Ghost in the Shell (2017)

I have been a fan of Ghost in the Shell for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I loved the original film for its visuals, its attitude, how gritty it was, and how it contrasted with Western animation. The subsequent films and TV series made my home life very enjoyable as an adolescent, with each offering something different while forming part of a whole. As I studied literature and philosophy as an adult, I learned to appreciate the franchise even more with its questioning of identity, ontology, gender, mind and body, capitalism, technology and ethics in a post-human, digital world.

In other words, I have grown up with Ghost in the Shell and its instalments. As I have grown and learned, I have seen things in it that I didn’t notice before. I could even say that it has helped shape the person that I am now.

More broadly, Ghost in the Shell (1995, based on the manga by Masamune Shirow) has enjoyed a swift progression from cult hit to cinema classic. It has received widespread acclaim from critics and has gone on to inspire other films such as The Matrix and AI: Artificial Intelligence. It has earned its reputation.

So, when I heard that there was a live-action adaptation in the works, I was curious to see how it would turn out. How would this Japanese anime classic transition to American live-action?

Unfortunately, there has not been much in the way of fanfare leading up to the film’s release. Ghost in the Shell (2017) has been subject to torrents of derision for its whitewashing of the characters, particularly the protagonist Motoko Kusanagi (played Scarlett Johansson and often referred to as ‘the Major’), originally Japanese in the manga and anime. Right from the start, expectations were low.

I just want to be clear on one thing: I am not putting this film on trial. I’m not the type of fan who walks away from an adaptation, scoffing, ‘Well, the original was better.’ If anything, I try to see an adaptation as being a response, a window rather than a mirror. Comparisons will be made with the original, but I will also examine the film in its own right. It is with this mentality that I have approached this live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell.

Like the original, this adaptation (directed by Rupert Sanders) depicts the closing gap between humans and machines in the not-so-distant future and follows the Major – a special police unit leader and highly skilled hacker and combatant – whose brain has been placed in a cyborg body. A hybrid of organism and machine, she leads her unit against various cyber-criminals and terrorists that threaten the safety of the film’s vast, sprawling metropolitan environment.

This adaptation certainly has its highlights. Right from the start, the film is a visual marvel. Its neon colour palette is the driving force behind the overall sci-fi aesthetic and taps right into the film’s mood. What’s more interesting was the setting itself, and how it has been figured in terms of its cultural identity. We have a city that is not inherently Japanese or American, or anything in particular. The setting in this adaptation is a blend of cultures and identities, reminiscent of Hong Kong and Shanghai, perhaps indicative of a likely globalised future.

The visuals are a feast, but we have seen them too many times. Blade Runner, The Matrix, Minority Report and many others have all been given this exaggerated neon-future aesthetic. Moreover, the aesthetic qualities are unleavened by the characters and plot. Absent are the quirks, eccentricities and moral nihilism of those who play the foils, such as the male cyborg Batou (Pilou Asbæk), Chief Daisuke Aramaki (‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano) and the all-too-human Togusa (Ng Chin Han). What we have here is a potentially great ensemble merely going through the motions.

The plot isn’t much better. What could have been fertile ground for themes such as identity and gender is little more than a buffer for the action, engineered to cram in as many chases and gunfights as possible. The themes are present in the story, kind of. The Major’s exploration of her identity only serves as a basic premise, rather than a prominent theme signposted throughout the story.

Getting back to the characters, the whitewashing of the film has drawn a huge backlash (though the cast is largely international and multiracial), with the decision to cast Scarlett Johansson polarising fans on both sides of the Pacific. The decision to edit her face digitally in order to appear ‘Asian’ is one that I don’t understand, but I don’t blame her for this adaptation’s shortcomings. Her performance was acrobatic, in congruence with the film’s emphasis on the visual. She wasn’t brilliant, but it’s hardly fair to pin this film’s shortcomings on Johansson alone.

[Aside: To be blunt, I’d like to see what Johansson could do with a better script in general, but that’s neither here nor there.]

