Saturday, June 17, 2017

PRETEEN WASTELAND: Korn - Follow the Leader

I'm gonna keep the introduction to this latest series as short as I can.  Basically, I've mentioned here before that I used to be a huge nu metal fan, way back when I was a kid.  And I mean like, a little kid.  My mom bought the subject of the first review, Follow the Leader by Korn, when I was eight years old, pretty shortly after "Got the Life" was released as a single if I remember correctly (November 1998).  I remained a fan of the style pretty heavily until roughly 2003, when I entered high school and got really into thrash metal, grew my hair out, and suddenly thought all my old favorite bands were false metal garbage.  I've always said Metallica was my favorite band from birth until about age seventeen, but the next like six spaces were all nu metal bands (and Pantera) from 1998-2003.  So, now that I'm older and wiser and better at fart jokes, I got the itch to revisit all these old favorites to see if they actually sucked as much as I claimed.  Were there some gems hidden in the scene that I disowned purely out of snobby elitism?  Or were they genuinely terrible and I just came to my senses?  Only one way to find out, right?  It's interesting to me because I have precisely zero nostalgia for this music.  It's not like professional wrestling or something, where I can look back on it and recognize how stupid it was, but also still mark the fuck out when watching highlights of the 1998 Hell in a Cell match between The Undertaker and Mankind.  Hearing a Drowning Pool song somewhere doesn't make me wistfully yearn for the days when Sinner never left my CD player, on the other hand.  So I'm not going into this with any preconceived notions that I'll still hate everything or that I'll get bitten by the nostalgia bug.  Clean slate, totally blank, let's see what happens.

Also, just for funsies, I've also mentioned several times that the reason my taste in music is what it is at all is because of my mom's influence.  While that's certainly true thanks to her love of metal as a teenager in the 80s, it's not like we jam out Dying Fetus together nowadays or anything.  My taste obviously shot off in a far more extreme direction than hers ever did.  However, we did listen to a crapload of nu metal together during this time, because she fell in love with it just like I did.  So, in the interest of offering a second perspective and playing into my love of gimmickry, every one of these reviews will also contain a section written by my mom! 

Anyway, enough jibber jabber, let's explore my personal Preteen Wasteland....

Please stop following

When I got the idea for this new series, I knew right away that I was going to start with Follow the Leader.  This was the album that started it all for me, the catalyst that sent this angsty white kid down the path that pretty much every angsty white kid tread back in the late 90s.  You see, I missed the initial boom of nu metal.  Most people were introduced via that infamous "OOOWRE YUUUU REHDAAAAAY??" that opened "Blind" on Korn's debut in 1994, the album that truly solidified nu metal as a genre.  I didn't.  I wasn't aware of the earlier examples that still get some positive press like Korn's early stuff, Limp Bizkit's first album, Coal Chamber, Deftones, Sepultura's worst album, Soulfly, none of that.  I only came around when Follow the Leader roared onto the airwaves and turned the brooding, rap/funk infused wangst fodder into household knowledge.  So this is, to me, the only logical place to begin this journey.

And my god it's so much worse than I remembered.

You see, I know a lot of metal fans that still apologize for Korn's debut, and say that their early stuff was pretty good in its own way.  Maybe it's nostalgia talking for those people, I dunno, I haven't revisited their first album, but I can tell you that their third album here should be a blast of nostalgia for me, but it's really just reminding me that it's really repetitive, droning, and loaded with filler.

I'll just get the positives out of the way quickly, because there are a few.  Megasmash single "Got the Life" is pretty endearing for the dorky disco beat and the fact that the verses run on one of the few vocal lines with some sense of urgency.  And I can definitely give the band credit for keeping a creepy atmosphere over the top of several tracks.  "Freak on a Leash" and "Dead Bodies Everywhere" do this the most overtly, with the toy piano in the latter making several appearances, and the album as a whole uses a lot of off-putting high pitched squealy sound effects and guitar lines that lend a bizarre feeling of distance from the whole thing.  Like you're experience isn't really happening, the listener is just a sideline spectator watching the band experience a mental breakdown.  Granted, it'd be much more enjoyable if the music was all that good, but hey, the peripheral creativity is there.

