Korn – III: Remember Who You Are

Things haven’t been going so great in the Korn camp for some time now.  The band began to decline in popularity after Untouchables and then after a failed attempt at re-capturing old glory in the form of Take a Look in the Mirror, lost two members of the band.  David Silveria went on to run a restaurant and Brian “Head” Welch went fucking nuts, moved to the middle east, became a born again Christian, and then released a Christian “metal” album so embarrassingly awful we won’t even go into it here.  The three remaining members recruited a rotating lineup of musicians to fill in live and went on to put out two albums that made this reviewer think the band’s days of releasing quality material were over and that they’d in fact turned into washed up hacks parodying themselves.

Then word got out over the net that the band was going back to their roots on the new album and had re-enlisted producer Ross Robinson to help them.  Korn already claimed to be getting back to their roots when they did Take a Look in the Mirror, an OK album in the bands catalogue, but a commercial flop when weighed against its predecessors (though I’m sure the band member’s didn’t have to deliver pizzas on the side to pay the bills), and certainly nowhere near the level of quality present on the band’s first two releases.  I was skeptical that the band was capable of releasing another album on that level, but remained hopeful that with Ross back behind the board they might be able to put something out worth listening to again.  Then I saw a new band pic of them on Blabbermouth with Munky wearing a zorro mask and my hopes were increased further.

beware the man in kado mask...

So is Korn III: Remember Who You Are a return to the Korn days of old?  Will it make all the old school fans remember why they liked Korn in the first place?  The answer is YES!!  I think it’s a kick ass release that for me sits at a slightly higher level than all of their mid-era releases (Follow the Leader, Issues and Untouchables) but it still has a missing ingredient (likely being speed and/or booze) that doesn’t quite best the first two.  It’s not the 100% return to the old days like the publicity was hyping (surprise, surprise) but after listening through it a couple times, and finding it to quickly sink its hooks in with each successive listen, it’s an album that in my mind made it cool to be a Korn fan again.  Say what you will about the Nu-Metal genre as a whole, but Korn is and always will be one of the most unique metal bands out there.  It’s too bad they got copied by so many others (and usually poorly) that it made the style kinda lame.

Production wise this is a step back from some of their more over-produced efforts of late.  It has a slightly less bass heavy sound (though the slap bass playing of Fieldy is still very prevalent in the mix as always) and a guitar tone that’ll be familiar to fans of the first two albums and Slipknot’s debut full length.   The band seems to have ditched the heavy electronic influences present on their last two releases as well.  The album’s rawer sound is a welcome change and certainly does go along way in achieving their goal of getting back to basics here.

John’s vocals are the biggest thing that keeps this album from being 100% old school in sound.  While the first couple releases were mostly yelling, strange whimpering and his trademark semi-rapped delivery, John has become a much better singer over the years.   You still get some of that old John Davis freak out, but you get a lot more singing than before.  I actually like his vocals better on this album than some of the stuff he did back in the old days, but if you go in expecting a 100% return to old Korn you will be disappointed.  Thankfully the album is also 100% free of rap.  Since the guy took vocal lessons I gotta give him credit in that he can sing pretty damn well, and he still maintains an unmistakably unique sound.   I will say though that if the band really wanted to get to their roots, a little more of the tweeked out aggression would’ve edged it a little closer to Life is Peachy and self titled territory.  On the other hand though, it might have come across as too forced, so this way is probably better in the end.  One thing I am glad about though is that John had the good sense not to foolishly try and bring back the lyrics about his rough times as a misfit teenager.  It worked on the old stuff when the band members weren’t multi-millionaires in their 40’s with wives and kids.  Had Korn come back with another album about being molested or getting picked on in high school it would have been an embarrassing final nail in their collective coffins.

The album opens with an intro track called Uber-time.  With a title like that I was thinking the band was gonna go into a Rammstein style cock-slamming industrial metal track, but instead it’s just a quite guitar melody with some weird talking in the background and then the phrase "Uber-time" gets repeated a bunch before kicking into the next track.  It’s more or less unnecessary and probably could have been blended in with the first track, but I guess for all the ADD chipmunk-attention span fans out there you can skip right to the heavy part this way.

