By ALAN SCULLEY
For the Call
Since Korn released its latest platinum-plus CD, “Untouchables,” last year, plenty of critics and fans have noted that “Untouchables” puts a stronger melodic accent on the band’s sound with vocalist Jonathan Davis, in particular, showcasing more of his singing capabilities.
For a band that throughout its trend-setting career always has prided itself on the heaviness of its music, it might seem like Korn abandoned one of its major musical signatures. Davis, though, doesn’t believe that Korn has abdicated its claim of being rock’s heaviest band on “Untouchables.”
“I think we still are (the heaviest band),” Davis said. “I mean, you listen to it and that (stuff) is heavy. Even though I’m singing on it, it’s heavy. No one can touch our sound and what we do.”
To Davis, there’s a simple explanation for the band’s ability to remain heavy even while a greater amount of melody filtered into Korn’s patented rock-rap sound.
“It’s just the five of us playing,” he said. “It seems like every band has taken our instruments, starting with seven-string guitars and five-string basses and doing what David (Silveria) does with drums and trying to sing, but they just can’t play and write the way we write and the way I sing. And no one can replicate that.
“There’s never going to be another Led Zeppelin and there’s never going to be another (Korn). There are just bands that click together, the Chili Peppers, Faith No More, all those bands you just couldn’t touch,” he added.
Davis may be mentioning heady company for Korn in dropping names like Led Zeppelin, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Faith No More. But in the eight years since the Bakersfield, Calif.-band released its self-titled debut, there’s little disputing the impact the group has made. At the time, the five band members — Davis, Silveria, James “Munky” Shaffer (guitar), Brian “Head” Welch (guitar) and Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu (bass) — were one of the first groups to combine surging, dark heavy metal with strong elements of hip-hop.
As Davis mentioned, some of the heaviness came from the innovative use of de-tuned seven-string guitars by Shaffer and Welch, which gave the band’s sound an uncommonly low register. Soon a legion of groups were adding a seventh string to their guitars, altering their tunings and using hip-hop styled vocals as a soundtrack to their turgid instrumental backdrop.
With the subsequent Korn CDs — “Life Is Peachy” (1996), and especially the chart-topping “Follow the Leader” (1998) and “Issues” (1999) — helping to lead the way, rap-rock as a whole became one of the prominent sounds of the late 1990s.
“Untouchables,” which has gone platinum behind the hit single “Here to Stay,” doesn’t forsake that signature, but it does bring new dimensions into the Korn sound.
For one thing, the band expanded its sound by integrating keyboard and orchestral textures into some of the new tracks — including “Here to Stay” and “Hollow Life” — a move which helps bring more of a melodic touch to the sound.
Meanwhile, the atmospheric textures of “Make Believe” and “Hollow Life” also help bring strong contrasts in dynamics and intensity to “Untouchables.” Still, Korn rocks plenty hard throughout “Untouchables,” as tracks like “Bottled Up Inside,” “Embrace” and “Beat It Upright” come with plenty of grinding guitars and pummeling beats.
Creating the latest chapter in Korn’s musical evolution came with its share of challenges and difficulties. Davis went through a divorce, while Welch and Shaffer battled alcohol problems.
The band also had to put the project on hold while drummer Silveria overcame a debilitating wrist injury that was caused by an extra rib that was pressing against nerves. No one was sure if removing the rib would correct the problem, but it did and Silveria’s drumming on “Untouchables” is as authoritative as ever.
Then there were issues that came in working with producer Michael Beinhorn, whose demanding approach to record making has become well known throughout the music industry.
“And he was hard at times. We all had problems with him at times,” said Davis, who admitted there were moments when he, figuratively speaking at least, “wanted to … beat his face in basically.” But the end result was great, he said, adding, “I’d work with him again in a second.”
Korn plays the mainstage during Ozzfest today — July 17 — at UMB Bank Pavilion. Other mainstage acts featured at Ozzfest, which begins at 9:30 a.m., are headliner Ozzy Osbourne, Marilyn Manson and Disturbed. Tickets cost $130, $78 and $63 for reserved seats, and $43 for lawn seating.