It is true that concessions need to be made with adaptations, and I wasn’t expecting a live-action approximation of the animated films. However, if you’re going to import a currently-existing franchise with legions of fans and critics, you could at least maintain the most crucial aspects that gave the original its essence, its raison d’être.

Given how this live-action adaptation has turned out, I have to ask: where exactly were they going with it? What is it supposed to be about? Is it about Ghost in the Shell, or the person directing it? Frankly, I would have appreciated it more if it was just plain terrible, but it’s not even that. It is a film seemingly trapped in East-West adaptation limbo, not really going anywhere in a hurry.

For all its flaws, this adaptation wasn’t entirely bad. It wasn’t necessarily good, either. It paints a pretty picture, but one we’ve seen too many times. The characters are present, but they’re not really ‘there.’ Philosophical ideas and issues are raised, but only on a superficial level. I say all of this in the contexts of Ghost in the Shell as a film in itself and in comparison to its animated predecessors. It is cinematic equivalent to beige. Ironic, considering the exaggerated colour palette of the film.

I don’t really know what else to say.

GG, Hollywood.


Album Review: Korn – The Serenity of Suffering

Ups and downs, restoration and consolidation. When Korn released The Paradigm Shift in 2013, it was seen as a return to form for the band. The album marked the return of guitarist Brian ‘Head’ Welch, restoring the band’s twin guitar sound and overall five-piece lineup. Since Head’s departure in 2005, the band have had their share of ups and downs.

There was a time when it seemed that Korn were on top of their world. Millions of albums sold, arenas filled on tour. However, the fall always comes after the peak. See You on the Other Side was a critical and commercial success, with a huge world tour to match, but subsequent releases weren’t so grand. Sales declined, and it got to the point where fans talked more about the good old days than the band’s newer works.

And yet, Korn managed to push through all of that, doing pretty well as a quartet under the circumstances. And, in 2013, just when some of us had grown comfortable with a four-piece Korn being permanent, Head officially returned to the fold. Fans were doing cartwheels, and a revitalised band released The Paradigm Shift. Head’s return was a rush, but some of us wondered what would happen once the honeymoon period was over. There is a difference between Head returning, and truly being settled back in the band. Fortunately, Head seems well and truly settled.

Produced by Nick Raskulinecz (Deftones, Evanescence), The Serenity of Suffering sees Korn consolidating their restored band sound. Almost all of the essential Korn elements are there: Jonathan Davis balances singing, screaming and everything in between; Head and James ‘Munky’ Shaffer’s guitar work is definitely more compelling and polished than ever before; and Fieldy and Ray Luzier’s rhythm section provides the perfect percussive backdrop for the band’s discomforting tone. And, as always, there’s angst. Angst for days, and we can’t ask for more than that.

The band have already previewed some of the album’s tracks, with music videos for ‘Rotting in Vain’ and ‘Insane’ making a big splash with fans. A collaboration with Corey Taylor (Slipknot, Stone Sour) on ‘A Different World’ only helped reinforce anticipation for the new album, as he and Jonathan Davis have long been hailed as leaders in the so-called ‘nu-metal’ movement. Taylor’s presence makes for a brilliant duet, and a real highlight.

The best way to describe this album is something that feels raw and heavy, but with polished production from Raskulinecz and a level of artistry that elevates the music above pure anger. With Head firmly resettled into the band, and with a newfound hunger for a heavy, guitar-driven sound, The Serenity of Suffering is definitely more riff-driven than some of the band’s more recent work. The band are placing a stronger emphasis on their guitar-driven song introductions that set the tone before Jonathan Davis gets started on vocals. ‘Black Is the Soul’ is a slow but sure headbanger, and tracks such as ‘Everything Falls Apart’, ‘Die Yet Another Night’ and ‘Next in Line’ perfectly illustrate the album’s balance of heaviness and artistry.

