Nu-metal and alternative metal may have largely fallen off the public radar, but that doesn’t mean the genres have been idle. Last year saw the return of Limp Bizkit after ten years, and there have been newcomers like Tetrarch and Ocean Grove putting their own modern spin on the style. Alongside all this is Korn, who have gone through some minor lineup shifts and reunions over time but have never taken the lengthy hiatuses or gaps between albums like their peers. They’ve also been a band willing to try out some different things and experiment with their established formula, dipping into dubstep and even a bit of industrial at times. Even when their albums were marketed as a return to the extremely heavy and crunchier tones of their 90s output there have still been tweaks, and that’s allowed Korn to still feel relevant decades after their prime radio period. This year’s Requiem retains that old meets new mentality, emphasizing layered melodies and brighter moments over that dark and bottom-heavy foundation. It’s also the group’s shortest effort to date, flying by at a brisk thirty-two minutes that seems built around hooks and no filler. There may still be some elements that don’t fully work to Requiem’s advantage, but there’s still plenty here to draw in established fans and newcomers alike.
One thing that’s bugged me about some of Korn’s past discography is that it felt way too long and had songs that came across more like filler in between single worthy tracks. This isn’t true of all of them, but their material that has sprawled past the hour mark often dragged and had specific tracks I’d skip past upon repeat listens. The decision to reign things in a bit throughout the second half of their career has been a positive element, and that continues to be the case for the majority of Requiem. With nine songs running for thirty-two minutes, the material comes in fast with big, room filling choruses and some interesting verses and then immediately move onto the next idea. How they get to these points differs on each track, with some songs incorporating an almost alternative or gothic rock vibe with how the melodies add an element of brightness over the heavier foundation. At times it almost sounds like there’s a little bit of Deftones in there, though the way the riffs are layered is still uniquely Korn. There are some truly stunning tracks here, as “Forgotten” captures eerie subdued instrumentation that leads into a heavy yet catchy chorus that would have fit well during the Issues era, while “Disconnect” takes on a mellower rock flair that proves infectious. Unfortunately, despite the hooks, there are a few elements that hold Requiem back from being one of the band’s best. The production is easily the biggest one, as the approach here is more of a radio rock one where the sound shoots for loud and room filling but ends up being too even keeled. This leads to the build-ups sounding too similar from one song to the next, and makes the album feel less heavy and raw than one would hope for. Korn is clearly shaking up the way the heavy and melodic riffs intertwine throughout Requiem, but the details end up being a bit buried at times. Additionally, while I appreciate the brevity the album is almost too short, as some of the songs seem to end abruptly and seem to be hinting at something more.
Jonathan Davis remains one of the most recognizable singers out there, and the amount of emotion in his performance has resulted in some memorable songs for a variety of different reasons. I know that even within the fanbase there are people that are hit or miss on Davis’ singing vs. his rougher edged screaming that was so dominant early on and depending on which camp you fall in might dictate how you feel about Requiem. With the rest of the band balancing that dark vs. light aesthetic with heavy grooves and melodic choruses, the vocals often follow suit, and you get some very light and airier singing alongside the harsher moments. I personally like how the singing sounds, and the little nuances that are added in during the choruses on “Forgotten” and “Disconnect” where David is harmonizing with himself will be stuck in my head for some time. If you like the more abrasive side of the spectrum, you get that in bits and pieces, with some scatting even making an appearance on closer “Worst Is On Its Way” that recalls Korn’s earlier outputs. You’ve still got a few passages that could be seen as mildly cringe, like the laughing on “Lost in the Grandeur”, but overall, there’s plenty to like here.
Korn hasn’t fundamentally changed their formula in recent years compared to something like The Path of Totality, but they have made tweaks and explored heavier and melodic elements based on their personal circumstances at the time. Requiem still reflects some darkness and has plenty of the grooves and darker melodies the group is known for, but also comes through as more hopeful and a bit brighter with the way the choruses soar. It does feel a little too brief and the way the production evens out all the instruments reduces the impact of some of these songs, which keeps this from ranking in the upper echelon of the group’s discography for me. But compared to some of the duds over their history, this album has some standout tracks that may just draw in newcomers and will remain in regular rotation for fans, showcasing that even at this late-stage Korn still has gas left in the tank. Requiem is available from Loma Vista Recordings.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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