Next up is the first single Oildale (Leave Me Alone).  This one pretty much sets the tone for all tracks to follow.  A solid Korn style heavy riff with a nice mixture of emotive singing and a bit of pissed off yelling.  Lyrics deal with hypocrisy and a lot of John telling people to leave him the fuck alone.  Not sure if this is a reference to someone in particular, but it’s certainly the sort of angst present on the old shit so they’re off to a good start.

Pop a Pill follows with a nice gritty sounding opening riff that then switches to an almost happy sounding bouncy riff that could almost come out of Primus’ catalogue.  The chorus has a similar feel to the track that precedes it, and in more modern Korn style, the mid-section features some choral sounding backing vocal harmonies.  The lyrics in this one seem to deal with, you guessed it, popping pills.  More specifically, it’s about the feeling of creepy crawlies under your skin when you’re not popping pills.

Fear is a Place to Live keeps the energy going and proves to be one of the albums stand out tracks.  Like Pop a Pill it has sort of a happyish vibe to the riffs during the verses, but the chorus has a very Life is Peachy feel, with John belting out lyrics about how he wants fakers to rip off the masks they hide behind, which is then strengthened by a mid-section rant about those fake people surrounding John and how even though they’re always nice to begin with, he always gets fucked in the end.  It’s a gooder and has a nice mix of all of his vocal styles, past and present, which is sure to please pretty much all of Korn’s fans.

Move On follows with a track about the stresses of trying to please everyone.  It starts off like it’s going to be a more sub-dued track, but then quickly gets more sinister sounding than any of the tracks that precede it.  The cherry on top of the sunday is an awesome rant about how John’s sick of trying to please everyone and how he’s tired of being everyone’s whore.  His vocals have awesome venom that hasn’t been heard on a Korn album for quite a while.

Next up is a couple of really kick ass tracks in the form of Lead the Parade and Let the Guilt Go.  Both feature some of the best vocal work on the album, and keep up the darker sound of the preceding track.  I’d say these two are my favorites on the album.  Lead the Parade in particular has a seriously demented sound with crazed sounding vocals in the pre-chorus and a dirty sounding guitar riff that reminds me a lot of Lies from the first album.  Let the Guilt Go delves into the dark side of celebrity infidelity and will stick in your head from the first time you hear it.  It runs the gamut from almost epic sounding passages with powerful singing and a schizophrenic spoken word passage mimicking how the guilt can build and build into full blown insanity.

The Past keeps the momentum going strong with an Issues style track that combines quieter verses with a massive sounding heavy chorus and John’s singing his lungs out over top.  Following this one we get Never Around another Issues style track with some crushingly heavy distorted guitar playing and which sees John going over the deep end to the point where he starts laughing manically.  It sounds ridiculous on paper, but on the album it really works, lending the track the kind of evilness that puts a big smile on my face.

Are You Ready to Live? follows with a sound that makes me think of evil nursery rhymes like Shoots and Ladders did on the first one (minus the actual nursery rhymes) mixed with Peachy style aggression.  Unexpectedly the track abruptly shifts gears and features an acoustic guitar and John passionately singing for the chorus.  The overall comination of styles in this one’s definitely got a very strong Untouchables vibe and reminds me of Hollow Life from that album.

The album closes with Holding All These Lies.  I half expected one of those long, tortured, doomy sounding epics that closed the first three albums, but not the case here.  It certainly features some tortured, emotional yelling towards the end, but there’s no break down into excessive sobbing for 5 minutes coupled with feedback.   Honestly, it’s probably for the best.  Like I said earlier:  Korn aren’t a bunch of 18 year old drug addicts any more.  20 or so years of experience in between, including more or less sobering up, would make a big break down like the one featured on their self titled debut into more of a mockery than a disturbing window into a damaged person’s mind like it did back then.

Welcome back boys, if Korn decided to call ‘er quits after this one then they’d leave on a high note.  I, for one, will be at the music store to pick up my copy July 13th when this thing is released (especially cuz there's a special edition with a few bonus tracks on it).  Good work!