Thursday, 3 May 2012

Korn - The Path of Totality [CD REVIEW]


What's The Story Here Then?
Nu-metallers Korn have delivered their 10th studio album, which was released in December of 2011. This release moves away from the metal/rap/rock of previous years and instead is an all-out dubstep collaboration album, with Skrillex, Excision and 12th Planet providing some music and mixes.

The album has received mixed reviews and sales, with both the album and first single release, Narcissistic Cannibal (below), peaking in the top ten in both the US and the UK before sinking down the charts. The other singles from the album are still yet to be released in the UK - Get Up!, Chaos Lives In Everything and Way Too Far are all marked as singles, but no official release has been announced.

So Is It Any Good?
+++ Exceeds Expectations +++
Well, for what you might expect when you hear the combo "Korn" + "Dubstep", it actually works pretty well. 

Check out Chaos Lives In Everything (top) - it starts with some dub, has a remarkably regular sounding Korn verse, before merging the two for the chorus.

Each track is a bit like that, and most reflect the style of the collaborative artist as well. The Skrillex tracks are full of constantly changing beats as well as plenty of wub-wub and breakdowns. The 12th Planet track has the signature heavy bass and snappy percussion that you'd expect. 

The Korn sound hasn't been diluted too drastically either - there is still the signature distortion, effects and pounding drums that they do so well, only now they are remixed and complemented by some wub. 

Now, who could complain about that? 
Well, probably most of the hardcore Korn fanbase for selling out - and the dubstep community for crashing their party.
Well bugger them.

It's a gamble which I feel paid off - and is not a desperately easy thing to do when you're an artist that has had an established "sound" for nearly 20 years now.

Additionally, Jonathan Davies' vocals are perfectly matched to the sound - providing some melody and plenty of gruff rhythm - although not quite as unique as in early works.... but I'll go over that later.

All-in-all they have achieved the mash-up very well and it makes you wonder why more artists haven't combined these two genres before. 

+++ Thrown Themselves In +++
So here's the bit where I say hats off to Korn for making the mix work - but why does it work? Because they weren't half-hearted about it.

This isn't a regular Korn album remixed by other artists.
This isn't a dubstep album which Korn have added some guitars and vocals to.
This is a fully-fledged hybrid album - 11 tracks that fuse 2010's electronic music with the 1990's nu-metal sound.

So - yeah - well done Korn. You've done well to really throw yourself into this genre and have actually created something which doesn't let either side down.

Neither side dominates the sound, and neither side is ever dropped - each and every track is definitively mixed-up - bass lines, samples and DJ tricks laced throughout distorted guitars and Davies' pained vocals. 

It actually paves the way for a whole new - and feasibly very successful genre. Jonathan Davies dubbed it "metal-step". That sounds lame, but the idea is certainly a possibility.

Now, from a business/cultural point of view - this was a totally f**king stupid idea. 
Trying to sell dubstep to Korn fans? Good luck.
Trying to sell Korn to dubstep fans? Erm... just no.
And trying to build a fanbase by colliding two fairly opposing musical styles? Very difficult.

But there you have it - they gave it a bloody good go. At least no-one can fault them for trying. Well, actually, I think I might just have to....

--- Still Slightly Stale ---
And why is this not the musical masterpiece that it very well could have been? 

Because other than the sheer bizarreness of the genre mix, it's not actually that revolutionary.

The vocals, as mentioned above, fit the sound really well - but I was waiting for something a bit more "Korn" in this department. 

Old Korn. 
Twist Korn.
Sharp, varied, almost tribal chant vocals -
 providing a perfect complement to the dubstep beats and percussion.

As well as that, where are the bagpipes? A unique element that made Korn so great - completely missed. I think it was the inclusion of bagpipes that made me love Korn in the first place - what other rock artist includes a traditional Scottish instrument into their songs THAT ACTUALLY SOUNDS AWESOME? None - that's who. No-one would dare to. Except Korn. Oh, and Big Country made rock music which sounded like bagpipes and was awesome - but that doesn't count.

Well, the situation is even worse than just missing them out entirely - both bagpipes and the tribal vocals are present right at the end of the album, in fact in the bonus tracks. Almost like their uniqueness was sidelined and hidden in the final minutes of the album (Bleeding Out, Fuels The Comedy and Tension).

And when compared to "pure" works, even the dubstep element seems slightly tame. While having all of the characteristic features of the collaborative artists, they always seem to be "on a leash" - never producing any particularly bassy, choppy or mixed sounds throughout the album. This probably allows the album to retain more of it's "Korn" sound, but if both Korn and the DJs just really went for it (as the bonus track, Tension does to some extent) then this could have been a true sonic rollercoaster.

While I give Korn full marks for trying something radically new - and succeeding in many ways - the album is a little too "tame" on both sides to really be spectacular.

The sound is well-executed and nicely balanced - you really can hear the influences of each artist as you listen through the album.

Sadly, this was a dangerous idea from the start - and I don't think the fans would have accepted this mash-up even if the album came gift-wrapped with a monkey butler and a £50 note.

Feel free to post comments or contributions to improve the experience!

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