Eschewing traditional metal tones and techniques from the start, Bakersfield, Calif., band Korn strived to capture the power and rage of groups like Helmet and Prong and deliver them in a way no one had ever heard before. With their self-titled debut, which came out Oct. 11, 1994, they succeeded in a way nobody could have predicted.
At the time they were just happy to reshape the music they loved with tools they felt comfortable using, including seven-string guitars and an abundance of effect pedals. There were lunging rhythms and crazy guitar noises inspired by hip-hop, downtuned riffs that satisfied their will to be heavy and slappy, funk-fueled bass lines that didn’t so much anchor the rhythms as wrap around them like rubbery tendrils of barbed wire. But the real darkness came from vocalist Jonathan Davis, who converted his love for The Cure’s Pornography and Ministry’s Twitch into confessional moans and howls of internalized pain.
“I f–kin’ loved the band from the moment I first heard them,” the late Suicide Silence frontman Mitch Lucker told me in 2008. “There was so much anger in their music and they were so heavy. They didn’t sound like anyone else and then everyone copied them.”
At a time when other metal bands were scrambling to make their music sound more alternative, Korn chose a true alternative and reinvigorated metal. Still, even after they released their punishing, bruising debut, even after a nation of disenfranchised youths started growing dreads and wearing Adidas tracksuits to emulate the band members’ fashion sense, it was impossible to know how deep an imprint, how indelible a scar Korn were about to leave on the battered face of metal.
In retrospect one can practically chart the moment of revelation on a timeline. A ride cymbal is repeatedly struck in double-time, a barbed, single-chord progression is strummed 10 times and a more-distorted counter-riff cuts in, building tension. A few moments later a voice bellows, “Are you reaaaddyyyy!!” Jaws dropped, fists clenched and a new revolution began. “Blind” is one of the most iconic and effective openings of any metal album – right up there with the eternal tritone that set Black Sabbath on their course of damnation – and it effectively marked the birth of what would later be called nu-metal.
“We were trying to sound like a DJ had remixed our guitars, y’know, and cutting them up and scratching,” guitarist James “Munky” Shaffer told Rolling Stone. “That’s kind of how that sound was born.”
“I wasn’t a metal guy,” Davis recently told me. “I liked metal as a kid, but then I got much more into Depeche Mode and Duran Duran. But I also liked aggressive industrial music, and I kind of wanted to bring those two worlds together — that total anger with a more emotional, melodic kind of thing.”
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