Korn embrace the future on The Path of Totality, their tenth full-length studio album and second for Roadrunner Records.
Infusing dubstep anarchy into their signature sound, the legendary quartet stand on the cusp of a musical revolution for both hard rock and electronica. Korn are no strangers to revolution though. In fact, they've been purveyors of heavy music's progression since forming in Bakersfield, CA in 1994 and becoming one of the most influential entities that the genre has ever seen.
Their legendary self-titled debut took the world by storm with its schizophrenic metallic catharsis. No one had ever played heavy music with such personal lyrics and funked-out grooves. Immediately, they earned a place in the hearts of fans across the globe. However, their third offering, 1998's Follow the Leader, bridged the gap between hip hop and heavy metal more seamlessly than any album before or after, and it solidified them as inspirational innovators.
Numerous acts "followed the leader", and heavy metal underwent a renaissance in the early 2000s with Korn at the forefront. Slipknot, Staind, Disturbed, and countless others nodded to the group as an inspiration. In addition, they've garnered two Grammy Awards— one for Best Short Form Video for "Freak on a Leash" from Follow the Leader and one for Best Metal Performance for "Here to Stay" from 2002’s Untouchables—and sold 35 million albums worldwide.
However, they're ushering in a new horizon for heavy music with The Path of Totality. Collaborating with dubstep heavyweights Skrillex, Excision, Downlink, Noisia, Feed Me, 12th Planet, and Flinch, Korn have constructed a hypnotic hybrid of dubstep and metal. Bouncing from polyrhythmic guitar pummeling into drastic electro drops, the music is dark, dangerous, and definitive Korn.
"It's future metal," declares vocalist Jonathan Davis. "We're mixing metal and electro music, and you're not supposed to do that. Since day one, Korn has always been all about going against the grain, experimenting, and trying to take music different
Shaffer affirms, "You need to be pushed out of your comfort zone to take chances. We were able to do that by collaborating with all of these brilliant writers and challenging ourselves. We're still pushing ourselves to grow."
In 2009, Davis began to envision the place where Korn would venture next. A lifelong electronic music fan and DJ, he'd cruise Beatport and fervently download the latest tracks from various underground dubstep artists.
Last year, his obsession intensified. Speaking to his band mates James "Munky" Shaffer [Guitar], Reggie "Fieldy" Arvizu [Bass], and Ray Luzier [Drums], the four agreed to tread new ground and incorporate dubstep into a couple of tracks. Davis called longtime Korn fan and rising electronic music star Skrillex to join the band at his studio for a collaboration.
After merely three hours, "Get Up!" was born. A staggering deluge of wobbling synths, bludgeoning riffs, and propulsive hooks, the song instantly became a 21st century arena-ready anthem in the vein of "Blind". Korn released "Get Up!" in May 2011 and it caught fire online, selling over 200k digital downloads.
"You can't help but get excited when you hear that song," smiles Fieldy. "That's how we knew we were on to something."
There was no question. Korn knew they needed to do an entire album following this muse. The band would record with dubstep DJs back in Davis's home studio in Bakersfield during inspired sessions. Vocals were actually tracked in the singer's home theater or in closets and hotels everywhere from Korea to Japan. The record came together at light speed. Before they knew it, the eleven songs comprising The Path of Totality were complete.
"It was a very different recording process," Fieldy adds. "In fact, it was the most easy and organized album that we've ever done. We got a bunch of different flavors from the DJs. Instead of picking up a guitar or bass and jamming out, we'd get inspired by these weird sounds and work around them. It's a new approach to an old formula."
Lyrically, Davis also broke ground. Known for his heart-wrenching introspective verbal exorcism, the singer turned to both the world around him and inside his own head for inspiration. "I came at the lyrics from a different direction," he goes on. "I wasn't writing about me on this record. I was writing about things I've witnessed and things I'm into. I'm looking at what goes on in my mind."
The album's second official single, "Narcissistic Cannibal" featuring Skrillex and Kill the Noise, is the perfect example. Davis delivers a haunting and theatrical refrain over synth swells as a glitch hop death march commences. Everything blossoms into one of the catchiest hooks of the band's career. "The key changes make it so unpredictable," Shaffer exclaims. "It's not how we would traditionally write, but it's still extremely heavy. That song is a good representation of this record as a whole."
Davis reveals, "It's about me watching people who are so narcissistic destroy themselves. They basically eat themselves alive because of their narcissism. That's the gist of the story."
He tells another poignant and powerful story on "Bleeding Out". After an elegantly evil piano intro, the song traverses a warped soundscape from producer Feed Me. The singer engages a philosophical discussion over more eerie seven-string alchemy from Shaffer.
Davis elaborates, "So many bad things happen in life, and I'm singing the song to Christ. Religion takes all of the beauty out of who Christ was. He was the first rock star. I try not judge anybody and I try to love everyone. My anger is coming out on that song, and it's like watching Jesus bleed out on the cross."
Then there's "Chaos Lives in Everything", another salvo featuring Skrillex. The tune boasts a hushed bridge with Davis at a near whisper before a dubstep metal freak-out that'll ignite mosh pits everywhere. "It gets sadistic and my inner demons are speaking here. A lot of people get in a fight just to watch their significant other in pain. Then they fuck and makeup," Davis laughs. "Chaos does live in everything. Anything can be chaotic."
Korn harness that chaos better than ever before during the album's finale, "Way Too Far" featuring 12th Planet. "Way Too Far" spirals from a grinding visceral crunch into ethereal production that blasts off into space in one final sonic haze.
"It's the one song that's about me," Davis reveals. "Sometimes, I just take things way too far. The little death metal growl is like the voice in my head. If it's a small drama, I'll get upset and do things that make it worse. I think a lot of people relate to that."
Taking on a project of this magnitude that encompasses two genres is a monumental moment for the band. That's why the title proves so apropos. Davis actually asked Shaffer to come up with ideas for an album name. While on a flight to Asia, the guitarist watched a documentary about solar eclipses, and he came upon the phrase The Path of Totality. As soon as the plane landed, he shared it with Davis.
"I wanted to come up with a name that felt otherworldly," Shaffer explains. "A shadow is cast on the earth when a solar eclipse occurs. The moon has to be perfectly aligned with the sun to create this flawless shadow that completely covers the sun from the earth. Similarly, all of the producers and writers had to come together at the perfect time to cast these songs onto tape."
Davis continues, "Everything simply fit with this record, and we were able to achieve our goal. It's a rebirth."
Ultimately, Korn's rebirth starts at The Path of Totality. "I want people to experience something sonically that they never have when they listen to this record," Shaffer states.
Davis echoes that sentiment, "I want to trail-blaze. I want to change things. I want to do things we're not supposed to do. I want to create art that's different and not conform to what's going on. We didn't make a dubstep album. We made a Korn album." — Rick Florino, October 2011