There is one missing element: Davis does not play the bagpipes on this record. Perhaps they could have made room for some pipes? This could be a downer for some, but for me, it’s not life or death. After all, there were no bagpipes on Untouchables, and that album remains an all-time favourite not just for me, but for many longtime Korn fans.

When all is said and done, Korn are not doing anything new on The Serenity of Suffering. It’s unlikely that the band will draw in any new fans here. That being said, the album is somewhat unique by virtue of it being quintessential Korn without deliberately trying to recycle the sounds of the band’s earlier works. To say that it’s ‘Album A meets Album B’ would be too simplistic. It’s not so much a return to form as it is a consolidation of the heavy sound explored on The Paradigm Shift. It’s the next logical step. Nothing about this album seems forced, and there is no impression that the band are pandering to fans of the old. Is it their best work to date? Even after a week of listening to it, I don’t know. It’s just a good, solid Korn record, and that’s all I want from them. Nicely done.

A Look at Korn’s ‘Rotting in Vain’

Three years have separated Korn’s last album, The Paradigm Shift, and their upcoming release, The Serenity of Suffering, due this October. During that time, the band have kept themselves busy. Co-headlining tours with the likes of Rob Zombie, Slipknot and Breaking Benjamin, and a 2015 tour in celebration of their self-titled album, have been met with great fanfare.

So, when it was announced that the band were returning to the studio to record a new album, the fans sat up and paid attention. We wondered what kind of album Korn had in store for us, with promises of new material being ‘heavier than anyone’s heard us in a long time,’ according to guitarist Brian ‘Head’ Welch. And indeed, with the band’s new single, those words are true.

Produced by Nick Rasculinecz (Alice in Chains, Evanescence, Deftones), ‘Rotting in Vein’ is as heavy as Korn can be, with typically in-your-face riffs from Head and James ‘Munky’ Shaffer. Reginald ‘Fieldy’ Arvizu rounds out the band’s string section as he works his bass, while the rhythms are solidified by Ray Luzier’s drumming, a hybrid sound of metal and groove.

The single also marks the return of Jonathan Davis’ scat-singing, where he lets loose with a percussive barrage of ranting lyrics, as if he were speaking in tongues. Such vocals recall the heavy sound on early tracks like ‘Ball Tongue’ and ‘Freak on a Leash’.

The music video, starring Sons of Anarchy alumni Tommy Flanagan, complements the song perfectly. The band performs in an old, dilapidated house filled with old books, antique furniture and taxidermied animals, as Flanagan’s character breathes vapours from some kind of Victorian-era machine. The song is intense; the video positively unnerving.

At this rate, The Serenity of Suffering is set to be another solid addition to Korn’s body of work. A collaboration with Corey Taylor on one of the album’s tracks may be indicative of the band’s influences in making their latest album, with Munky giving his assurances that it will be a ‘fan favourite.’ It certainly could be for fans hanging out for a Davis/Taylor collaboration.

How the rest of the album will sound remains to be heard, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that ‘Rotting in Vain’ is a solid introduction, perhaps more representative of it than the EDM-infused ‘Never Never’ was for The Paradigm Shift.

The bar is set. Bring on the new album!

[Side note: For years, I have wanted Korn to work with Nick Rasculinecz, so I just want to thank the band and producer for validating my wishes.]

Belated Review of The Paradigm Shift: World Tour Edition

In July of this year, Korn re-released their eleventh studio album, The Paradigm ShiftAround that time, a fan site called KornRow held a contest where two winners would each receive an autographed copy of The Paradigm Shift: World Tour Edition. I should add that KornRow isn’t just some fan site, it’s actually a really good source of Korn-related news and discussion. Anyway, I entered the contest, not really thinking much of it… until I was announced as a winner. Usually I ignore contests, because I don’t expect to ever win. But on this particular occasion, I entered and won. Lucky me. A big thank you to Korn and KornRow!

I figure that since I like writing about Korn, and since the album is current, a review would be a cool thing to do. I meant to do this months ago, but held off due to uni life being what it is. But that’s over, at least for now. On with the review.

