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+ {Jonathan Davis}

The mid-90s saw a spate of post-grunge, nu-metal combos emerging from the murky shadows of the rock music biz, and California’s KORN were spewing out their own blend of twisted torture or mortuary metal. Spearheading the hard-shock band, volatile vocalist Jonathan Davis took the role of cathartic curmudgeon, making rivals and peers such as MARILYN MANSON, Zack de la Rocha and Trent Reznor, seem pussies by comparison.
Formed 1993 in Bakersfield, KORN had evolved from L.A.P.D. (aka Laughing As People Die), a quartet that comprised guitarist James “Munky” Shaffer, bassist Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu, drummer David Silveria and singer Richard Morrill. When the latter guy split from the band, so too did the remaining musicians, who turned to the once-troubled teenager, Jonathan Davis, then of Sexart. Adding guitarist Brian “Head” Welch to the KORN equasion, the 5-piece outfit took up partial residence in Huntington Beach (at Underground Chicken Sound studios), where they perfected their pioneering nu-metal strains.
Not particularly enamoured by the thought of touring, the band were lucky enough to be spotted an Epic/Immortal Records A&R man at an impromptu performance outside the studios. On the strength of an already strong following and a gig-freebie demo EP, “Neidermayer’s Mind” (1993), KORN signed on the dotted line; the production was their first collaboration with metal-ist, Ross Robinson.
The eponymous KORN (1994) {*9} was unleashed exactly a year later, positive reviews helping it climb into the Top 75. A barrage of aural psychosis, Davis’ tortured performance more than lived up to the hype surrounding the record’s release. Among its schizophrenic highs and lows were the disturbing but cathartic emotional minefield, `Daddy’ (all 9 minutes of it!), which cried out from the core of the saddened singer’s very soul. Bizarrely, Davis turned his hand (and arm) to the bagpipes on the nursery rhyme parody, `Shoots And Ladders’, a track that even GAVIN FRIDAY might have disowned in his heyday; compare the secondary/chorus vocals in `Faget’ and the likes, to Gavin’s work with 80s Irish-indie act, The VIRGIN PRUNES. If one’s not easily shocked and offended, then a few listens to the nihilistic and grinding `Blind’, `Clown’, `Need To’ and `Fake’, might change your views and see one hiding sharp objects around the house – “Parental Guidance” is a must.
Consolidating this seminal meisterwork, KORN toured the world, re-surfacing in 1996 with another primal scream of sinuous, bass-heavy angst-metal in the shape of LIFE IS PEACHY {*7}. The album contained no less than three UK Top 30 hits, `No Place To Hide’, `A.D.I.D.A.S.’ (aka “All Day I Dream About Sex” rather than advertising sports goods) and `Good God’, the set also featuring covers of ICE CUBE’s `Wicked’ and WAR’s `Lowrider’. A US Top 3, the record also cracked the UK Top 40, due largely to the strong Kerrang! support only rivalled in 1997 by Jonathan’s overtly attention-seeking contemporary, MARILYN MANSON.
Two chart-topping albums, FOLLOW THE LEADER (1998) {*7} and the concept ISSUES (1999) {*6}, didn’t sell quite so well in Britain, the grim storytelling of KORN’s leader beginning to get short shrift from some of his gloomy disciples. Nonetheless, the bleak and brooding `Got The Life’, `Freak On A Leash’, `Falling Away From Me’ and `Make Me Bad’, all powered their way into the UK Top 30.
Like every other rock group on the planet, KORN alumni found a little extracurricular time when Silveria took time out through an injury to try his hand in the fashion world. DAVIS contributed a handful of tracks with/for composer Richard Gibbs’ motion picture score to “Queen Of The Damned” (2002), while frustrated rapper Fieldy formed his own, self-indulgent Fieldy’s Dreams for lone album, “Rock N Roll Gangster” (2002).
While Davis’ lyrical agenda continued in this intense, navel-gazing vein for the transatlantic Top 5, UNTOUCHABLES (2002) {*6}, KORN continued to forge a distinctively dense mesh of sound which further distanced them from the incestuous nu-metal scene, almost completely paring back the rap pretensions for an altogether more intimidating sound. Building on a melodic soundscape rather than just punching out beefy beats and scatty screams, `Here To Stay’ and `Thoughtless’, Davis and Co were beginning to merge with many of their metallic contemporaries.
TAKE A LOOK IN THE MIRROR (2003) {*6}, meanwhile, trimmed off any sonic excess they’d been accumulating over the years with an album which concentrated the essence of their root sound while still taking them forward. GREATEST HITS VOL.1 (2004) {*8}, on the other hand, saw them take a retrospective step backwards, controversially leading in with two contrasting covers: a pointless run through CAMEO’s `Word Up!’ and a spookier, personalised take on PINK FLOYD’s `Another Brick In The Wall, Pts.1-3’. Incidentally, KORN also covered CHEECH & CHONG’s `Earache My Eye’, The CLASH’s `Should I Stay Or Should I Go’ and METALLICA’s `One’, and a few of these could be found on an out-of-sync “Live & Rare” set in 2006.
Following a battle with crystal meth, Welch subsequently announced his conversion to born-again Christianity. Not for the rest of the band though, whose seventh studio set, SEE YOU ON THE OTHER SIDE (2005) {*7}, dissed organised religion on the likes of `Hypocrites’.
