Music can heal. That’s the story and the line rolled out by innumerable songwriters and artists over the years. The medium allows for the expression of thoughts, sentiments and emotions that might otherwise be held inside. That’s very much the case for Korn, whose “nu-metal” beginnings were born out of intense feelings of alienation, animosity, abuse, and violence.
The band just released its 13th studio album, The Nothing, on Sept. 13 — and the weight of this album is a bit overbearing, in terms of the crushing emotional impact it leaves on the listener due to vocalist Jonathan Davis.
In August 2018, Davis lost his wife, Deven, at just 39 years of age of what was later confirmed to be an accidental drug overdose after a long history of substance abuse. Just two months previous, he told the NME, his mother passed away. As a result, The Nothing is Davis coming to terms as best as he can with intense grief. As he said to the NME:
“Well I think the new record is really about all the processes of grieving. There’s sad songs. There’s angry songs. There’s everything I was going through. Emotions I was feeling, things I felt were conspiring to stop us from making the record. It really was the worst year of my life. I was basically trying to work it out as we made it. There was no plan. No blueprint. It was really honest like that. It was just a man, totally distraught, trying to make sense of something terrible. I don’t know whether you know this, but my mother died two months prior too …”
It’s readily apparent Davis and the rest of Korn (guitarists James “Munky” Shaffer and James “Head” Welch, bassist Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu and drummer Ray Luzier) didn’t come to mess around on this album. The opening track/introduction “The End Begins” starts the record out with the sound of Davis literally sobbing, after a couple minutes of chanting and bagpipes. It really sets the tone for what’s to come, and captures him at an impossibly vulnerable moment.
This theme is apparent throughout the album on nearly every song, Davis’ dramatic lyrics leading the charge through songs featuring lyrics about how “God is making fun of me,” such as on the pummeling “Idiosyncrasy”:
Thirteen albums in, Korn doesn’t have to impress anybody. The band’s commercial peak was reached in the late 1990s, when their genre of dark “nu-metal” was all the rage. Since then, Korn’s tried new things, doing an electronic/dubstep-inspired album, sure, but mostly staying true to their signature sound of down-tuned guitars, crunching, metallic bass rhythms and Davis’ unmistakable presence on the microphone.
That’s very much the case with The Nothing, but it’s evident that working with producer Nick Raskulinecz (who produced 2016’s The Serenity of Suffering) brought out the best in the band, allowing them to tap into the strongest elements of their repertoire for songs that are both brutal and catchy — a dichotomy that has exemplified the band at its best over the years.
It’s understandable that Korn’s music isn’t for everybody, especially those who might write the band off automatically due to their ties in a much-maligned music genre of nearly 20 years ago — and that’s fine.
But there’s power in the band’s way of handling aggressive feelings, channeling deep-seated personal turmoil and emotions into music that is at times absolutely crushing. And it’s admirable that Davis felt so comfortable being UNcomfortable with this album, opening himself up in a way that shows the scars of significant grief and immense loss, exposing it to the world for all to hear.
The album ends as it began, with Davis crying — this time lamenting how he’s “failed” on the final track, “Surrender to Failure”:
That’s the power of music, and the catharsis it can provide. As we’ve seen all too recently with the suicides of Linkin Park vocalist Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell of Soundgarden/Audioslave, everybody has battles, everybody fights personal demons, no matter who you are.
Some of them are too strong to overcome, but it’s only through our effort to challenge them head-on that we can hope to take them down — or at the very least, find a way to live with them.
That’s what The Nothing is, and it’s an intense journey.