On 'Requiem,' Korn's Emotional Heft Comes Too Little, Too Late

On 'Requiem,' Korn's Emotional Heft Comes Too Little, Too Late
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Despite being part of the nu metal moment, Korn's defining mood has never been anger, but absolute sadness. When they lean into it, they make their best music, too. Follow the Leader, from 1998, is a blueprint for the brooding if volatile melange the band began with, while 2018's The Nothing was an honest, heavy expression of despondence and grief. Frontman Jonathan Davis's wife and mother both passed away before recording that last outing, and his reflection on them remains a focal point of Korn's latest record, Requiem.

Early singles "Start the Healing" and "Forgotten" lean into swampy guitars and swap between gentler and harsher vocals — well-trodden territory for Korn, but it's done well, and the reported analog recording process has yielded some of the best-sounding guitars of their career. "My Confession" is an absolute barn-burner for fans of detuned, wild headbanging riffs.

Along with well-executed expressions of grief, Requiem also leans into some of the band's bad habits. We hear over-produced, heavily overdubbed vocals on almost every chorus, and some half-hearted attempts at big synth hooks. It's hard to swallow the tonal shifts from verse to chorus on this record, and it ends up threatening to sink Requiem entirely.

They do, however, save the best for last on closer "Worst Is on Its Way," which includes acoustic guitar, Davis' trademark metal scatting, and some thoughtful keyboards. While the vocals here are easily the best from Davis on the album, regrettably, the lonely bagpipes and sparse arrangements that made Korn's last record so unexpectedly powerful don't show up to save the day.

Maybe it's Korn's penchant for being as heavy and distorted as possible, but the sonic sameness of the record really puts it in stark contrast with their most recent work. Davis seems to bring his best at his most damaged and unhinged, and it's a shame that his band's unrelenting use of pummelling palm-muted guitar leaves him little room for nuance. Guitarist James "Munky" Shaffer may have revolutionized the use of detuned, seven-string guitars, but it's the unwillingness to innovate and be dynamic that holds Requiem back from being a real impactful journey.

For fans of nu metal and heavy riffs, Requiem will not disappoint, but it lacks the sadness that Korn have long tapped into to differentiate themselves from the pack. (Loma Vista)