Having signed to Virgin Records and enlisted the skills of NiN producer Atticus Ross, KORN semi-industrialised their sound in anticipation of encroaching middle-age. Although the tribal grind of lead single, `Twisted Transistor’, cracked the UK Top 30, the novelty had begun wearing thin on British album buyers; it was a different story in the US of course, where their not-so nu-metal was still Top 3 bound.
Time then for the pedestrian and unwanted MTV UNPLUGGED (2007) {*4}, a record showing how bad their songs could’ve sounded if they’d all been Christian rockers; worth hearing for their cover of RADIOHEAD’s `Creep’ and the guest spot for EVANESCENCE’s Amy Lee on `Freak On A Leash’. Probably another record that should’ve been put to sleep, the underwhelming and low-key JONATHAN DAVIS’ solo CD/DVD, ALONE I PLAY (2007) {*3}, was thankfully kept from a proper UK mainstream release.
Complete with rotating drummers (veteran Terry Bozzio and BAD RELIGION’s Brooks Wackerman filled in), KORN were ready to resurrect their flagging careers on UNTITLED (2007) {*4}; songs about dying, killing, dying and er… killing, might’ve been better suited to “Saw” soundtracks, and the band were a pale, anaemic comparison to their once great selves.
A fresh drummer in tow by way of Ray Luzier, and a new contract on Roadrunner Records, the poignantly-named KORN III: REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE (2010) {*7}, clawed back some lost ground. Davis was again happy to sound miserable and detached; leading out tracks `Oildale (Leave Me Alone)’, `Pop A Pill’, `Fear Is A Place To Live’ and `The Past’, while the band crunched chords like there was no tomorrow. 2011’s THE PATH OF TOTALITY {*6}, marked their resurgence of sorts, expanding their horizons with electro-styled producers Skrillex, Noisia, Excision, Kill The Noise, Feed Me, 12th Planet, Downlink, Flinch; check out `Chaos Lives In Everything’, `Kill Mercy Within’ and `Narcissistic Cannibal’.
Although not the force they were a decade or so ago (decreasing sales represented only transatlantic Top 20 chart status), pioneers of nu-metal KORN hoped to rope-in return subscribers on album number 11, THE PARADIGM SHIFT (2013) {*7}. For those about to rock, or look up “paradigm” in the dictionary, a shift in theory or conceptual framework was indeed in this album’s guttural sound. Reunited with old cohort Brian “Head” Welch on dual guitar fretwork with Munky, Davis and Co incorporated a sanitised but suffocating alt-metal for best bits, `Prey For Me’, `Punishment Time’, `Paranoid And Aroused’, `Love & Meth’ and the almost accessible `Never Never’ and `Lullaby For A Sadist’.
October 2016’s Top 10 THE SERENITY OF SUFFERING {*8} was just as one might expect from a band who’d become synonymous with death and destruction. Davis’ desperate and detached vox, and his band’s nihilistic brutality were a warning to all who’d thought they’d be ready to watch old horror movies by the fireside wearing slippers and sucking on a vapor; or was that a vampire. Instead they invented a few ghouls and spooks of their own by way of `Insane’, `Rotting In Vain’, `Black Is The Soul’, `Everything Falls Apart’ and `The Hating’, all ready to trick-and-treat fans on their way to the perennial Halloween party – via Hell! Keeping in the spirit of things, SLIPKNOT’s Corey Taylor made a cameo on `A Different World’, and in keeping with everything nu-metal, producer Nick Raskulinecz kept the noose tight without the cathartic KORN going OTT.
JONATHAN DAVIS’ solo career so far had been limited to an aforementioned live set and collaboration soundtrack scores (2014’s shared “After The Dark” – with Nicholas O’Toole – from the film The Philosophers, his most recent), so when it was announced the angst-ridden KORN man was finally about to dispatch his first bona fide album, BLACK LABYRINTH (2018) {*6}, there was equally part curiosity, equal part trepidation. Augmented by former members of his own stalwart SFA combo (keyboardist Zac Baird, bassist Miles Mosley and violinist/vocals Shenkar; all but guitarist Shane Gibson, who died on April 15, 2014), the addition of KORN drummer Ray Luzier (and guest guitarist Wes Borland), set out their stall for something promising. Instead, listeners were subjected to something closer to NINE INCH NAILS or exotic diversions; sales figures of highest position #67 proved DAVIS had stepped beyond his comfort zone. Still, if there were tracks that rose above the musical parapet, then the opening `Underneath My Skin’, `Everyone’, `Your God’ and closing single, `What It Is’.
Although Jonathan had long-since filed for divorce from his second wife Deven (a former porn star and mother of his two children), her death from an accidental drugs overdose in August 2018, affected the singer enough to partly base an album’s worth of KORN material around their relationship. Produced by the returning Nick Raskulinecz, THE NOTHING (2019) {*8}, kicked off with a funereal bagpipe tribute to his ex by way of `The End Begins’. And in much the same way as the classic `Daddy’ signified a cathartic ode to his dark despair, the opener was equally harrowing on hearing the man’s heart-wrenching sobs. Then there was `Cold’, a devilish dirge procured from under the nose of Satan himself. There’s guilt and self-loathing behind Davis’ blood-letting of the soul (as one had come to expect), however if one could hide the razorblades and avoid popping pills to each rpm, `You’ll Never Find Me’, `Idiosyncrasy’, `The Darkness Is Revealing’, the pummelling `The Ringmaster’ and the tuneful `H@rd3r’, would reap its own rewards.
© MC Strong 1996-2006/GRD // rev-up Feb2013-Sep2019

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