The Paradigm Shift: World Tour Edition is comprised of two discs: the first containing the standard studio album; the second containing some unreleased studio and live tracks.

Produced by Don Gilmore (Linkin Park, Three Days Grace), the standard album by itself is a solid effort from the band. As fans have been aware for some time, The Paradigm Shift is Korn’s first album with founding guitarist Brian ‘Head’ Welch since their 2003 release, Take a Look in the Mirror. Head’s return definitely lit a fire under the band’s ambitions, allowing them to create a nicely balanced album. Their signature down-tuned sound has been spliced with their recent exploration in dubstep/EDM, only on this occasion, the electronics don’t overshadow the band’s unique blend of alternative metal.

Album opener ‘Prey for Me’ cleaves through you right from the get-go with its pounding rhythms, courtesy of the band’s musicians: Head and James ‘Munky’ Shaffer (guitars), Fieldy (bass) and Ray Luzier (drums). The level of intensity exhibited in this track is the kind you’d generally expect from Korn, paving the way for ‘Love & Meth’, one of the album’s heaviest tracks, which has quickly become a live favourite, up there with staples such as ‘Here to Stay’ and ‘Falling Away from Me’. From the moment Jonathan Davis sings ‘Give me a reason ’cause I’ve got nothing to gain,’ both band and fan alike are right at home. As a musician, Davis has aged well. He doesn’t overdo his vocals, nor does he hold back. Whether it be his singing in the verses, or harder vocals during the chorus, he knows exactly where and how to project his voice.

The tracks vary throughout the album, some being heavier than others, which I like. The real beauty of Korn lies not so much in their awesome heavier material, but their ability to mix things up and take liberties with their sound, all while maintaining their flare. I’ll admit I didn’t know what to make of first single ‘Never Never’ at first, but it’s really grown on me. It stands out from the album, similar to how ‘Kiss’ surprised me when I first heard it on 2007’s untitled album, or ‘Alone I Break’ on 2002’s Untouchables. The only difference this time is that ‘Never Never’ was, for many listeners, the first taste of The Paradigm Shift, as opposed to being a hidden gem in a larger body of work (although one could certainly view it as such). Maybe I just expected the first single to be something heavier. Furthermore, the song does a total one-eighty during the bridge. While the verses and chorus are mellow (in a Korn sense, at least), the bridge is a brutal onslaught of white noise, from the electronic and metal sides of the spectrum. By this point, the song is far from soft. It’s altogether unpredictable, and I’ve really grown to love it.

I warmed to ‘Spike in My Veins’ instantly, simply because I think it’s a perfect symbiosis of all things Korn, past and present. Originally written with Noisia as a JDevil track, the song represents a finer balance between the band’s traditional sound and their recent exploration of electronic music than on 2011’s The Path of Totality. The partly acoustic ‘Lullaby for a Sadist’ boasts eerily soft guitar work, with the vocals and instrumentation gradually building and building before launching into the song’s chorus. ‘It’s All Wrong’ is a solid album closer, one that has more in common with the Klayton-led Celldweller than anything resembling the Skrillex brand of dubstep/EDM.

The second disc, the ‘world tour’ part of this release, consists of three new studio tracks and six live tracks. The first track on this disc is ‘Hater’, which I discussed a few months ago. I still enjoy it. Simple, but with a pointed message: it’s up to us to validate ourselves; that putting too much focus into other people’s nonconstructive criticism gets in the way of enjoying life; the things we love and aspire to do and be. ‘The Game Is Over’ is another track that’s a bit out of left field. Again, electronic elements are positioned within the song, but in a way that reminds me more of bands like Orgy or Videodrone than any recent forms of electronic music. Head and Munky share in thick, overdriven riffs while the synths make up the song’s melodies. Ray’s drumming holds the song down nicely, as Fieldy’s bass has a pulsating feel throughout. All of this while Davis voices his defiance against an unnamed oppressor. Originally a bonus track on the Japanese deluxe edition of The Paradigm Shift, ‘Die Another Day’ has resurfaced for this tour edition. For a bonus track, this is brilliant, and should satisfy those looking for a downright heavy Korn track. Beginning with a mix of distorted guitar, electronics and Fieldy’s signature bass clicks, Davis sings of mounting pressures with the instrumentation bearing all the signs of a song about to explode like a misused pressure cooker. As Davis sings, ‘We have to fight and crawl, to die another day,’ he steers away from the elements of pressure and despair and looks at how one can move forward. Lyrically, this is the common thread in these three bonus studio tracks: how someone can turn a negative into a positive, to focus on their strengths and not be held down by life’s obstacles. Okay, that may have read like a horribly cliched greeting card saying, but the point still stands. These new tracks symbolise movement, as opposed to mulling over what we go through.

