The Paradigm Shift
Occasionally something shocking happens in the music world—and doubly so because it's good. One of those events occurred in 2005, when Korn guitarist Brian "Head" Welch announced that he'd become a Christian and was leaving his hugely influential yet lyrically rancid nu metal act. In subsequent interviews, Welch talked extensively about his enthusiasm for his newfound faith, shedding his various vices (addiction to alcohol, meth, prescription drugs) and his desire to raise his daughter in an atmosphere free of the debauchery the members of Korn had become infamous for indulging. Welch went on to release a solo album and front a new band dubbed Love and Death.
But that happy shock has now turned to sadness for some as Welch announced he's rejoined Korn for another album. He told Billboard that Korn's members getting sober influenced in his decision. "It's cool to see these guys were working on their lives while I was away from the band, getting their stuff straight too," he said. "We didn't calm down; it's only the destructive part we stopped. It seems like we've been given another chance to live and breathe and really appreciate and be so thankful for what we do."
Which begs an obvious question: Can a band identified almost solely by its hard-core bleakness really let go of its self-destructive urges and embrace thankfulness?
On "What We Do," frontman and chief lyricist Jonathan Davis empathizes with an outsider's alienation ("I hear the calling of the helpless stranger/He's all alone and no one gets his anger"). "Spike in My Veins" finds him crying out for a respite from life's pain ("We are the ones reaching out in vain/Trying to solve our problems"). A burst of determination lights the otherwise shadow-filled "Mass Hysteria" ("I won't stop fighting/Bring it on, it won't phase me"). And a prayer-like plea props up parts of "Paranoid and Aroused" ("Help me, I am shaking/ … And the demons, they're laughing out loud/Spare me, I am fading").
Album opener "Prey for Me" dives into some seriously dark places, with Davis suggesting, "Let's do what devils do/Hang each other, no one's around/Why can't I torture you?/ … I love your evil ways." And from there, things go from black to pitch. "I'm just a shell of what I used to be," Davis admits, "Passion is sometimes a f‑‑‑ed up thing for me/My soul infected you/Blackened thoughts/They run through your head/ … Simply, I wish you were dead." Davis then implies that he wants the same for himself: "Good-bye, so long/Wish I could stay/But everything is all wrong/Good-bye, so long."
For the record, that kind of soul-crushing despair seeps into virtually every track on The Paradigm Shift. "Love & Meth" spews out, "Feeling complacent, I cannot be contained/I'm so lost and lonely now/ … Evil disease, all the hatred it breathes/As I'm down on my knees torn apart/ … Where do I run?/Where do I hide?/Give me a reason to end my life/ … Give me a reason to get out alive." And "What We Do" hopes that we might pretend things aren't as bad as they are ("Betrayed, life is in decay/ … We hate loving every day/ … I can't take this/All my life is reckless/But we fake our way through").
Violence, despair and profane threats fill "Spike in My Veins." More of the same consumes "Mass Hysteria" and "Paranoid and Aroused." The latter tells us, "Reality is failing, this s‑‑‑ is degrading/And everybody's peeking." "Never Never" dismisses the idea that love might ever take root again. "Victimized" adds, "Our lives are fake/They mean nothing, you see/Our dreams are lost/Just a fantasy/ … Victimized, deceived/A black veil of insanity's crushing/ … How many times have you been misguided?/How many times have your hopes been smited?/This life means f‑‑‑ to me."
Meanwhile, "Lullaby for a Sadist" gleefully celebrates inflicting pain on an apparently willing partner: "One, I love hurting you/Two, I love your pain/Three, let's get together and/Play the sinner's game/Four is for the torture/Five is for the shame/'Cause every time you want it/I get off on this game." Later, Davis adds, "Your life I'll swallow/And I can't help/But smile at your pain/ … With my sadistic ways/I watch the tears fall/I crack a smile."
Album closer "It's All Wrong" screams, "Nothing's gonna work today/I'm killing time/Looking all around to find a way/It's all wrong/Knowing my demon won/I'm done."
When I first heard that Brian Welch had decided to rejoin his old band, I found myself holding my breath and holding out hope that somehow his faith might influence a band famous for its grindingly grim outlook. But while I'll readily admit that his relationship with God may very well be having an impact on the band's other members at the personal level, as far as Korn's public message is concerned, there's no paradigm shift to be found here.
Apart from a few very isolated moments, Davis' lyrics serve up a devilish dish of despair and degradation. He testifies (perhaps figuratively, perhaps literally) to demons tormenting or even possessing his soul. He speaks, often longingly, of death, suicide, violence, insanity, nihilism, hopelessness, meaninglessness, sadism and torture. And the resulting gulf between the Gospel of Christ that Welch has embraced—a message of hope, forgiveness and reconciliation—and the hopeless vacuum of Korn's collapsing worldview is simply vast.
A postscript: In an article for loudwire.com, Welch addressed Christians who are concerned about his reunion with Korn. "Speaking of God, I was getting some crap from a few Christians that were commenting online that Korn weren't 'honoring The Lord' in their music," he said. "There was a time when I didn't think God would be very into Korn's music and lifestyle, but I've learned that He loves everyone where they're at. And I know God loves Korn's music because it's passionate and very honest. I just trip out on these people that have the balls to judge people so harshly with their negative, hateful attitudes. It's crazy how bold people are online. Not one person has come with their negative attitudes to my face. Luckily, most of the Christians are cool and 'get it.' I only have to deal with a small number of knuckleheads."