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I Went to a Korn Show for the Novelty Factor and Left a Legitimate Fan

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There are a few things that are nearly ubiquitous in metal among the ‘heads I know: Black Sabbath’s first six albums are perfect, black jeans are fine in every situation, and nu metal fucking sucks. I’ve been the first to back up that final statement since I got over my sixth grade Limp Bizkit phase 17 years ago, but recent events have me questioning my own pretense concerning the matter, specifically the genre’s most famous and steadfast act, Korn.

This has been a year rife with ’90s nostalgia, so when Vince offered me his spot on a party bus to Korn, I immediately accepted. And really, why wouldn’t I? When nu metal was at its height, I was learning how to use tampons and tongue-kiss boys. One of the first CDs I scored at the Sam Goody in my local mall was Three Dolla Bill Y’all and I can still rap along to half of it. Korn weren’t high up on my list of favorites because only the uncomfortably weird girls at school loved them and I was desperate to blend in quietly, but the video for “Freak On a Leash” was dope and I thought that bass sound was one of the heaviest things I’d ever heard. They even won VMAs! This was in the show’s golden age when I watched it and actually knew everyone on the red carpet (RIP youth).

Flash forward a few days, and I’m loading up on the bus with a couple of my favorite babes only to discover we’ve been given the royal treatment, a rarity afforded only by those representing bands who still sell, and sell well. The bus featured lovely leather seats facing one another with a perfectly trashy but wonderful stripper pole in the middle, with countless boxes of pizza and beer available to keep us occupied for the 90 minute ride to Middle of Nowhere, New Jersey. The soundtrack for our ride included a full listen to Korn’s new album The Serenity of Suffering, and I couldn’t help but Tweet my true feelings about it after downing a couple of Coors Lights:

From what I can recall of that one listen through, Korn have managed to remain as heavy as I remember, and I would venture to say this album is every bit as good as or better than anything they put out in their mainstream heyday. I look forward to hearing the full album again, and have spun the already released tracks quite a few times since.

Once we got to the venue, we (being the ladies we are) missed the opening act In This Moment while we were on our quest for wine, the merch table, and a phone charging station. However, when it came time for Rob Zombie, I was adamant we get to our seats immediately; I’ve had a crush on him and his wife for most of my life, and Hellbilly Deluxe remains an important album to me for many reasons. If there’s anything Zombie does best, it’s the beautiful fusion of white trash and horror, two of the most fundamental elements present in relevant culture when my adolescent tastes were forming.

I’ve heard time and time again that Zombie’s stage show was a spectacle worth seeing even if you’re not a fan, and that is absolutely true. He knows exactly what people want to see and hear so he sticks to the hits and dresses the part of mad ringleader sent from a retro-future hellscape, then delivers so fully on the stage setup and prop work that it’s easy to forgive his sometimes-trailing vocals. He’s no slouch when it comes to running and dancing either, which is evident by his tight-as-fuck lower abdomen making a sexy appearance with every arm raise and headbang. As one of my present lady pals succinctly stated mid-set, Rob Zombie is definitely a “confirmed Daddy.”

Rob Zombie NJ 2016

The only time things got weird with Zombie was when he kindly demanded we all put away the phones for a song and just live in the moment with him — apparently a moot request in 2016. If you do a quick Google search you can probably find a few videos of this request being made, because nothing fulfills the needs of the insolent quite like ironically filming a man saying “please don’t film right now.” While I’m not generally over-bothered by audience members snapping photos or taking short clips with their phones, Zombie’s declaration of “I’ve given you fuckers 30 years and all I want in return is three minutes” really hit home. His storming off stage and leaving us to wonder if he would come back is vague to me (shoutout to the generous guy with weed), but I recall feeling like an elementary school child whose classmate had gotten caught passing notes, and I felt the sting of second-hand embarrassment for those too wrapped up to understand how much they annoyed our star. Jerks aside, the set left me totally satisfied. My top three moments: 1) Incredible brain-melting guitar solo by John 5, 2) Rob himself dancing with a giant devil [above photo], and 3) the cover of one of my favorite songs of all time, “American Band.”

During the short intermission I had a flood of emotions that I didn’t anticipate, and by the time the headliners took the stage I was full-blown stoked. I rarely attend shows with more than a couple hundred people present, and there’s nothing quite like the buzz of an anticipatory crowd, even one with whom you don’t particularly relate. I’ve always fancied myself somehow “above” the Caucasian dreadlocks and JNCO crowd, but then I think about the pristinely collected and sewn battle jackets of the scowling black and death metal audience I’m more used to, and it seems so arbitrary where we draw our elitist lines. Sometimes I really just don’t have it in me to discuss the nuances of extreme genres from remote countries with relative strangers who find comradery in esoteric dick-measuring contests.

Enter Korn. With a light-show primed for seizure induction and a sound system that could wake the dead, they launched into “Right Now” and kind of blew my fucking socks off. I’m not a huge fan of the lyrics to that song, but the band is genuinely skull-crushing in their heaviness. The most shocking thing to me was my immediate and intense attraction to Jonathan Davis; I’d always kind of turned my nose up at the way he drove some ladies wild, but there is some insanely raw, animalistic fuck magic happening with that guy, and I can confirm he utterly deserves his hard-earned rock star status.

The band continued delivering the hits like “Coming Undone” and “Make Me Bad,” and I got so into it that my journalist brain shut off and I just had FUN. Like, the kind of fun I’d forgotten was possible at metal shows because I’m usually too busy fighting social anxiety or trying not to spill my beer in overpacked rooms. The seating, our proximity to the stage, and the total lack of pretense from the crowd was already refreshing enough, but then JD walked out on stage with his bagpipes for “Chutes and Ladders” and I damn near cried. I grew up playing drums in a bagpipe band and had only marginally expected him to pull this party trick out in concert, but goddamn that hit the spot. He’s a good piper, too! It’s not just an afterthought or gimmick, as I’ve seen with other musicians “playing” novelty instruments for the sake of the crowd.

Jonathan Davis Korn NJ 2016

Even more impressive than his piping skills are Davis’ vocal abilities. His staccato, ape-like, whatever-the-fuck-those-are noises obviously take a tremendous amount of control and practice, and while the technique has been an easy target for mockery by some, it’s on par with the type of voice-as-instrument use that we see from legends like Mike Patton.

This review so far probably reads like some young horny girl’s tribute to Jonathan Davis, but I did notice the rest of the band a few times (and their mostly atrocious outfits, but I was in a fucking leotard and cutoffs so whatever), and I had no idea there were so many members. As a drummer myself, I was pretty impressed by the elaborate kit, but the light show and Davis’ command made it difficult to fully concentrate on the action back there. The band rounded out the set with a couple of my favorites including “Got The Life” and “Freak on a Leash,” and I left high on the elation of a nostalgic flashback to simpler times in my younger days and the full-body satisfaction of attending a genuine big arena show.

While I don’t expect to change the minds of any stalwart metal snobs, I would recommend we all give a little more thought to our innate predispositions concerning nu metal. It happened for a reason when shit had gotten too serious and monotonous, and the potential draw of something like a new Korn album this year operates on a similar principle. Here’s to hoping that if nu metal does come back in full force in the coming years, it can take some pointers from the longevity, humility, and real talent of bands like Korn.

The Serenity of Suffering comes out October 21st via Roadrunner Records; pre-order it here

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