But somewhere within the vast, murky Southern California wasteland, a dynamic new species was being born, a forward-thinking beast that disregarded the mistakes of heavy bands past while meshing dark, urban rhythms and low-tuned guitar sludge with violent, expressionist blasts of hip-core noise. That and the wildly emotional vocals of JONATHAN, which alternated between a bourbon-smooth croon and a viscerally sharp howl, made for a revolutionary mix that redefined heavy rock better than anyone had in a decade. The result was a monster 1994 self-titled debut album that went solid platinum, and by the time 1996's LIFE IS PEACHY was released, this beast had a fanbase over two million strong--and a legion of musical imitators so large it threatened to saturate the planet.
It was time for a change of rules.
Hence KORN's latest, greatest slab, aptly titled FOLLOW THE LEADER. From the broadened musical and emotional scope to the much beefier production values to the stunning cover art courtesy of Spawn-creator Todd McFarlane, FOLLOW THE LEADER is indeed an ambitious and deeply satisfying outing for the band. And while there is considerably more hype surrounding this rightly anticipated disc, JONATHAN is quick to put things in perspective.
"Our only goal was to take our time on this album," he says. "Because I knew we had it in us to do something great. To full integrate both (previous) albums and put out a record we could be proud of...we wanted to do some phat shit."
"I think working with a new producer and going into a new studio helped us grow musically as a band," adds guitarist MUNKY. "All of us really have that fire again about being excited about a record...We all feel like we grew, like when you grow out of some old shoes; your feet are all crammed in forever and you know you need to buy a new pair, but you need to save up the money to do it. We kind of saved up our confidence and made that leap into our new shoes."
Fans of old-school KORN needn't despair--the new shoes kick just as much ass as the old pair. "Freak On A Leash" is a molotov cocktail of scathing, psychedelic guitar runs, hypno-groove bass grind, hip-hop jungle drumming, all sliced in two with an ingeniously placed scat line reminiscent of PEACHY opener "Twist." Then there's "Children Of The KORN," title courtesy of legendary gangsta rapper Ice Cube, who contributed an arresting series of verses to the tune, as well as a mallet-blunt mantra that speaks for every fed up kid in America: "Stop fuckin' with me!" Check the epic closing track, "My Gift to You," one of the band's heaviest songs to date, rife with the sort of lyrical honesty that's earned JONATHAN true street cred with the kids--and dismay from the parents. Which is just fine with him--KORN, after all, speaks directly to those disenfranchised with a world of spent opportunity and violence, due in large part to the short-sightedness of generations past.
"Yeah," says JONATHAN, "I am pissed off that I inherited it. I wish sometimes that I was born back in the day. But today's society is so fucked up...we gotta thank the parents for doing that to the kids."
Yes, they still rock. But FOLLOW THE LEADER also illustrates just how much JONATHAN's vocal and lyrical abilities have broadened from the "straight fuckin' cathartic rage" of KORN and PEACHY to a level that communicates a full range of human emotion, from regret ("It's On!") and empathy ("Justin"), to lighthearted if incredibly vitriolic banter ("All In The Family"). The band's musical growth is also well evident--from drummer DAVID's successful integration of D-Drum sampling to FIELDY's ever-more-percussive bass playing. Meanwhile, twin guitar towers MUNKY and HEAD have made their joint stylistic fusion nearly seamless. "It's like we're one person," adds HEAD. "We're one guitar player thinking. It's weird." The end result is an album that could well be KORN's swan song--and one that's sure to find the band's ever-growing throng of musical imitators scurrying back to the chalkboard.
Although FOLLOW THE LEADER will not be officially released until August 18 on Immortal/Epic Records, MUNKY considers it a mission accomplished: "I think we've already achieved success on this record," he says. "We're all 100 % happy with all the songs. That was the personal goal for me."
In the making of FOLLOW THE LEADER, KORN's also been busy with their ground-breaking live weekly Internet program, as well as the formation of its own record label, Elementree Records. Its first signing, California "death pop" outfit Orgy, has already drawn critical acclaim for its debut CANDYASS (Alternative Press enthusiastically endorsed the record, saying it displayed enough "smart melodies, head-banging crunch and electro-kicks to impress even the most fickle music fans"). CANDYASS will hit the shops the on the same day as FOLLOW THE LEADER. As for Elementree itself, FIELDY offers up the band's business philosophy accordingly:
"I think we'd all like to sign some bands that everybody's scared to sign. And of course to make them as big as KORN, if not bigger. I think where we're at in '98, the whole decade is really hurting for some good music."
In addition to the new record and the new label, KORN has also put together its own answer to Lollapalooza: the "Family Values" tour, an eight-week U.S. tour which will feature Ice Cube, Limp Bizkit, Orgy, Rammstein and, of course, KORN, in addition to a throng of breakdancers, fire-eaters and a myriad of other cultural oddities. Why would an already overworked band want to tackle such a monumental task?
"There are all these festivals that have weak links in them," says DAVID. "It's not easy to put together a big festival because there are a lot of people involved--but we thought we could give it a shot and do something better."
1998 is proving to be an intensely creative year for the band. An ambitious new record that redefines the school KORN defined in the first place--that's already garnering massive airplay for its first single ("Got The Life"). An ambitious new label that's already undermining the alternative world. And an ambitious new tour showcasing some of the heaviest acts of the day. No surprise. KORN has always been about ambition--and much more often than not it's paid off.
"We're not out to change the world, just music."