I have to admit that for a long time, I couldn’t really like the band Korn, nor any of the numerous knock-off bands that came after them. It wasn’t for any musical reasons, but rather personal ones involving a former flame and her spring break fling with a drummer from an L.A. rock band that played Korn rip-off music. Nothing like having your feelings crushed to turn you off a great band….
However, she’s long gone, married with two kids and I’m glad to not be involved in that, so I can now listen to Korn’s Greatest Hits Vol. 1 with impunity. Listening to them again makes you realize the influence on heavy metal. I won’t say whether or not that’s a good thing, since the basic elements of their dark, heavy and brooding style of heavy metal appears to be surprisingly easy to duplicate and has resulted in a slew of sound-alikes that concentrate more on gurgling guitars and simple, violent lyrics rather then creating the more unique blend of grooves, heavy metal, and twisted imagery that made Korn so popular.
Of course, there are accusations that the Korn sound wasn’t original to begin with, but then again, most "break-out" bands that popularize a particular style of music tend to get slapped with that accusation. Whether it be timing, better production, "pop-ier" songwriting, or just sheer luck, there’s almost always other bands that have been doing the same type of music for longer and go unrecognized. Deal with it.
So what of the music? Well, hell, it is good (assuming you like really heavy stuff, of course) – guttural, throbbing guitar and bass lines that cause entire neighborhoods to turn and stare when you drive through them with the windows down and the radio cranked up. Its satisfying hunks of heavy metal that can cause the floppiest fop to seethe with testosterone.
The trademark Korn explosion of sound after the teasing feedback-drenched notes is definitely one of the most delectable nuggets of musical satisfaction in recent years. The ability to create musical drama is what separates them from their brethren – too many bands keep up the dense, high-speed metal going from start to finish in their songs; and definitely too many bands trudge their way through dark, pseudo-scary Black Sabbath rip-off riffs for agonizing, depressing minutes on end (shout out to Timat here).
The tension and release of Korn is what made them appealing to metalheads everywhere, and expanded the audience for it as well. Let’s face it – the role of heavy metal is to release energy: work out aggression through headbanging, moshing, screaming, and generally acting in a socially unacceptable manner. Korn’s build-then-release style of creating songs lends itself perfectly to this, allowing some breathing room, and a chance to pent up one’s energy between sonic blasts.
Granted, this is hardly a new concept – one could say that Korn simply took the "rave-ups" of the 60’s and made it heavier and louder, and you wouldn’t be far from right. If the Yardbirds were a lot more pissed off and tuned their guitars WAY down low, you have a good basis for Korn.
The Greatest Hits album itself is a great overview – as someone who as seen them live twice (Once at Woodstock ’99 and once while on tour with Rob Zombie, and yes both times it was with "that girl"… *sigh*) but never owned a disc by them, it gave me the perfect set of songs that were great in concert. I really don’t want to do the usual song-by-song bullshit analysis of it – I’m not enough of a fan to lend a critical eye towards it all, and I’m sure that the most hardcore fans will be upset at the exclusion of numerous songs, as is the case with any greatest hits compilation. The mix is good, and offers the perfect sampling for the casual fan or general appreciator of their musical influence.
As good as the music disc is, the DVD bonus disc might be even better. A six song compilation of their surprise CBGB club performance is what to play for a non-believer. Its been a few years since I saw Korn live and forgot how intense they are – everything is amplified: the volume, the bass lines, the feedback, Jonathan Davis’ singing, and the just-on-the-edge nature of the songs and their lyrics. Their songs become a heart-pumping wall of menacing sound, one that will make you wish you were in a mosh pit RIGHT NOW, or that you had that high school bully tied up in a chair in front of you just so you could kick the shit out of him.