Korn - Aragon Ballroom - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Korn - Aragon Ballroom

by Zach Johnson Rating:9 Release Date:2011-11-13

When most people think of Korn, the reaction is generally bound to be more negative than positive. Hardcore metalheads loathe the band, blaming them for the decline of heavy metal in the 90s, and in the process giving birth to the much maligned and now essentially defunct genre of nu-metal.  Most critics now dismiss them as washed-up, predictable, and eternally juvenile in nature and material. And your average rock music fan probably sees them as a flash in the pan, trendy late-90s band whose popularity flamed out rather quickly along with the nu-metal genre they helped create.

But let us now flashback to 1994: grunge was beginning to fade out, giving rise to generic 'post-grunge' bands, alt-rock was becoming watered-down, and most people thought of a vegetable when they heard the word "korn".  It was 1994 that Korn dropped their genre-shattering self-titled debut, a monster of an album that combined metal, funk, and hip-hop elements with a ferocity and intensity that few had ever heard before.

It was this debut album that drew me out to see the band on a brisk early October evening, as Korn were performing it from front to back as part of their 20th anniversary tour, which just happened to kick off right in my sweet home Chicago. 

And while I have a hard time defending the band’s recent output over the past decade+, I have always been a bonafide fan of their early records (particularly their debut), so I decided to upgrade to a VIP ticket to mark the occasion.  I normally would not splurge on such things, especially for a band like Korn who hasn't made a good album since 2003, but the respect and love I have for their debut album has always overshadowed their mis-steps over the years for me personally. 

Anyway, the VIP ticket allotted me the opportunity to meet the band, which was a somewhat surreal experience.  The process was expectedly orchestrated and somewhat brisk.  Shake hands, get your VIP pass autographed, and have their photographer snap a picture of you with the band.  I shook Mr. Davis’s hand first and introduced myself as he proceeded to sign my pass and compliment my “old-ass” Korn t-shirt which I got back in 1997 roughly.  Jonathan Davis is by all accounts a very nice guy, in spite of his tortured/schizophrenic stage persona.  It was a borderline honor to meet him, and he was warm and accommodating fellow in person.  I proceeded down the autograph line, getting Fieldy, Munky, Head, and Ellen DeGeneres’s autograph (oh wait, that was Ray Luzier, silly me), before getting my picture taken with everyone.  I was subsequently shuffled out the door where myself and the 50 or so other VIPers were treated to a stripped-down acoustic version of “Alone I Break” a song that finds Jonathan Davis channeling his Duran Duran/Cure obsessions a little too intensely for my taste, but seemed an appropriate choice given their advertisement on providing an “intimate acoustic performance” for the group.  So that was nice I guess.

Anyway, after that, I had to endure 2 sets by the other bands on the bill: Islander and Suicide Silence.  Long story short, neither one of them were very good, particularly Suicide Silence who were downright excruciating to listen to at times.  Islander at least had some dynamics in their sound, but Suicide Silence were just basically “play fast, play loud, scream at a horrendously high volume for our entire set…rinse and repeat”. 

While I suppose it was nice to see Korn taking out “heavier” bands on tour with them, they choose 1 mediocre one and 1 borderline-awful one, but, such is often the case with supporting acts anyway.  It’s usually hit or miss.

So after enduring those bands, I found myself packed like a sardine amongst 1000s of other fans on the suffocating floor a few rows from the front of the stage.  Basically I was in the most grueling section of the crowd, where you essentially can’t move and just get crushed as the everyone pulls and pushes their way around in waves, which is not a particularly enjoyable experience. 

When Korn came out with “Blind”, obviously the crowd went insane, but in my section, you couldn't really move, so over the next couple of songs I attempted to move back to the moshpit to get some fresh air and commence slamdancing to perhaps the best slamdancing album of all-time.I made it to the pit just in time for “Clown”, but was bummed I wasn't able to go properly apeshit for “Ball Tongue” and “Need To” due to crowd density. 

Practically every song on Korn’s 1st album is pure, violent, catharsis, but the 1-2-3 punch of “Clown”, “Divine”, and “Faget” are quite a doozy to say the least.  I enjoyed them live, as they are incredibly menacing, blood-boiling tunes, each with their own epic payoffs, but it was certainly an exhausting and grueling experience to partake in. 

Jonathan Davis then retrieved his patented bagpipes for the intro to “Shoots and Ladders”  which both the crowd and myself responded to enthusiastically.  A classic song on an album full of classics, the 1st half of “Shoots and Ladders” gives you a temporary opportunity to collect yourself from the devastation that is side 1 of the album, and in a live setting, I have to say it was a bit of a godsend. 

Korn continued to pummel their way through side 2 as the energy of the crowd slightly subsided, likely due to sheer exhaustion (speaking for myself anyway).  But once the band launched into the brooding “Helmet in the Bush” it represented a change in tone which prepares you for the moment of the night everyone was waiting for: “Daddy”.

For those not privy, it's a song about Jonathan Davis being molested by a family friend when he was a child. On the album, towards the end of the song, after the band has pummeled you with incredibly heavy and dingy doom-sludge riffs, Jonathan Davis absolutely loses it, exploding into a heartbreaking outburst of uncontrollable beligerent sobbing.  It's difficult to listen to, but it's kind of like driving by a car accident you just can't look away from.  It's raw, unabashed, gut-wrenching emotion, and it's an incredibly profound listening experience.  When I was a teenager, I had never heard anything like it on an album before, and I never have since.

Due to the emotionally draining nature of the song, the band had not performed it in over 20 years until earlier in 2015, so hearing it live was something special.  Needless to say, it was intense, and Jonathan Davis was noticeably a little shaken up as he cathartically closed out the song, throwing down his mic and storming off stage.  I personally applaud him for performing a song that is so deeply personal and traumatic for him.  It was powerful to witness that, and it was certainly the highlight of the night for yours truly.

Korn came back for their encore and performed a few of their usual suspects from the height of their famous years, including “Falling Away From Me” (liked it but never loved it), “Here To Stay” (always dug that one), “Coming Undone” (never liked it but was admittedly good live), “Did My Time” (pretty good), and they closed with “Freak On A Leash” (overplayed, but still kind of great).

Overall, hearing Korn perform their debut album live was kind of like going through a sadistic, incredibly intense primal scream therapy session.  It was cathartic, fun, but grueling.  The songs on Korn’s 1st album are ballsy, not only because of their audacity, or the devastating explosive sonic moments, but mainly because of Jonathan Davis's ability to express his deepest darkest secrets and exorcize his demons for everyone to see across the span of an incredibly intense hour.  When Korn made that album, they made something unique and real.  Ugly, dark, and unrefined to be sure, but the album is only all the more powerful and gripping for it.  Korn have never topped it, and they never will.  It's raw, cathartic emotion in its darkest form, and to me anyway, that's a beautiful thing.

And although Korn have certainly been a band of diminishing returns over the years, their debut still holds up, and the band never fails to deliver the goods in a live setting.  A painfully blissful experience for yours truly.

Korn: A

Comments (3)

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Awesome review! Indepth and respectful.

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As someone who only ever really liked 'Clown', it's nice to see them doing such a great performance so far through their career.

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thanks man...Korn doesn't get a lot of respect these days, and I understand why, but even the most jaded critics have to acknowledge their debut and it's impact

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