Korn challenges status quo with new albumWritten by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Since the release of its 1994 self-titled debut, Korn has proven it is not interested in falling in line.
Nearly 18 years after the California-based rockers sent listeners into a tizzy with an unclassifiable sound that included scat vocals, a pair of downtuned seven-string guitars, a five-string bass and even bagpipes, the group continues to challenge musical norms with its 10th record, “The Path of Totality,” released in December.
“I got an email from a 16-year-old girl right when the album came out saying, ‘I don’t know what a Korn is, but I love Skrillex so I bought your new record,’” said Korn drummer Ray Luzier. “That was really interesting that she was a Skrillex fan but never heard of Korn, so hey. There’s a new fan right there. A lot of die-hards, they took a little bit to warm up to it, but a lot of them are digging it now.”
That’s because unlike Korn’s early work, which has since been labeled as “numetal,” every song on “The Path of Totality” is a fusion of the band’s own sound with dubstep, a growing electronic music genre which includes lots of low-end bass, breakdowns and unique sounds. In other words — right up Korn’s alley.
“To me, it’s not a huge surprise that this ended up like this,” Luzier said. “There’s always been little elements. That’s what’s cool about Korn. People call it numetal, whatever you want, but it’s just Korn. You can’t even call it metal in my eyes. It’s what it is. I mean, how they play and how it came about and how we are today is a whole different entity.
“It’s not surprising to me because you listen back to earlier albums, there’s always been little elements of hip hop and electronic stuff in there.”
A different path
On Feb. 23, Korn will kick off its upcoming tour in support of “The Path of Totality” with a show at The Fillmore Detroit. Having joined core members Jonathan Davis (vocals), James “Munky” Shaffer (guitar) and Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu (bass) in October 2007, Luzier has already experienced the vastness of the band’s sound in his time with the group.
The first record Luzier played on — 2010’s “Korn III: Remember Who You Are” — was a throwback to Korn’s earlier work, recorded with all four members jamming together in one room, while “The Path of Totality” took a year to make and was recorded in various locations. A DJ himself and a huge fan of dubstep, Davis planted the seeds of the new album.
“We’re always tracking songs,” Luzier said. “Jonathan has a studio in his bus. In ‘The Path of Totality’ form, everything was so electronic and quite opposite than organic. We could use machines, use our laptops and Pro Tools and anything we had on the road. Jonathan was collaborating with dubstep DJs over a year ago.”
The first of those collaborations began with Skrillex, a huge Korn fan. While Luzier was initially skeptical of how the sounds of dubstep would merge with Korn’s, the band quickly got on board as they began crafting the songs in studio.
Soon the idea of making an entire electronically fused album became a reality when the band enlisted the help of other dubstep notables NOISIA, Excision, Kill The Noise, Downlink, 12th Planet, Feed Me and Datsik appear on “The Path of Totality,” which was released in December.
“The whole process, how they make these sounds, it’s so crazy how, Skrillex can sell out an arena in England of 25,000 people by himself,” Luzier said of the dubstep movement. “It’s just how popular it got. To be with that — the collaboration — it just fit so well. To me, live it’s just so much cooler because you can hear the crunching guitars and everything just so much better, and the energy’s so much higher.”
New way to play
Though doing an electronic album was unlike anything he had done in his previous musical endeavors with the likes of Jake E. Lee, Arcade, David Lee Roth and Army of Anyone, Luzier enjoyed making “The Path of Totality” because he’s always been a fan of the techniques of artists like Radiohead, Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails.
“A lot of bands that use programming in their music, I actually love it because there’s a reason it sounds that way, and on our record it sounds just so massive,” Luzier said. “I played on every song, but a lot of the times the programming sounds took over and sometimes all you hear is live cymbals. And that’s OK because that’s what the song calls for.
“In retrospect I’m an organic player. I love to play without drum machines and all that because we’re all human, but in this case I absolutely love every step of the way.”
Even with all the extra electronics, Luzier’s playing is still very much a part of Korn’s sound. The band did a run of live shows prior to Christmas and played some of the dubstep tunes.
“It’s actually quite fun,” Luzier said. “We do this little interlude thing where we stop, and I actually play electronic kick and snare as opposed to the organic, so my drum tech actually switches out the acoustic snare. We put up the electronic one, and the kick drum is triggered. But I’m playing everything note for note. That’s what I’m proud of.
“I’m not one of those guys that’s going to just sit there and air jam, especially live. That’s not the style.”
After years of being a touring musician with different acts, Luzier is happy to have found a home in a band like Korn that constantly experiments and looks to evolve.
“It’s actually awesome,” Luzier said. “I read an AC/DC article not long ago and it was hilarious because they said, ‘Angus [Young], you guys have been accused of making the same record for the last 25 years.’ I forget the exact year, and he says, ‘You’re absolutely wrong; we’ve made the exact same record the last 27 years.’ Hilarious, because as big as AC/DC is they’re actually ripping on themselves for putting out the same record.
“And I’m a huge AC/DC fan so it’s like, I love the fact that people will grow as musicians and just not be afraid.”
And while “The Path of Totality” has generated lots of buzz for its unique formula, including the nod for “Album of the Year” from Revolver, Luzier doesn’t think his band’s latest effort deviates from Korn’s track record of shaking up the music scene.
“People always ask me, ‘If I go buy one Korn record, what is it?’” Luzier said. “And I’m like, ‘You can’t do that’ because ‘Untitled’ sounds nothing like ‘See You on the Other Side’ and ‘Untouchables’ sounds nothing like ‘The Path of Totality’ and ‘Korn III.’
“It’s just so different, but one thing’s for sure at the end of day: it all has a Korn stamp on it.”
On Feb. 23, Korn will perform at The Fillmore Detroit, located at 2115 Woodward Ave. Doors are at 7 p.m. and all ages are welcome. Tickets can be purchased through Ticketmaster (1-800-745-3000) as well as at korn.com. For more information, visit ticketmaster.com or call The Fillmore Detroit at (313) 961-5450.