Korn make a move towards electronica - and it has worked well for the metal veterans.
Korn: The Path of Totality
The Path of Totality
The former black-clad darlings of the American nu-metal scene, the California quartet Korn, released a string of multimillion-selling albums in the late 1990s and early noughties, but their commercial profile has steadily declined over the past decade. In recent years, the band's efforts to reinvent their brooding, bombastic sound have included bagpipes, kilts and other comical digressions. Last year's Korn III album took them back to garage-rock basics. But this ear-bashing sequel strikes off in a bold new direction, recruiting producers from the heavy end of electronic dance music to help render these midlife metal veterans relevant for 2012 and beyond.
Most of their collaborators come from the dubstep genre, the floor-shuddering dance music style built around churning, chest-rattling bass and thunderous 140bpm rhythms. Born in London's vibrant club scene a decade ago, this mutant off-shoot of techno and drum 'n'bass has now spread virally to become a kind of globalised underground sound with one foot in the mainstream - Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Snoop Dogg have all dabbled. The risk here, of course, is that Korn end up looking like creaky old-timers desperately trying to be "down" with the latest youth trends. But their dubstep dalliance has a kind of consistent logic, given that the original nu-metal blueprint was a fusion of heavy rock guitars and hip-hop rhythms.
The Korn singer Jonathan Davis has already been widely mocked for hailing this album as a groundbreaking new chapter in music, forgetting that fellow hybrid acts including The Prodigy, Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson and Pendulum have all been mixing hard-rock guitars with electronic beats and earth-quaking basslines for years. It does not help his case that the dubstep makeover feels gimmicky and cosmetic on some of the lesser numbers. Kill Mercy Within and Burn the Obedient, both collaborations with the Dutch breakbeat trio Noisia, are fairly traditional Korn creations with a light, electro-punk makeover. Likewise, the horror-movie psychosis of Illuminati, featuring the Canadian studio boffins Excision and Downlink.
In fairness, maybe it takes a bigger ego with more commercial clout to challenge Korn's creative dominance in this cross-generational creative partnership. Which may explain why the best tracks here are those featuring Skrillex, aka Sonny John Moore, the 23-year-old producer and remixer widely credited with introducing the superheavy dubstep sound to the US pop mainstream. On his three collaborations, Moore manages to twist Korn's metal-bashing guitars and layered vocal roars into vivid new shapes without sacrificing their power or momentum as doom-laden rock epics.
Chaos Lives in Everything is the first of the trio, its monster-truck basslines and walloping beats cradling a mountain range-sized chorus while Davis shifts fluidly between vocal styles, from staccato bark to windswept moan to ferocious growl. Another potential stadium-rocking anthem in the making is Narcissistic Cannibal, a sleek excursion into Depeche Mode-style electro-gothic territory, its darkly shining melody clothed by Skrillex in futuristic cyberpunk armour. But the boldest of the three is Get Up!, a vivid slab of skull-throbbing industrial noise-rock complete with chainsaw guitar riffs, sky-punching singalong chorus and a deconstructed midsection that breaks itself down into shimmering sonic splinters.
While they may not have quite made the groundbreaking masterpiece they seem to believe, Korn deserve credit for taking such a bold detour so deep into their career. There is even a playful blast of bagpipes during Bleeding Out, the final track. The Path of Totality could have been an embarrassing misfire, but a dose of electroshock therapy proves surprisingly effective at re-energising a stale nu-metal formula. The patient responds well to treatment. Even if this album is a one-off experiment, it feels like a largely successful one.