It is rare when a musical act can honestly state that they were true innovators and pioneers for a specific musical movement and/or genre. Names like Elvis Presley, Metallica, NWA and Led Zeppelin come to mind in this regard. Another band that can lay claim to this achievement is the Sacramento based Korn. Korn were the first pioneers of the nu metal genre that gained massive popularity in the mid-‘90s to 2000’s. Without Korn, bands such as Slipknot, Limp Bizkit, Coal Chamber, Crazytown and many others may have never obtained their nu metal chops and went on to achieve mainstream success in the process. Whether you love or hate nu metal, you have Korn to thank for it.
Korn has origins in the Bakersfield based group L.A.P.D., which contained members James “Munky” Shaffer (guitar), Reginald Arvizu (bass) and David Silveria (drums). After L.A.P.D. released their debut studio album Who’s Laughing Know, the group disbanded and the three aforementioned members recruited Brain “Head” Welch (guitar) and Jonathan Davis (vocals) to form a new band. Someone suggested the name “corn” which, in all honesty was justifiably, shot down. Shaffer had the idea to spell the name with both a “K” instead of a “C”, and a backwards “R”, so the band’s name would appear as “KoЯn”. The logo was designed by vocalist Jonathan Davis. Silveria explained, “the music makes the name, because Korn’s a dumb name. But once we get established, it makes the name cool.”
In 1993 KoЯn released their first demo album, Neidermayer’s Mind. With limited printing, the album did not gain positive reception from the industry or public, but it is considered to be the pioneering sound for nu metal.
After recording with now famed producer Ross Robinson, Korn released their self-titled major-label debut on October 11, 1994. This was the true, major spark to the nu metal genre; as well as launching Robinson’s production career; he went on to produce for such metal and nu metal bands Slipknot and Limp Bizkit. Korn would eventually peak at number 72 on the Billboard 200 chart. The album contained singles such as “Blind” and “Shoots and Ladders”. It has been certified double-Platinum by the RIAA.
Korn released their sophomore effort, Life Is Peachy, in October 1996. Despite minimal media attention, the album debuted at number three on the charts. Life Is Peachy was darker, harder and harsher than its predecessor, yet added more traditional alternative rock structures to make it accessible to the masses. The album featured the singles “No Place to Hide”, “A.D.I.D.A.S.”, and “Good God”. The album was a commercial success, peaking at number 3 on the Billboard 200 and selling more than six million copies worldwide. Many fans and critics consider it to be the band’s best album to date.
Korn released their third album, Follow the Leader, on August 18, 1998, which featured a number of guest vocalists such as Ice Cube, Pharcyde member Tre Hardson, Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit, and actor Cheech Marin on the hidden track “Earache My Eye” (written by Marin himself). The band was a major success, debuting at number 1 on the Billboard 200. Follow the Leader has sold more than five million records in the US and more than 14 million records worldwide, making it the band’s most successful album. The videos for two of the singles, “Freak on a Leash” and “Got the Life”, received heavy rotation on music video stations such as MTV. In fact, “Freak on a Leash” was the first video ever to be retired on the popular MTV program TRL, with “Got the Life” following suit a few short months after. “Freak on a Leash” also won Best Short Form Music Video at the 2000 Grammy Awards.
The band then released Issues in November 1999. It debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, out selling Dr. Dre’s 2001 and Celine Dion’s greatest hits album. The sound on Issues took a departure from the hip-hop influences of nu metal, making it more akin to alternative metal. During this time, Korn had the honor of being featured in an episode of the hit Comedy Central program South Park. The episode was entitled “Korn’s Groovy Pirate Ghost Mystery” and featured the lead single from Issues, “Falling Away from Me”. The album contained two other hit singles, “Make Me Bad” and “Somebody Someone”. All three singles received major airplay, with only “Somebody Someone” failing to be retired on TRL. Issues is Korn’s second best selling album, selling more than 4 million copies in the US and 11 million worldwide.
In 2002, Korn released Untouchables, which debuted at number 2 on the charts. The album contained experiments and styles never previously attempted by Korn. Allmusic related: “The band is far more experimental this time out, delivering Helmet-like ringing guitars that melt and morph into each other, a mix of Metallica-esque blastbeats and tight funk drumming from the constantly improving David Silveria, and memorable riffs that take the shape of dark sound structures and offer more than just a collection of chords.” The first two music videos from Untouchables, “Here to Stay” and “Thoughtless”, were directed by the Hughes Brothers. “Here to Stay” earned Korn a Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance.“Here to Stay” peaked at number four on both the Alternative Songs and Mainstream Rock charts.
Due to the album leaking onto the Internet, Take a Look in the Mirror, Korn’s next studio release, was released on a Friday, November 21, 2003; four days earlier than its original release date. The album therefore received a weekend’s worth of sales, along with a shortage in shipments, both of which resulted in a poor showing on the Billboard 200. Take a Look in the Mirror represented varying styles and themes compared to previous releases. Davis related: “The whole album is about love, hate and my hate of people and just losing my mind. The previous albums I did, I think the last three, I was coming from a place of hurt. And I just finally got to the point where I’m done hurting and I’m just pissed off about it now. It’s turned back to just sheer hate and anger. And it definitely comes across on the album.”
Korn went to release a greatest hits album, Greatest Hits Vol. 1, in October 2004. The album debuted at number 4 on the Billboard 200 chart. n early 2005, Brian Welch announced that he would be quitting the band. In front of a crowd of 10,000, in three services at Valley Bible Fellowship in Bakersfield, California, said “I was addicted to methamphetamines and tried everything … rehab, stuff on the Internet, but nothing helped me kick it. I was trying on my own to quit and couldn’t do it. I wanted to die. No one knew what I was going through. I could not quit. Church was my last shot. I would sit in church high [on drugs]. I would wonder why people would go up to the front after the service. But one day it was for me. I said [to God], ‘Show me how to quit.’”
Since the departure of Head, Korn has released four more studio albums: See You on the Other Side (2005), an untitled album (2007), Korn III: Remember Who You Are (2008) and Path of Totality (2011). During this time the band saw the departure of another member, David Silveria. In early December 2006 it was announced that the founding drummer would be taking an indefinite “temporary hiatus” from the band. The band has also seen the return of Head for a handful of festival reunion shows, including Rock Am Ring, Rock Im Park and the Download Festival. On February 18, 2013 Korn posted a new photo on their Facebook page showing Head as part of the line up further escalating rumors that Brian “Head” Welch might be in the process to rejoin Korn permanently.
In all, Korn has eight official releases are certified Platinum or Multi-Platinum by the RIAA, and one is certified Gold. Korn has released seven video albums and 39 music videos. They currently have 41 singles, 28 of which have charted. They have also earned two Grammys out of seven nominations. So not only has Korn earned the distinction of pioneering a musical genre with nu metal, they are also one of the biggest and successful acts in recent music history. They have plans to release an eleventh album in the near future, something that fans of the band and their genre(s) are very much looking forward too. What will come of Korn’s lineup and musical evolution? Only time will tell.