Critical Voices: The Nothing, Korn

September 21, 2019

To be blunt, Korn’s The Nothing is their emotionally darkest record yet. The nu-metal outfit’s thirteenth, thirteen-song record dropped (in the most authentically Korn style) on September the thirteenth. The Nothing came to fruition as Jonathan Davis, Korn’s frontman, was mourning the loss of his wife who died of an accidental overdose in August 2018. Thus, the album marks a critical period for the entire band, encasing an era of grief, confusion, and anger.

The opener is titled “The End Begins.” The song is intense and emotional, radiating funeral dirge vibes with bagpipes, a bold-yet-simple drum pattern, and Davis’ wailing—all building up to absolutely nothing. With a length of less than two minutes, it feels like a missed opportunity for the band to come out with guns blazing. While it works in the sense of bookending a concept album and will unarguably be an amazing introduction live, it feels abrupt in its place on the album itself. 

“Cold,” the second track of the album, feels more akin to classic Korn with a strong riff and more prominent bass but lacks the raw nature and sharpness found in their best work.  The chorus also introduces an unfortunate, prominent theme running through the record: the pre-chorus and chorus sound like they were ripped out of a Halestorm song (and for good reason, since both The Nothing and Halestorm’s last album share the same producer).The track is catchy, but it fails to satisfy the listener’s desire for the peculiarities Korn is famous for.

“You’ll Never Find Me,” the first single released, is again reminiscent of  “Freak on a Leash”-era Korn. However, it doesn’t have the groovy, heavy bass and grimy riffs fans have come to love and expect. It’s relatively enjoyable but is deficient in the intricacies that make Korn Korn. The fourth track and third single, “The Darkness is Revealing,” is entirely overproduced, initially offering the punchy harmonics and cymbals found in earlier albums but eventually sounding too much like the filtered sound of 2010s mainstream metal. Both songs are unable to match the emotional poignancy of Davis lyrics, ultimately producing the lack of Korn’s unique musical substance that runs through most of the record.

In contrast, “Idiosyncrasy” offers a significant turn in a positive direction. With an utterly fantastic intro including a strong riff and prominent percussive bass, it allows Davis to showcase his emotive wailing throughout the chorus and verse. Despite eventually giving off the same overproduced vibe like the previous tracks do, the track’s climax is pure gold, featuring the poisonously sharp lyric “God is making fun of me/He’s laughing up there, I can see.” Overall, it offers a glimpse of hope for what’s to come in the remainder of the record. 

The next track, “The Seduction of Indulgence,” features an interesting taunt by Davis but is ultimately too short to have a significant impact toward musically bolstering the album. As if trying to make up for the brevity of their predecessor, the next two tracks practically run together: “Finally Free” sounds so much like mainstream radio rock that it barely identifies as a Korn song, and the chorus “Can You Hear Me” sounds again like it was patched in from a Halestorm track. Simply put, “Finally Free” and “Can You Hear Me” are so basic and overproduced that they sound like tracks any metal band could release.

The album reaches a legitimate turning point at track nine, “The Ringmaster.” It’s harder, arguably more Korn-y, with enjoyable backup vocals and a strong vocal performance by Davis. While the chorus is still super melodic akin to the likes of Halestorm and Evanescence, the track still comes off as a Korn song. 

The Nothing reaches its peak with tracks ten and eleven, “Gravity of Discomfort” and “H@Rd3r.” “Gravity of Discomfort” finally hands the spotlight to Korn’s bassist, Fieldy, whose work on classics like “Freak on a Leash” and “Blind” gave the nu-metal rockers much of their signature sound. Davis is dominant in his vocal performance despite poor chorus mixing. For the first time thus far on The Nothing, Korn sounds like the Korn that fans love. “H@Rd3R” shows that the band’s still got it—it captures the essence of Korn with a thrashing pre-chorus and chorus and a softer, almost spoken verse. “H@Rd3R” deserves a spot among the ranks of other masterpieces by the band, including “Coming Undone” and “Falling Away From Me.” The track is five minutes of utter headbanging joy and ought to have been the album’s lead single.

Closing out with the tracks “This Loss” and “Surrender to Failure,” the album ends on a generally “meh” note, as “This Loss” includes an annoying introductory rhyme scheme and despite definite bass presence comes off as basic bland 2010s metal and “Surrender to Failure” is again ultimately too short to accurately capture the raw power of Davis’ lyrics. 

If anything, The Nothing proves that Jonathan Davis’ songwriting is in a renaissance. While his lyrics paint a vivid picture of a man trying to push through the grieving process and attempting to grope with the various emotions that come along with it, the record’s production and mixing put a damper on the impact of Davis’ words. The actual music behind the lyrics lacks Korn’s usual sharpness and raw power. On first listen, the album can easily come off as stale and bland, lacking some of the usual oddities and tricks that make Korn’s music distinctive and compelling. After multiple times through, it becomes more enjoyable, partially due to a gained appreciation of Davis’ authentic lyricism. Undoubtedly, many tracks from The Nothing will sound nothing short of amazing live with the real-time creativity and genius of the band, finally able to inject their passion into performance. For now, fans will have to sit with an unfortunately overproduced, bland, 2010s mainstream sound, sadly capping the energy and sensation found in Korn’s earlier work.

Savannah Benko
Savannah Benko is a freshman in the College who thinks that she likes economics. She hopes that her love of martial arts, rock ‘n’ roll, and her killer Pinterest board will help her amount to something in the future.

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more black metal/gaze album reviews pls