The base music, on the other hand, is extremely repetitive and bland.  Four years and two albums removed from their debut which helped define nu metal, the basic premise wasn't novel anymore.  We've already heard the moderately funky downtuned grooves, we've already heard the pained groans from Jonathon Davis, we've already gotten two looks into his fractured psyche, it's been done already.  The band needed to do some new shit to keep things fresh, and to their credit they did obviously try to do so, with two heavily hip hop influenced tracks featuring, ya know, actual rappers (Ice Cube on "Children of the Korn" and Tre Hardson on "Cameltosis") and the aforementioned unabashed pop-with-heavy-guitars approach of "Got the Life", but the majority of the album just falls into the same tropes they'd made their signature.  Granted, you could argue that they're just playing to their strengths and should be afforded some leeway since they more or less invented the niche, but the bottom line is that it's not very fun to listen to.  The opening track, "It's On!" grinds along at a lethargic pace and just never feels like it's going to end.  The whole album is pretty grindy in that sense, and I don't mean like grindcore.  Yeah there's no influence from Napalm Death or Carcass here, I mean it in the literal sense.  It feels like metal-on-metal parts clanging and rubbing together, gears offset and jumping, like there's a rock stuck in your bike chain and it's just slowing you down and making this irritating KGKGKGKGKSHHSHSHSHSHSH noise.   It's why after all these years, "Got the Life" stands as pretty much the only song I can sort of admit to liking, because it's very kinetic and fluid, it feels like it's actually fucking going somewhere, unlike "Pretty" or "BBK" which just sort of sluggishly flop around in place like a two ton fish out of water.

But really, as lame and go-nowhere as tracks like "Pretty" and "Seed" are, very little strikes me as offensively bad.  Except of course for "All in the Family".  The track is ostensibly just a diss-rap battle between Jonathon Davis and Fred Durst, which should already sound like the worst thing ever, but holy lord after revisiting this for the first time in fifteen years I'm fully realizing precisely how inept the whole thing is.  It's simple, there's a hip hop beat behind Durst and a fat chugging guitar behind Davis, but the actual lyrics and rapping are legitimately some of the worst out there.  I'm not gonna trash all the homophobia and gay jokes they throw at each other because I mean whatever, rap has a very hypermasculine culture behind it and Durst is the embodiment of every shitty frat boy you've ever met so it's not really surprising.  But holy shit get a look at some of these lines.

"Too bad I got your beans in my bag
I'll check you out punk, yes I know you feel it.
right now I'm all it kid, suck my dick kid, like your daddy did.
I'm known for eatin' little whiny chumps like you.
Nappy hairy chest, look it's Austin Powers!
Look at you fool, I'm gonna fuck you up twice
You pumpkin pie, I'll jack-off in your eye.
You love it down south, and boy, you sure do got a purdy mouth."

Oh my god just fuck already.  Apart from both dudes having as much flow as a plinko machine and most of the disses just being weak as fuck (Oooooh your favorite band is Winger and you look like a dancer in a Hanson video (ignore the fact that Hanson didn't have backup dancers so I mean come on what the hell is the joke here?)) there is just so much homoeroticism bubbling up under the surface here that I wouldn't be shocked to see the two in the studio recording this song while longingly gazing into each others' eyes while inches away from each other.  They feel it, they run their fingers through their chest hair, they'll fuck twice, they'll finish on each others' faces, it's all there.   Man I'm know I'm just reading too much into a joke song thrown in to bloat the album further because it was apparently a law that every nu metal album needed to be over an hour long for some utterly unfathomable reason, but holy shit guys.  Just kiss.  Get it over with.  We can all see it.

Other than that, it's just a really boring album to sit through.  Overall it's pretty awkward and full of weird choices that jut make no sense.  Davis' signature gibberish scatting can be entertaining here and there but at this point it's just a dumb gimmick the band throws to the front of everything.  There's a random bagpipes part on "My Gift to You", "Children of the Korn" gives such a stark contrast between Davis and Ice Cube, with the Korn parts being awkward and clunky and going nowhere with no flow while Ice Cube occasionally pops up and utterly decimates him in terms of skill.  Even if these are, all told, pretty weak verses for Ice Cube, it's obvious which one of these dudes raps for a living.  Between the plodding non-riffs and whine-screaming there's just very little actual substance here.  In full honesty, when I got the idea to start this series and started revisiting these old albums, I kind of knew ahead of time which ones I would probably like and which ones I would probably hate, (and don't worry, there is some variety in my reactions, otherwise I wouldn't have bothered doing this if I was just going to shit out nine reviews picking on easy targets for a metal fan), and I genuinely thought that this was one of the ones I would find a lot of stuff to like in it.  I like funky grooves, I like albums with a genuine sense of anguish from people who are genuinely mentally unstable and don't know how to deal with it apart from the cathartic release of music (City by Strapping Young Lad is one of my all time favorites for this exact reason), I like individual parts that I remember this album having, but the whole package is so much worse.  It's less than the sum of its parts by a wide margin, which is pretty terrifying considering most of the parts that make up the album don't even work on their own. 


