So this is it. Where it all began. I must admit that, had I listened to this record when it came out, I would have hated it. Had I listened to it a few years later, during peak Nu Metal, I would have dismissed it. And I might have dismissed it later, too. I hope my take is a lot more nuanced now.
Because I hated Nu Metal when it was dominating the rock side of the music industry. I had yet to get into metal really, and when I finally did, I certainly didn’t like what I thought Nu-Metal was even as I embraced louder music.
But Nu Metal happened. And it dominated rock music fora while. And it has probably been influential even though I can’t point to any current rock bands heavily (directly) influenced by it. To ignore it is to willfully ignore a major part of recent music history and to dismiss it is to be snob (and to fail to be curious, which is worse).
Mostly because of my show I finally listened to Korn and Limp Bizkit. (I had already listened to a few Nu Metal-adjacent bands before that.) So I’m glad I got a little bit out of the way before I came to Korn’s debut, by most accounts the record that started this genre, for good or ill.
The first thing about Korn that I notice when I listen to them is how not like my overall impression of Nu Metal they are. (Basically, when I think of Nu Metal, I think of Limp Bizkit.) One of the immediately appealing things about Korn is the fact that Davis basically never raps, at least in the hip hop sense. He is a lot closer to a conventional metal vocalist than what I assumed. (Sure, I heard their big hits, and so I knew this, but I didn’t pay any attention because I hated the genre.)
In fact, the hip hop elements are generally quite muted in comparison to Limp Bizkit and some of the other bands that came in Korn’s wake. For me, that’s generally a plus, because I have yet to become a fan of hip hop, but I am a metal fan.
Where I think the influence on the genre is more obvious is in Davis’ lyrics, which are pretty transgressive even for metal. (Rather, they are transgressive in a different way than conventional metal lyrics.) They are clearly influenced to at least some extent by alternative rock in their radical (pseudo) confessional nature. As an adult, the whole thing appears totally overwrought. But I can imagine hearing this as a male teen and feeling like I got it.
I will never be a Korn fan. But I respect them now (that I’ve listened to a couple of their albums). Moreover, this record basically launched one of the most important genres of the era. So it’s important. And it’s good enough.