The six live tracks are a welcome addition. Longtime Korn fans will no doubt be familiar with the live sounds of ‘Here to Stay’, ‘Got the Life’ and ‘Another Brick in the Wall’. Those tracks alone are nothing new (an exception being a tasteful guitar solo at the beginning of ‘Another . . .’), but it’s the inclusion of the newer ‘Love & Meth’, ‘Never Never’ and ‘Get Up!’ – arguably more intense than their studio counterparts – that round out this compilation. Together, these live tracks form a tight little set.

As I said at the start of this article, I received The Paradigm Shift: World Tour Edition as a contest prize. It’s not a completely new release, it’s a deluxe edition of a pre-existing album, one that I already own. Would I have bought it myself if not for the contest? Is it even worth having another version of the album, let alone paying for it? I think these are important things to consider, because while I love Korn, I only buy albums if I know I’m going to listen to them. I could have gotten the album the easy way, by downloading it through a torrent like most people do these days. But I like having the album in my hands. I like looking at the album artwork (in this case, a tour photo diary of sorts). I like that I can have an album on a preservable medium, not just as files on a computer. I also like that the World Tour Edition‘s bonus content is practically an album’s worth of songs, more than just a couple of bonus tracks tacked on at the album’s end, so… yes, I would have eventually bought the album. I wouldn’t have rushed out to get it on its exact release date, but I would have bought it. As an overall package, it is rock solid, and I recommend it to fans both casual and hardcore.

R.I.P. Wayne Static, an old favourite

As some of you may know, Wayne Static of Static-X passed away recently.

The actual cause is still unknown, but the how and why of it doesn’t matter now. I’m not going to speculate because it’s not my business. He’s gone, and he won’t be replaced. I didn’t know Wayne as a person, but I am nonetheless stricken by the news that one of my favourite musicians is no more. It actually hurts.

I was introduced to Static-X in late 2000, when the music video for ‘Push It’ came pre-installed on the operating system of what was then my family’s new computer. Months later, a friend lent me the band’s second album, Machine, and it became an instant classic in my book (this was back in the early 00’s, when people actually bought CDs, Internet file-sharing as we know it was relatively new, and GeoCities was still a thing). Generally speaking, a band’s second album tends to pale in comparison to the first, but this was an exception. Wisconsin Death Trip was (and is) a great album, but Machine felt more focused, more dynamic, which is quite an accomplishment considering the band had lost their lead guitarist and had to record the album as a trio. Static-X quickly became one of my favourite bands during high school, along with Korn, System of a Down, Coal Chamber and other modern metal acts of the day.

The band followed Machine with Shadow Zone, a finely crafted album, both musically and lyrically. It felt ‘fuller,’ for lack of a better term, and intensely more melodic. Between albums, Wayne found time to record vocals for the track ‘Not Meant for Me’, originally written by Jonathan Davis and Richard Gibbs for the Queen of the Damned soundtrack.

From there, Static-X had their ups and downs, but Wayne kept the band going as long as he could through all sorts of obstacles. Such was often the case for Wayne. He faced numerous hurdles throughout the years, but still, the only way for him was forward. His solo album, Pighammer, only piqued my interest in him as an individual musician even further. Hey, if he could do it with his old band, he could do it without them, right? Unfortunately, various legal and medical problems got in the way of Wayne’s solo career, putting things up in the air for a while. Then, when all of that subsided and it seemed he was good to go career-wise, his life came to an abrupt end.

