Korn Keeps It Together Despite 20 Years of Coming Undone

Korn (courtesy of Roadrunner Records)

The ‘90s was a nutty time for music. Following the ‘80s, the decade of decadence, it can be argued that 1994 turned into another year of decadence coupled with depravity. It just so happens that was the year Korn released their seminal self-titled album. Songs like “Blind” opened the eyes of a new generation of rockers repping the roots of nu-metal and introduced us to the biggest band to come out of Bakersfield, California.

True, from the beginning, every form of debauchery was in play. Korn was about to blow up the music world as we knew it. Aside another up and comer, System Of A Down, the music world had never seen anything like these pioneers of nu-metal, fusing goth, funk, hip-hop and blistering riffage into one big cauldron of sorrow slapped with a Parental Advisory label. Depends on who you ask, but many say they are credited with bringing this fledgling genre to the mainstream. Personally, I would’ve liked them to have coined a phrase like punk-funk, or funk-metal as their genre. That aside, the band was originally formed in 1993 by three members of a band called L.A. P.D. and Creep; the current lineup features founding members, James Shaffer aka “Munky” Shaffer (rhythm guitar), Reginald Arvizu aka “Fieldy” (bass), Brian Welch aka “Head” (lead guitar), Ray Luzier (drums), and Jonathan Davis (lead vocals). It should be noted the original drummer was David Silveria. That said, collectively, the band pops out a bone-crushing signature sound that liquefies your soul. Their debut album literally has been credited with putting nu-metal on the map.

After their immediate release, everyone wanted to know if they could do it again. No doubt, they impressed after their freshman effort, because they couldn’t get immediate radio play and time on MTV Many say that getting slots on tours like Ozzfest helped get them to the next level. Once the momentum got rolling, their second album, Life Is Peachy, was released in 1996. Songs like “No Place To Hide” proved they weren’t a fluke, and their fan base was about to explode. That album has since gone platinum.

Sex and drugs often make rockstars stumble, but not Korn. The lifestyle was embraced, and they were the guys we always talked about being the best damn band in the land. The guys were just driven by a wave of creativity and popped out their 1998 mega-album, Follow the Leader. What’s become legendary is the fact that the band spent more than $60,000 on booze during their time in the studio. Davis was living the life of Jim Morrison, and the results left no doubt he was able to channel the results. That said, with appearances on the album by Fred Durst and Ice Cube, that album propelled them to uber-stardom. Songs like “Freak On A Leash”, and “Got The Life” made them the “it” band. They were guys that did incredible things despite all the challenges that lay before them.

Since their ‘94 debut, the band has a total of 12 studio albums, several top 10 Billboard hits, VMA’s, and eight Grammy nods (winning two of them). All this while selling over 40 million albums worldwide. You know a band has made it when they make an appearance on shows like The Simpsons, South Park, or are featured on Beavis & Butthead with a visit to Lara Croft, Tomb Raider. In all seriousness, other songs that the band’s loyal fans love include “Did My Time”, “Coming Undone”, “Twisted Transistor”, “Clown”, “Word Up!” (Cameo cover),  “Black Is The Soul”, and “Here to Stay”.

Inasmuch as we’d like to believe our heroes are immortal and could do anything… they all eventually succumb to the realities of life. Consider that lyrics like “Something takes a part of me” are more based in real life than some fantasy. Brian Welch lived the lyrics from their music. In early 2005, Welch announced he was quitting the band. He came clean and announced that he was addicted to methamphetamines and had to do something about it. Sometimes, people in that downward spiral want to die, but Welch didn’t go down that path. Instead, he sought out help. He didn’t want his bad habits of the past to steal his future.

As hard as it was, he had to leave the band and the lifestyle he grew accustomed to. He found solace through his friends and his church. This is not all that was part of the chaotic time for the band. Other band issues had to do with girlfriends and wives not getting along; that was a very real issue, just like in the movies. If that’s not bad enough, while at the Download Festival back in 2006, Jonathan Davis couldn’t make it to the stage. He was diagnosed with idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura aka “ITP.” In short, that’s a very rare bleeding disorder. He was basically bedridden for days after each show, and that too took its toll.  It was such an ordeal, the band had to cancel the rest of their European tour so he could be treated. It was either be treated or die, he chose the better option. He was also diagnosed with depression and anxiety, afflictions he deals with still to this day. Reason # 101 many of their fans can relate to the band.

What’s most devastating of all is the recent death of Deven Davis, Jonathan’s wife. Here’s the thing, like any high profile marriage, there are always rumors of what happened. There is some truth that the two had a tumultuous relationship. Jonathan was recently awarded an order that kept Deven away from their two children and family dog. The timing of the death is concerning, and ironic; leaving much speculation. As of the writing of this article, the cause of death was not available. For those that know, they say the band is in a state of grief. Just like any of us, when grief sets in, it feels like the ultimate fear coursing through our veins. It’s a fear based in reality that makes your bones shiver every waking moment of the day and night. In the days to come, disbelief becomes a close companion. The best advice we can all take whenever we have this kind of tragedy in our life is to never smother our sorrow. In time, we’ll cherish the times we’ve had with those we lost. So far, it looks like Jonathan and his bandmates have the kind of support that will help them walk through this very tragic part of life.

In the end, no matter how God-like any artist seems to be, they’re all human. Luckily for all of us, the band has battled their own personal demons; Brian is back with the band now, and Jonathan is doing much better.  Despite all the issues and challenges, the band can still bring it, and they are as electric as ever. More importantly, once on stage, they can still liquefy your soul with their music.

An Evening with Korn: Follow The Leader 20th Anniversary Tour is tonight, September 13th at the Hollywood Palladium. For tickets and full details, click here.

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