Album Review: Korn – Path of Totality

KoRn The Path Of Totality Album Review

By Matt Albers

This is my first official album review for Damnation Magazine, so I think it’s only appropriate to open with a little back story. KoRn was the first band I ever listened to and became a fan of on my own that was considered “heavy” or “metal.” As the self-proclaimed middle school “social outcast,” KoRn’s dark, depressed, angsty lyrics and their groove and angrier alternative rock, post-grunge melodies made it pretty easy for me to get into these leaders of the now prominent numetal movement at the turn of the new millennium. It was this initial point where I began my path on becoming a “metalhead,” and although my musical tastes expanded and I left behind interest in many numetal bands of my youth, KoRn continued to play a prominent role of positivity in my life.
It was hard for me to admit to myself that some works by my favorite band were simply inferior to others, especially at the time they were released, notably their albums Untouchables, Untitled, and of course See You On The Other Side, where the recent loss of a foundational original member (guitarist Brian “Head” Welch) clearly took a toll on KoRn’s songwriting. Still, I found myself continuously listening to their earliest albums start to finish as well as personal favorites from their later works, and I never seemed to lose interest. When their return-to-form album and Roadrunner Records debut III: Remember Who You Are came out in the summer of 2010, I felt that initial strong, heart-felt connection I originally had to KoRn was rekindled. Although I still knew that at that point my musical preferences were not the same as they were when I initially started listening to KoRn, and I could now see some of the musical and lyrical elements that made die-hard metalheads look down on them, that album continued to stay with me one that I both enjoyed the songs and even found catharsis by listening to it as I did with KoRn’s earlier material that I found heartfelt and impacting in my youth.
When I first heard KoRn’s collaboration with Skrillex “Get Up!” I found myself very confused, mostly because I was very unfamiliar with what dubstep actually was. After conducting research, looking into the genre and hearing what the music really was and sounded like, I became both wary and anxious to listen to the entirety of their latest studio album, The Path Of Totality, not knowing really what to expect and terrified that I would hate it to the point that I felt like I had completely lost my favorite band. After giving the album a few listens, I ultimately concluded that, although The Path Of Totality is undoubtedly my least favorite album in the KoRn catalogue and I was immediately convinced that I could live without it and NEVER purchase it myself, it did seem to have its own certain charms as well as its flaws throughout.
Overall while listening to this album, I couldn’t help but feel that the overwhelming amount of electronic sound effects were simply too distracting on the vast majority of songs. The signature dubstep sounds including the repetitious deep bass “wub-wub” and high-pitched, grinding power drill-esque squeals are certainly an acquired taste to anyone new to dubstep, whether hearing it attached to a KoRn song or not. But one of the main problems with these electronic dubstep elements that are mixed in really take away from KoRn’s instrumentation to the point where it’s hard to even hear them. KoRn’s last album III: Remember Who You Are featured strong talent from their new official drummer, Ray Luzier, but his presence sounded virtually non-existent with the apparent constant presence of the synthetic drum machine foundation of all the dubstep artists featured on The Path Of Totality. Those same synthetic elements used to create the electronic melodies and hooks also drown out most of the riffs from James “Munky” Shaffer, and if they aren’t drowned out, those electronic melodies accompanying the guitar seem downright unnecessary. Ultimately, the only recognizable elements of KoRn that are audible among the dubstep are Jonathan Davis’ vocals and the signature bass rattling of Reginald “Fieldy” Avizu.
With all the negatives in the The Path Of Totality, the sound of this experimental album does have a feel that could easily appeal not only to dubstep and electronic fans and ravers, but also even industrial fans, as KoRn’s already down tuned melodies and dark atmospheres do meld well with synthetic, electronic beats, as proven before by some of their more shining moments on their Untitled and Untouchables albums. The overall feel of the best songs on The Path Of Totality give a creepy but enjoyable hint of a later career Marilyn Manson vibe. Little has seemed to change in Davis’ vocals, which actually appear even more melodic and well-ranged than ever, though he does not always succeed at his attempts at deep, meaningful lyrics, which regularly come across as forced and repetitive. But while Davis’ contrived lyrics may be predictable at this point in his career, what’s most unsettling are his even more forced death grunts, which now sound at their weakest and most disappointing state.
I’m still admittedly new to the world of dubstep, having never really been an avid fan of techno or electronic music in any of its forms, but in my brief experiences with dubstep, it’s plain to see that there are sounds, artists and vibes that vary amongst one another in the genre. It’s interesting to see how some dubstep songs or artists take one direction that may be more intense or obnoxious while others may be softer or more intricate or atmospheric. KoRn’s collaborations with the handful of different dubstep artists on The Path Of Totality are no exception. Although, it almost seems that the dubstep artists featured on the album contributed both ends of that spectrum on the various songs on which they appear.
For example, while the presence of Skrillex on “Get Up!” appears to bring nothing but those unnecessary and obnoxious electronic effects make the song almost too much to bear, his appearance on the album’s opening track “Chaos Lives In Everything” actually helps contribute to a surprisingly well-structured, melodic combination of his dubstep and KoRn’s rock. The same can be said about the contributions of dubstep group Noisia on the album; where “Kill Mercy Within” combine the two groups’ sounds tastefully, Noisia’s random, forced synthetic sounds are too distracting on “Burn The Obedient.” Overall, possibly the best song on the album is probably the last track “Bleeding Out” featuring Feed Me, which opens with keyboards and synthesizers, then adds in riffs from Munky and Fieldy for an extended minute and a half instrumental jam, and finally adds Davis’ vocals to eventually build into what is easily the best-collaborated effort on the album, helped by the fact that it is the first KoRn song in years to feature bagpipes, presumably performed by Jonathan Davis himself.
The special edition version of The Path Of Totality also features two bonus songs that were clearly saved as aspects to try and sell this extra package, and were probably left off the standard version because of their overall poor quality. “Fuels The Comedy” featuring Kill The Noise seemed to be no more than an excuse for Jonathan Davis to try his hand at rapping, yielding a very underwhelming, maybe even embarrassing result. “Tension” features work from three different dubstep artists, Excision, Datsik and Downlink, and is ultimately Jonathan Davis providing creepy, gothy vocals on a purely electronic track with no sign of the other members of KoRn anywhere to be found. The only redeeming factor is that, like “Bleeding Out” featuring the return of a KoRn signature of bagpipes, “Tension” features the return of another KoRn staple: Davis’ signature vocal scatting.
While The Path Of Totality may not be a positive original contribution to KoRn’s catalogue, it does its job of standing alone as an experimental album. While KoRn has experienced strong success in most of their nearly twenty year career, it is only their recent drastic turn into a very new musical trend that is keeping them there for now. KoRn, and especially Jonathan Davis, have frequently talked about their enthusiasm for the direction taken on this record, and Davis has also taken up a strong liking to being a club DJ as well. We will have to wait and see whether KoRn will continue down the dubstep-paved road they’ve started with The Path Of Totality, or if this album was simply a desperate attempt for revenue and their coming material will yield either further experimentation or a regression to their more traditional sound. Either way, while fans of both KoRn and dubstep will more than likely have fun listening to The Path Of Totality, die-hard and classic KoRn fans like myself may find themselves yearning to hear what the album would have sounded like if KoRn had just written and recorded the songs by themselves.

 

 

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