MAMA BASTARD SEZ: "1998 – As a divorced mom of three little boys I discovered new music mostly on the radio. Living in the suburbs of Chicago afforded us the ability to find radio stations with alternative and heavier rock music. It was on one of those stations that the song “Got the Life” caught my attention. I have two types of music that I fall in love with, one is for the lyrics, the other is for the music. Most of the later, I am not even sure of the lyrics. Korn is one of these bands. The first time I heard "Got the Life", I fell in love with the opening bass line and then the way Jonathan Davis sounds like carefully controlled psychosis. Like he is teetering on the edge of a breakdown. Then he moans out some gibberish and BAM the music slaps you in the side of the head and the psychosis breaks free. Perhaps this was reflective of what it was like to raise three boys, who knows, but it spoke to me. Of course, I had to go buy the CD (yes, people bought rather than downloaded music). Then I heard "Freak on a Leash". The heavy bass, with the super twinkly lines over it, then vocally controlled chaos. "Freak on a Leash", in my opinion, has a bridge 2nd only to The Four Horsemen. I was sold, so what better to do than load those little boys into my car and blast the new CD? The first time we heard "Dead Bodies Everywhere", we were pulling into my place of work (a funeral home) and we were all sold on this magical new CD (even the two-year-old was loving it). The theme of controlled chaos pretty much resonates throughout all the tracks, but to this day, I skip all but those three songs, and "All in the Family", which exudes comedic value and is just offensive enough to amuse me. I have not bought a Korn CD since. 18 years later I had my first opportunity to see Korn live in 2016 at the Chicago Open Air festival. The band killed it live. The band was spot on and Jonathan Davis still personified the controlled psychosis. I was surprised at how metal they were live, as I never considered this to be metal before. I love a good pit and although I am too old, too female and too sober to jump in these days, I love to get close enough to be in danger of being shoved in. I broke my foot the day before this show, but it didn’t stop me from wading through the crowd to get close to the action. For the first time in since 1987, I actually had to fight my way out of a crowd. I will blame my bum appendage for that debacle."

Okay, I can actually totally understand the appeal of the "controlled psychosis" thing.  I'll give Korn that, Davis does sound like he's barely holding it together at times.  I pick on the gibberish parts as a dumb gimmick but after reading what my mom wrote here I do understand that bridge in "Freak on a Leash" having that effect.  He just kinda freaks the fuck out but still sounds like he's trying to keep it together.  Trying to decipher that part without cheating, it sounds something like "Boy!  Somethingarbarheenaraha", like he's trying to complete a thought but just goes stark slavering buggo and starts barking like a lunatic.   His abusive childhood is no secret and there's always that one track (I think "Kill You" from Life is Peachy) that just ends in him breaking down and sobbing.  Whether or not it's all just an act to help give the band an easily recognizable and marketable identity is irrelevant I'd say, because it did indeed become something of a trademark of the band.  I still don't like it, but I certainly get that appeal.  I think it's done better by Strapping Young Lad or another album eventually coming up in this series, but it's there.

Also my mom is hardcore as fuck, working at a funeral home as a metal fan and moshing with a broken foot well into her 40s.  Y'all wish you were raised by somebody that fucking cool.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome start.

    I'll always remember 1994 for a couple of things: Superunknown, The Offspring's best record, and Collective Soul's biggest hit. Other than that I was listening to a lot of Rush and Ozzy's Tribute live album on repeat.

    What a year.

    But yeah, like you I got into thrash (basically, Metallica) in high school, and I think Follow the Leader was my first nu-metal album, though I heard the first two Deftones records before.

    I recently listened to Follow the Leader and I liked pretty much all of it. Is their debut better? Yeah, of course. And I think Issues is their best album.

    So yeah, thanks for starting a series like this. I look forward to reading the rest.