It isn’t much, but I wanted to pay tribute to Wayne Static simply because I have enjoyed his music so deeply over the years. Bands come and go, and people listen to some artists more than others, but Static-X have been in my playlist for a very long time. Normally, I see bands as collectives, but in the case of Static-X, I can’t help but identify Wayne as the real driving force. I can’t help but feel the utmost respect for him and his art.

More than anything, my heart goes out to Wayne’s family and friends. Warm wishes to them during this time.

A look at This Boy’s Life, and some thoughts on The Catcher in the Rye

On this blog, I would like to review new books as they come up, but since this is my first review and I’m still figuring out how to go about writing them, I thought I’d go with something I already know and love. One thing I do know is that I’d like to write about how particular books resonate with me on a personal level, rather than attempt to objectively evaluate them.

I’ll begin with This Boy’s Life, by Tobias Wolff. First published in 1989, it is the memoir of Wolff, recounting his childhood.

Essentially, This Boy’s Life is the story of a boy growing up in a post-divorce family in 1950’s America. What’s interesting to me is that I never would have identified it as a memoir without first knowing that it was. To me, it reads like a good story, simple as that. Wolff just describes things as they happen, with little or nothing in the way of post-facto rationalisations.

While his brother grew up in relative comfort with his father, Wolff lived in working class neighbourhoods with his mother. As a boy, Wolff was a liar, he admits. He lied to himself, and to others, his imagination serving as a means of escaping the harsh reality of his childhood (early in the story, he changes his name from Tobias to Jack, the element of fantasy inspiring this). His grades were poor, he drank underage, and he often got into fistfights.

I know some people who have compared This Boy’s Life to J. D. Salinger‘s work, The Catcher in the Rye, though I’m not really sure why. I mean, in principle I almost can understand why people would, but it doesn’t work for me in practice. First of all, one is a memoir and the other is fiction. The common thread, if you can call it that, is the ‘coming of age’ aspect, along with the whole ‘black sheep’ theme.

From there, I see more differences than similarities.

When I first read The Catcher in the Rye, I enjoyed it. I read it during my teens. It was the peak of my adolescence, and while I never would have admitted it then, I liked the idea of being a black sheep. I wanted to have people hate me, and to leave for school every day and say ‘fuck you’ to as many people as possible. As far as books were concerned, The Catcher in the Rye was right up my alley.

Looking back, I think that while I’d convinced myself that I was a black sheep, I wasn’t even close to actually being one. It’s not easy to admit, but I was posing. I liked the attention, and acting like a misfit was an easy way to get it. Over a decade later, having toned down my attitude, I don’t relate to that mindset or The Catcher in the Rye anywhere near as much. I’m still a fan of the ‘me-against-the-world’ sentiment famously expressed by Salinger’s archetypal sullen teenager. However, as time goes on, I’m drawn more to the harsh reality of This Boy’s Life. To put it kindly, Holden Caufield now strikes me as a whiny, needy, obnoxious, never-satisfied cynic who doesn’t appreciate anything. That’s more or less how I used to be. Maybe that’s the real reason I’m so over The Catcher in the Rye. Maybe I daydreamed as Wolff did.

As for Wolff, he genuinely struggled as a youth, and he makes this clear in his memoir. As readers, we see him grow up in poverty. His stepfather is, for the most part, the quintessential asshole stepfather – physically and verbally abusive, drinking excessively and stealing money from Wolff  and his mother Rosemary. The only time we see anything resembling a bond between Dwight and Wolff is when Wolff takes his aggression out on a local ‘sissy.’ Hardly the sentiment of a positive role-model. Despite this, Dwight is not simply set up to be demonised in every instance. The scene where he meets Kenneth – the latter attempting to impose his smug sense of superiority on Dwight’s family – almost makes Dwight look good. Almost.

