The risky business of experimenting with a long-established sound can lead to alienating fans, being branded as “sellouts,” riding the coattails of a fad, and peddling to the lowest common denominator. Our question then becomes, “What amount of change is acceptable?” Korn, a veteran figurehead of the long-malnourished nu-metal movement, alternately attempted revitalizing its sound in 2010, only to discover a price to be paid for recycling old shit under a prior producer, plus a new member.
Several critics were nice enough, yet we feel they can do better than high school graduates scrambling through tattered notebooks for a semblance of times long gone. Fast-forwarding less than two years, the mildly delusional Jonathan Davis and company have ditched wash-shrunken goth regalia for ravers of Americanized, hormonally raging dubstep. Marketing ploy or a passion project? It’s anyone’s guess, but in making a move parallel to Linkin Park’s A Thousand Suns, Korn have adopted electronic-infused “future metal” on The Path Of Totality.
No matter what sound you root for, this feels inevitable. Way back, Follow the Leader and Life Is Peachy incorporated a lot of hip-hop into the mix, at one point collaborating with Deftones’ Chino Moreno to cover the Ice Cube track “Wicked”. The Path of Totality rallies current names in the dubstep and house community like drawing monikers from a fashionably fluorescent Who’s Who top hat. In the vein of trying on new outfits for a new time in music, such sharp turns answer more questions than they raise. So far, so good. So, how does it sound? Jarring, if only at first.
In addition to the usual suspects present – front man Jonathan Davis, guitarist James “Munky” Shaffer, drummer Ray Luzier, and signature bassist Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu (whose slap is sadly missing) – fresh sounds flesh out Korn’s most recent vibe, hints of which can be heard on 2005’s See You on the Other Side. In the case of a guest-saturated Totality, Skrillex wobbles and tweaks out all over “Chaos Lives in Everything”, soon after punching out majorly redeemable bass on singles “Narcissistic Cannibal” (featuring Kill the Noise) and headbanging forerunner “Get Up!”; Excision and Downlink light up hi-hats and effects galore on “Illuminati”, bookended by the former’s lofty “My Wall” (lofty as it can be, anyway) and the latter’s Gary Numan-esque “Sanctuary”.
Members of Dutch breakbeat act Noisia enlist a bombardment of clicks and buzzes akin to background static from The Downward Spiral, carving out a most awesome, yet most likely overlooked niche on the urgent “Kill Mercy Within”, haunting charge “Burn the Obedient”, and hyperactive “Reptile”-meets-Untouchables throwback “Let’s Go”. Unlike Skrillex, 12th Planet (“Way Too Far”), or Kill the Noise (“Fuels the Comedy”), who tend to push Korn to the forefront of their own record in a revisit to Linkin Park’s “Wretches and Kings”, Noisia twist the boundaries slightly more to an electronic vantage point, where Luzier and Fieldy are advantageous accompanists, not leading men with egos bigger than their eyes. What’s next, Jónsi on a Tool LP?
As far as experiments go, in the scope of what it means to nu-metal or dubstep, this is a necessary evil to some and an oddball win to others. There are those who didn’t see it coming, there are those who’d prefer it never had, and in the end, those arguments are muted by a pounding speaker and a few California metal-heads who ultimately decided to do something for themselves that wound up beneficial for all involved. Sonically, The Path of Totality feels culturally authentic and trendy, while at the same time, pounding enough for mosh pits and dance floors alike.
I don’t consider the UK-scorned Skrillex or any other intervention on this record all that groundbreaking. Also, The Path of Totality isn’t without major flaws in mixing; however, it does manage to make one repetitive style of London club music sound agreeable thanks to aggressive guitars and an original vocalist. I’m almost surprised to see Pendulum didn’t volunteer for a role in this menagerie, but to be fair, that may have been overkill.
Take this at face value, stop moaning, and savor a sampling of modern tastes for a change. You might at least credit this release as being fathoms more assertive than, say, Hollywood Undead? Bunch o’ whiners, eat some metal.
Essential Tracks: “Narcissistic Cannibal”, “Let’s Go”, and “Fuels the Comedy”