2010’s Korn III: Remember Who You Are, as the name suggests, saw Bakersfield California’s nu-metal legends Korn going back to their roots, recreating the sound of their early years, and shaking off a mid-career malaise that saw the band meander through a series mundane and forgettable LPs. Remember Who You Are wasn’t a classic, far from it, but it was a definitive step in the right direction and, in keeping with that spirit of renewal, comes The Path Of Totality.
Inevitably in the process of rediscovering the old Korn, it cannot have been lost on Jonathan Davis, that while the band can still sound like the old Korn, they can’t recreate the hunger or the revolutionary, zeitgeist capturing, rush of their early releases. Simply put, reliving the past may be what Korn do best, but it is entirely at odds with the original Korn ethos.
Not ones to stand still, Korn found a novel solution to this paradox. Use their now fully developed mastery of precision and anthemics and attach them to a defiantly 21st century trend that exists outside the guitar world. In the 90s it was rap, in 2011 its dub step. Much like rap in the 90s, dub step has more than outgrown it’s niche, and 2011 has seen the genre branch out and conqueror the pop (Katy B), soul (SBTRKT) and singer-songwriter (James Blake) fields. So a rock conversion appeared natural enough.
Korn are divisive by nature, two decades into their career and they’re still met with a curious mix of relentless derision and unrepentant hero worship. It’s fitting then that they’ve opted to team up with Skrillex, aka, the most hated man in dub step. Crass, corny, gimmick laden, a sell out… every derogatory slur imaginable has been thrown in the young producer’s direction, but no one jibe has managed to temper the public’s appetite for his slamming mixes.
Album opener “Chaos In Everything” lays it all out there; it’s a warning and an invitation, Skrillex uses the crassest and the most obviously garish swipes and bass drops at his disposal and after two unremarkable minutes it’s Jonathan Davis’ turn to make the taste police sneer as he letches “I’m Gonna To Take You, Gonna Break You, Gonna Rape You, Fuck You Bitch”. Suffice to say it’s an appalling piece of music, but by being so knowingly repellent Korn have effectively unshackled the album from the restraints of expectation, not to mention good taste. If you were expecting mature insights or an avant-garde fusion of the genres, turn the album off now; if you’re after some shameless thrills, you’re in for a good time.
The pace is suitably relentless from there on in, as Korn and their array of dub step outsiders pull no punches, as obnoxious effects are layered atop buoyant riffs, and intricate solos are replaced by a series of pulsating bass drops and ultra-choppy mixes. At times, especially on the most shamelessly up tempo numbers, Korn capture the spirit of invention, as they and their producers throw everything against the wall (literally everything, there’s hardly a second of space on this LP), in the hope that something will stick, and it certainly does on lead single “Narcissistic Cannibal”.
The problem is that the music is so gimmicky, and so devoid of depth and subtlety that the album doesn’t fare well on repeated listens. The novel aspects soon become grating, and the sound is frustratingly maximalist to the point where genuinely exciting verses and lyrics are buried beneath impenetrably annoying layers of bells and whistles. “Illuminati”, one of the better Korn tracks of recent years, is a particularly depressing case; it’s hard to see what purpose producers Excision and Downlink are actually serving. They go to extreme lengths to make the audience painfully aware of their presence, without adding anything tangible to the track.
Frustratingly, Path Of Totality through its maximalist zeal manages to reduce the dub step movement down to a series of obnoxious effects and whirling samples. It’s easy to see why Skrillex is so hated in dub step circles, his production lacks nuance. Gone are the great contrast between minimal silence, sparse percussion and deep bass oscillations; in their place stands a garish and continuous assault that robs Korn of a genuine fusion sound. Still, perhaps Korn were the wrong band to begin with, if understated minimalism was the order of the day, then perhaps Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross would have made better rock ambassadors to the dub step world.
Regardless, while The Path Of Totality may struggle to deliver an artistic breakthrough for the metal genre, it still represents a damn good time. Korn seem to have been saving up some of their biggest hooks for this record, and beneath all that blaring insanity, lays one of the most immediate and enjoyable hard rock releases of the year. This album was always going to be divisive and, while it fails on most artistic levels, it proves impossible to deny. Either switch your brain off, or switch off all together; or in the words of Jonathan Davis on the irrepressible “Get Up!”: “Shut The Fuck Up, Get Up!!”.
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