January 11, 2006

CD Review: Korn - See You on the Other Side

The boys in Korn are back with their first album of new material since Brian "Head" Welch left the band. Welch left the band officially in February of 2005, in order to rededicate himself to Christianity and filling to role of father to his 6 year old daughter. After that I was not sure what the future would bring for Korn. As this album helps to prove, Korn is nothing if not resilient. Since their debut in 1995, they have released 7 albums, plus a greatest hits compilation, 2 DVDs, and have had a steady presence on the nu-metal scene, most often rising above the faceless hordes.

While their albums are not all classics, I have enjoyed them all, will the trend continue with See You on the Other Side? I am happy to report in the affirmative. It is no Korn or Issues, but there is enough here for the Korn fan to sink their teeth into. There is a little more experimentation here, some of the albums border on Nine Inch Nails industrial, but they never lose that signature Korn sound. A sound that has grown, matured, changed, whatever you want to call it, over the years.

See You on the Other Side starts with their first single, "Twisted Transistor." A catchy track that, at first,didn't really sink in as a good song until a few listenings in when it finally broke through that had barrier surrounding the old gray matter. Once it got in there, this track, and much of the album dug itself in and decided to rock out with with my neurons. Other songs of note are the heavy "Hypocrites," "Coming Undone," and "Seen it All." They incorporate more keyboards and samples, perhaps as a reaction to the lose of half of their guitars, whatever the reason, it adds a different dimension to the sound.

There is something about this disk that I find very catchy, if slightly overproduced. Over the years Korn has definitely picked up in their production values, this has had a positive and negative effect on them. Gone is most of the raw, roughshod sound of their early albums, replaced with a slicker, layered sound. It would seem to make sense, as a band becomes successful that they seek to take advantage of the technology that the money brings with it. The catch here is to keep your sound from becoming buried within the production. Korn has done a good job at allowing their sound the luxury of the production techniques while retaining their distinctive sound.

See You on the Other Side is an admirable entry into Korn canon, yet remains below their best work. This album also marks the next stage in the evolution of the Korn brand. I find it strange to type that, thinking of the band as a brand. They have formed their own label, Korn Partnership, and have struck deals in which it sells a stake in their profits with EMI as their distributor and more recently with Live Nation, who will be their exclusive concert promoter. The deals seem to be structured in a way that encourages the two companies to take an active role in the success of the band. It is an interesting state of evolving business, yet it also runs the risk of separating the band from the music. This could have negative consequences on the music as art, making it more of a commodity. Hopefully, Korn can reconcile these and keep their creative drive, which seems to be working, so far. I also find it ironic that one of the reasons I saw for Brian Welch's departure was not wanting to be a part of the business of Korn, which was taking up a lot of their time. You can read more on their deal with Live Nation at NYTimes.com.

Back to the album. Korn has been one of the more prolific bands over the past decade, and pretty quietly at that. It seems as if whenever I turn around, there is something new from Korn. Each release bringing with it the excitement of new music from the band that played a big part in the nu-metal movement, while never becoming buried by the label that has been placed upon them.

Musically they are as sharp as ever, focusing on their strengths, which lie in their heavy guitar riffs and Jonathan Davis' unique vocal styling. Drummer David Silveria and bassist Fieldy lay down the rhythm bed, keeping the beat going strong and steady. Coming over that rhythm section is the meat of Korn's sound, Munky on guitar, supplying that signature heaviness that causes the involuntary head rocking. Even with the loss of Head, Munky keeps the riffs going. Finally, there is our master of ceremonies, Jonathan Davis, one of the more unique and intriguing voices in rock today. Now working with a bit less growl than those early recordings, instead exercising a bit more finesse, fine tuning his inflections and aggression. All I can say is rock on!

Bottomline. Korn continues their dominance with this latest release. A mix of strong and filler tracks, the end result is an album well worth adding to your collection. Davis and company have done it again.



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