, though, for band whose members seem to want to hurt themselves almost as much as they want to punish the world.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8171.)
CAPTION: From the "Issues" CD cover.
CAPTION: The band's new album, "Issues," is available in regular and "clean" versions.
CAPTION: Korn bassist "Fieldy."