Out of the small town of Bakersfield, California, in the early nineties, came a sound. A faint whisper at first, it grew in force and intensity with time, unhindered by the yapping mouths of politicians and parents alike. It rang in their ears. It plagued their minds. It genuinely terrified them. The voice, talking in low-tuned rhythmic tones, spoke for a generation that would have no more of modern America and its leaders. A generation fed-up with lies, violence and greed from their own society. It grew and grew as more and more people realized the veracity of its claims, and adhered to its cause. The politicians grew fearful, and attempted to end its spread by censoring and denouncing. Little did they know that, six years later, that small whisper would grow into a deafening scream, a disturbingly present reminder of its own existence, and of its legions of followers…
Born in Bakersfield, California, from the melding of two bands (LAPD and Sexart), KoRn has become one of the most popular new bands of the nineties. They have revolutionized heavy-metal music as we know it (or used to know it), by injecting several different musical influences into traditional rock, from hip-hop and rap, to 70's funk music. This strange blend gives KoRn a sound of its own. The different styles involved do, theoretically, contradict themselves, but bound together by KoRn's musical savoir-faire, give the songs such atmosphere that the show-goers cannot simply sit in their seats and say "Hmmm. Nice." They feel the urge to jump in the mosh pit and enjoy the music at its core, letting all of their energy flow with the tonal explosion that KoRn puts out for them. This is how KoRn wins fans. Not by cheap advertising with music videos, but by steady, unrelenting touring, giving the fans the full experience and thus winning them for life. This strategy has given KoRn a much longer life span than the passing fad. And it shows no sign of stopping.
Debuting strongly with their first, self-titled album, KoRn introduced itself bluntly to the world, featuring lightning-fast drum arrangements by David Silveria, frightening, Halloween-like guitar riffs by guitarists James "Munky" Shaffer and Brian "Head" Welch, impressive hammer-style bass lines by Reggie "Fieldy" Arvizu, and authentically emotional vocals by Jonathan Davis. The largely autobiographical songs written by Jon Davis depicted a childhood lost, and were sung with such fierce emotion and energy, that he won instant compassion by fans everywhere. When asked about how it feels to bear his soul to thousands of people every night, Jon had this to say:
"I wouldn't say fun, but very rewarding and very relieving. Every time I do it, it makes me feel better -- the comeback from the crowd and seeing all that madness out there. I'm touching something, I think, that people want to talk about, that people can relate to. It's hard night after night, but I need to do it, I have to."
How KoRn achieve their peculiar sound is very different from other bands. The first major difference is the use of seven-string guitars by Head and Munky, very rare instruments. The extra string gives the guitar a much lower tonality, allowing KoRn's guitarists a wider range of chords to execute. Not to be dominated by conformity, Head and Munky also tune their guitars in a way very different than most rock guitarists. Whereas most guitarists would use the classic tuning for a seven-string guitar (B E A D G B E), KoRn's guitarists tune them to a very weird A D G C F A D. This gives KoRn's guitar riffs a distinct feel, an almost eerie blend of hard-biting low tones and shrilling high tones. The frequent use of the Minor second, Tritone and Major seventh chords, the three chords that most disturb the human ear, complete KoRn's guitar individuality. Fieldy's bass setup also differs from most bands. Using a five string bass tuned down to a rumbley low A D G C F, and employing a unique and amazing hammer-style/damping technique, Fieldy gives the KoRn bass lines a very rhythmic, almost percussion-like personality. It is by differing from the sludge of average bands that KoRn has gained success.
KoRn's first album sold platinum, very impressive for a debut album from a heavy-metal band. From the hard, heart-pumping sounds of "Ball Tongue", to the slow, devastatingly emotional "Daddy", fans were mesmerised by the plethora of music and sentiments presented before them. Also featured in this album was KoRn's show-opening song "Blind", the irreverent "Shoots and Ladders", the mind numbingly fast "Divine" and the universally appealing "Need to". The whole album, in fact, was a metaphor for childhood, from the picture of a young girl on the cover, to the child's writing on the inside of the booklet, and the mocking misspelling of "corn" with a K and a reversed R. It became readily apparent to fans that what Jonathan Davis had to say was not the usual "Oh, my girlfriend left me…" insincere vocals projected by most bands. What were here instead were the disconcertingly true tales of a man whose life was ruined by past events. The emotional ties thus formed between KoRn and their fans were total. KoRn did not, however, let this early success get to their heads, realising that fans are the livelihood of a band. They continued touring massively, steadily earning a name in the underground rock scene.
In 1996, KoRn ventured out with their second outing, "Life is Peachy". Though admittedly a bit rushed, by pressures from their record company, "Life is Peachy" showed no signs of faltering quality. From the insanely bizarre "Twist" to the groovy "Good God", all tracks were very enjoyable. KoRn had not failed in their mission to bring their fans great music to enjoy, surpassing their anterior level of quality. A testament to KoRn's growing popularity was the fact that the band profited from a better sound quality on "Peachy", due in part to their maturing musical skills, but also to the better equipment purchased.
1998 was a very busy year for KoRn. While spending time perfecting their third album "Follow The Leader", KoRn also worked on several other projects, including their own rock festival called "Family Values", their own record label entitled "Elementree Records" and a weekly internet program called "KoRn T.V.".
In making "Follow The Leader", KoRn took their time to assure that this album would benefit from the success of both previous albums, by incorporating higher quality recording equipment, giving "Follow The Leader" a crisp, higher quality new sound. This album also incorporated various guest artists from Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit fame, and Ice Cube, to Trevant Hardson of Pharcyde and Cheech Marin. Needless to say, "Follow The Leader" was a smash hit. The single "Got The Life" continuously played on the radio, while the "Freak on a Leash" music video went on to win two awards at the 1999 MTV Music Video Awards. The men from KoRn had accomplished the journey from anonymity to megastardom, and while some bands might have felt the urge to give in and "sell out", KoRn maintained their integrity, both moral and musical, and now, in 1999, are ready to unleash their biggest album yet to an ocean of thirsty fans.
Tentatively entitled "Issues", not much is known of KoRn's forthcoming album. Though the release date is fairly near, November 16th, the members have maintained a tight lid on their new project. However, for those lucky enough to attend this year's Woodstock, KoRn indulged their fans by performing two songs from their new album. The first one, apparently entitled "Beg For Me", is a mixture of old-style KoRn with newer, faster beats, and is very enjoyable in all respects, but it is the second song performed, called "Falling Away From Me", that is sure to be a wholesale hit. What is there to say about this song? Everything is done right. It is a personification of KoRn's evolution, and to the trained KoRn fan's ear, one can hear in this song all of KoRn's different musical stages. If all of the songs on "Issues" are half as good as "Falling Away From Me", this album will be a raving success. Accessible to those new to KoRn, but also, hopefully, deep enough to satisfy those of us who have been there from the start, "Issues" should be one of those truly memorable albums, which fans will be listening to for years to come.
And so the voice rolls on, now a deep, low laugh. For those who understand its complex jargon, it seems to say, with fearless ranting and steadfast determination:
"WHO THEN NOW, BITCHES?"