Korn‘s last album, 2002’s Untouchables, was greeted to mainly deaf ears and a critical panning. The band who had done nothing less than re-invent heavy metal in the mid to late ’90s had taken three years to record their fifth album and spent a small country’s GDP on futuristic production techniques. In doing so, they lost half their audience which, ironically, had had its ears re-tuned to simpler, cleaner, “nu-metal” bands who wouldn’t have existed without Korn’s trailblazing in the first place.
If this situation is a little unjust (to these ears Untouchables was the best album they’d done), then the upside is that it seems to have re-ignited a fiery desire for success in the Korn boys’ bellies – a flame that was in severe danger of being snuffed out by the self-satisfaction that comes with years of bloated achievements.
So, Take A Look In The Mirror finds Korn going back to basics. Gone are the less metallic, Bauhaus-like moments that characterised a small section of Untouchables. Instead, the cloying, claustrophic atmosphere of their seminal debut album is reproduced here for the first time but is coupled with a new, relentless, bowel-shaking heaviness. In a nod back to the days of Life Is Peachy and Follow The Leader, there’s even a rap song, Play Me featuring Nas on vocals. The result is incendiary: forget the rap-lite of Children Of The Korn, this is Bodycount playing in a rat-infested dungeon.
Take A Look In The Mirror should finally put to rest any foolish, lingering notions that Korn have anything at all to do with the nu-metal explosion that they inadvertently spawned. The likes of Right Now, Lara Croft single Did My Time and Let’s Do This Now (the latter featuring Jonathan Davis on the bagpipes in the intro, just like all those years ago) are so damn heavy that any kid who thinks Linkin Park play hard music will be running to their mummy crying into their baseball cap.
If you need proof, check out the intro to Break Some Off, which sounds like it could cause the San Andreas Fault to rupture, with its pulverising, military drums a la Potters Field by Anthrax, crushing dual guitars and Fieldy’s monumentally downtuned bass line.
However, don’t get the idea that amidst the mayhem Korn have forgotten to write songs. Their strength has always been in teasing out tunes from the most unlikely, tortured musical soundscapes and Take A Look In The Mirror is full of moshpit grooves, melodies and choruses that wipe the floor with much of the opposition – opposition who have mainly compromised on their heaviness, lest we forget.
Hilariously, one of the catchiest songs is Y’All Want A Single, written as a middle finger to their record company who’d asked Korn to write a radio hit on this album. With its insistent refrain of, “Y’All Want A Single? Say, ‘F**k that!'” I don’t think it will be gracing the airwaves too often…
Despite the grandeur of the music on offer, on first listen, one is tempted to agree with all the naysayers who criticise Davis for his consistent, vitriolic lyrics when he’s now a millionaire with a porn-star partner. The misanthropy in Right Now (“I f**king hate you” repeated ad infinitum), Counting On Me (“you suck the life out of me”) and Play Me (“Everybody’s my enemy… Trust nobody… F**k everybody”) is certainly uncomfortable to say the least.
Perhaps some lyrical progression would be in order but it’s difficult for anyone who hasn’t been sexually abused as a child to judge what it takes to heal such wounds and Deep Inside at least shows that Davis is painfully aware of his dilemma (“I’m not doing great… Stuck in this place where I can’t escape… Why won’t it fade? Outside I have to lie I’m okay.”).
The CD comes with an expanded “Skrapbook” featuring archival photos of the band and liner notes that chart Korn’s career from the days before they were signed to their current status as metal legends. It’s invaluable for the fan but has the air of a band who may be about to call time on this musical chapter. I, for one, hope that that’s not the case, but with Take A Look In The Mirror now their sixth great album in a row, there’s no arguing with the fact that Korn’s place in musical history is assured, whatever the future holds.