The godfathers of nu-metal have returned once again to help kick off an already monumental year for heavy music. Requiem, the fourteenth (!!!) studio album from the Bakersfield bunch, delivers the usual goods we know and love - a massive duel assault from guitarists Munky and Head, pummeling drums from Ray, and an assortment of layered vocal work from Jonathan Davis that showcases the singer’s signature belches and ear for big infectious hooks.
Korn aren’t exactly breaking new ground here, but this latest collection of headbanging tunes continues to solidify the band’s ongoing hot streak that began with Head rejoining the group in 2013’s fittingly-titled The Paradigm Shift. After nearly a decade of experimentation and rediscovery, Head’s return began to move the band back to where it seemed like they left off before his absence. If Korn’s definitive sound came to fruition with 1999’s Issues and 2002’s Untouchables, The Paradigm Shift and its 2016 followup The Serenity of Suffering re-established it with the band’s newfound artistic flairs making the music sound bigger than ever.
But that was only the tip of the iceberg, as 2019 introduced both longtime and newer fans to The Nothing, a genuine masterwork from a band that’s always resided in pain and darkness but never made it seem as concentrated and palpable before. The album still holds the highest Metacritic rating out of all Korn's albums rated on the website, continues to receive widespread acclaim to this day, and eventually led to a lengthy, headline-grabbing amphitheater tour last year. That’s no easy feat for a metal act that’s been chugging along since the early 90s.
Naturally, that made the pressure placed on Requiem all the more daunting. The emotions that JD was channeling on The Nothing came from an even deeper place than usual due to recent personal losses; a genuine outpouring of grief and guilt that can't be replicated. But what worked to the band’s advantage this time around (in a bit of a morbid silver lining) was a world that had both stopped in its tracks and gone mad at the same time, providing not just inspiration from a songwriting standpoint, but time to fully explore the ideas they had.
With no one knowing when or even if live music would return in the midst of the pandemic, deadlines and label demands all but went out the window, opening up a freedom that makes the time taken very evident. Every song feels fully fleshed-out and explored; ‘Let the Dark Do the Rest’ ventures into one of the band’s most inspired bridges, ‘Lost in the Grandeur’ features one of their most stinging riffs, and album-closer ‘The Worst Is On Its Way’ descends into a crushing, scatting breakdown that proves to one of the most brutal moments in Korn’s catalog.
What’s different this time around is a sense of lightness that dances over top of the usual heaviness. Expressed mainly through JD’s lyrics and melodies, as well as some subtle yet noteworthy synth work in the song mix, Requiem feels triumphant even amongst the obvious darkness of the music. With the singer now in a better headspace than he was on the last record, he takes the listeners on both his and their respective journeys out of the depths of despair into possible optimism. “I just want to see what the future holds” isn’t a lyric you’d ever imagine hearing on a Korn record, but here it acts as the lynchpin to the entire experience.
That idea of coming to terms with the past and finding ways to push forward translates directly into how the band chose to debut Requiem; with a global livestream event that honored the countless lives lost during these unprecedented times. Broadcast live from the Hollywood United Methodist Church in Los Angeles, the band - along with a full choir, minimalized orchestra, and some very lucky fans - performed some select songs from their catalog before going into the new stuff. The candlelit church, with its deep blues and reds illuminating the walls, served as a unique and intimate setting for the performance. After a beautifully haunting introduction from the choir and organist to begin the ceremony (which resembled a funeral service of sorts), the band took to the stage and immediately went into setlist staple ‘Falling Away From Me’.
Korn has staged shows in places like crop circles and skyscraper rooftops before, but the church offered a completely different vibe that the band seemingly understood. The first songs of the set, with rarities ‘Alone I Break’ and ‘No One’s There’ (a personal favorite) following the opener, were performed in a stripped-down version similar to their MTV Unplugged appearance. But this was no acoustic set, as the songs still took on a grand feel thanks to the addition of the choir and horns. After initial surprise from the crowded online chat over this not being a typical metal show, the fans eventually embraced the reimaginings of their favorite tunes. The chat itself quickly became an overwhelmingly positive space, with thousands “singing” along and chiming in from the various countries they were watching from. At one point, over 16,000 people were viewing the stream.
The band decided to heat things up once they got into Requiem songs, starting with lead single ‘Start the Healing’. Fully electric this time around, the group let loose and seemed determined to start a pit in the middle of the church pews. The live debuts of ‘Lost in the Grandeur’, ‘Hopeless and Beaten’, and ‘Worst Is on Its Way’ only added to that sentiment. Korn then ended the night by switching back and performing a special version of ‘Let the Dark Do the Rest’, a fitting end to the past darkness and an invitation into the light. If any complaints were to be had, it was that the ceremony wasn't long enough for hungry fans eager for more.
Korn recently wrapped up a run of shows with fellow legends System of a Down, and are set embark on their own headlining run in support of Requiem, produced by Live Nation, starting March 4th along special guests Chevelle and Code Orange. Tickets on sale HERE.