Having recently been in the news more for extra-musical events — a messy split with founding guitarist Brian “Head” Welch and an offbeat deal worked out with Virgin Records — than for its actual work, Korn took to the stage in a one-off perf at Gotham’s Hammerstein Ballroom as if it had something to prove.
Whether or not the band succeeded in proving it was open to interpretation. Playing before an eye-popping lighting display that often seemed to dwarf the quartet, Korn certainly kicked up quite a fuss, but after a decade of retracing many of the same angst-metal steps, the noise largely came across like a tempest in a teapot.
Coping well enough with the absence of a second guitarist — a gap that may have been filled by sequencer-driven fills — the instrumentalists rolled out fists-of-fury versions of songs like “Freak on a Leash” and “Blind” like men powering steamrollers. Unfortunately, they frequently exhibited the same amount of passion as one might find behind the wheel of such a big rig.
Front man Jonathan Davis was an exception to that rule. He’s toned down his shirt-rending theatrics quite a bit — enabling him to hit his mark as a vocalist far more often than he did on past tours. He’s also grown as a songwriter, shelving the monomaniacal confessionalism of early material in favor of thoughts that indicate his lengthy post-adolescent phase is about to ebb.
Those musings, showcased on a handful of songs previewing the band’s upcoming “See You on the Other Side” album — which hits stores next week — are more sexualized (particularly “Twisted Transistor”) and considerably more groove-based. The latter development is particularly surprising, given the woodenness with which the band approached its forays into hip-hop (such as they were).
With contemporaries like Limp Bizkit seemingly consigned to the pop culture scrap heap, Korn would seem to have little competition left in the nu-metal arena. And with new material that portends a willingness to venture beyond said arena’s walls, the band may yet be able to garner some good old-fashioned hard rock cred.