What does it mean to be Korn? Korn has asked itself that question often since 1994, when it unleashed its nü-metal-forging, self-titled debut. Over the past 17 years, the group has made numerous attempts to refresh, refocus, and/or ventilate its suffocating angst: 1999’s Issues was its first real leap into melody and subtlety (relatively speaking), and 2002’s Untouchables—the band’s high point—actually benefits from a shameless, strenuous effort to brood like Tool. But Korn’s agonizingly slow evolution hit a wall with last year’s sludge-treading Korn III: Remember Who You Are. To Korn’s credit, The Path Of Totality is its most radical reinvention to date. It’s also the worst slab of sludge it ever shat.
Only Totality doesn’t even have sludge going for it. This—so the promo narrative goes—is Korn’s brave, new dubstep record. Conceptually, that’s fine. Korn has always hybridized genres, and it’s even dabbled in industrial on recent discs. But nothing on Totality lines up. Dubstep wunderkind Skrillex sticks his fork in the socket of “Narcissistic Cannibal” and “Chaos Lives In Everything”—the result being a choppy, crisped-beyond-recognition version of Korn’s former gloom. The group’s constant has always been thick, black blobs of guitar, but on “My Wall,” it’s reduced to pudding skin. “Times are looking grim these days / Holding onto everything,” grunt-whines frontman Jonathan Davis on “Get Up!” If Davis were perceptive enough to comment on his own awkward disconnect with Skrillex’s sloppy robotics, the sentiment would be almost poignant. But the whole band sounds like it’s racing on a malfunctioning treadmill—gasping for breath, twisting ankles, and pouring flop sweat.
The album closes with “Bleeding Out,” and it lives up to its name. A sub-symphonic spew of leaden melodrama, half-assed droid noises, and the poorest good-Mike-Patton/bad-Mike-Patton impersonation the world will ever hear, it ends with a sad, indifferent squirt of distortion that doesn’t even have the spirit to sound desperate. With The Path Of Totality, Davis and company have once again confronted themselves with the perplexing, existential dilemma: What is this Korn thing that we do? Too bad the answer is, they have no fucking clue.