I find it very hard to fault Wolff’s mother. Rosemary would never intentionally hurt him, and her intentions are good, but her follow-through leads her and Wolff into some disastrous domestic situations, e.g. living with Dwight. Her own abusive childhood is the catalyst for disorder, leading her to emulate her past with a string of abusive, neglectful men. Despite this, Rosemary does not lose her sense of self or her devotion to her son. She is always aspiring to make a better life.

At the very least, This Boy’s Life considers the perspectives of others, and not just that of the protagonist. Wolff could very easily have made this memoir all about him, and I’m sure he could have done it well, but he didn’t. This, to me, is a real positive.

Nevertheless, I am charmed most by Wolff himself. Despite his miserable upbringing, like his mother he remains optimistic in regards to his future. Although he does all the wrong things a boy can do, he takes responsibility for his actions. There is no malevolent intention on his part, he just finds himself in all the wrong places, and he lets his imagination get the better of him. Who hasn’t been in that situation at some point in their lives?

His loyalty to his mother is perhaps his most endearing characteristic, he feels a strong sense of duty and is always looking out for his mother, sometimes reversing the role of parent and child. Here, Wolff reveals a rare level of insight and maturity for boys his age. The only instances where he craves attention are when he experiences it first hand. Like a cigarette, you don’t feel like you need it until you’ve had it regularly.

Everyone has problems in life. I know it seems like I’m savaging the Holden Caufield type, but I’m really not. People feel pain; they suffer, regardless of privilege. I suppose I’m just telling myself more than anyone that, somewhere out there, someone is having a worse day than me. It would be fair to say that I read This Boy’s Life to keep myself grounded, and to enjoy a great text.

It is a story detailing a litany of complex characters with an abundance of feeling. It depicts the tough life of an individual while making room for the thoughts and feelings of those around him, not merely there to play the foils. I can see myself reading it again periodically in the future.

Thank you for reading.

My thoughts on Korn and their new single, ‘Hater’

While it would be tactful of me to introduce the band to the reader, I’m going to focus more on my personal thoughts regarding Korn and their latest single. For an overview of the band, click here. It details their history and discography more eloquently than I could.

I’ve been a fan of Korn since I was ten. I saw the ‘A.D.I.D.A.S.’ music video on TV, and a year later, Follow the Leader came out and sealed the deal. Untouchables is my favourite album and I don’t know what could possibly top it.

Why I love Korn: To quote an MTV feature article, they ‘created a haven for frustrated, angry listeners who ached for something heavy, but sneered at the conventions of traditional heavy metal.’ I’ve never been crazy about guitar solos and power chords. Do I appreciate them? Sometimes, yes. I’m not the type who listens to the same kind of music all the time. That being said, I gravitate more towards rock and metal bands that are rhythm-based, that function as bands as opposed to a singer and guitarist looking pretty in the spotlight, while the bassists and drummers do all the grunt-work, practically behind the scenes. This isn’t to say that I dislike the latter kind, far from it. I certainly don’t ‘sneer’ at it either. Rather, rhythm-based music hits the spot for me more than anything. As for lyrics, I don’t look for any particular theme or focus. It’s more about the flow than the actual content. Although, every now and then I’ll hear some lyrics that resonate with me on a personal level.

As for the here-and-now: Korn’s most recent effort, The Paradigm Shift, was released in October of 2013. The band are dropping another deluxe edition of the album on 15 July. Titled The Paradigm Shift: World Tour Edition, it will feature several unreleased tracks and live cuts, one of which is the single ‘Hater’.

The instrumentation is nice and tight, with Fieldy’s bass and Ray Luzier’s retentive drumming anchoring the twin-guitar sound of Brian ‘Head’ Welch and James ‘Munky’ Shaffer. However, this track stands out in that it’s upbeat, musically and lyrically. Not your standard Korn fare. It’s the kind of song that may alienate fans at first, possibly drawing them back later. I suppose it is ‘poppy’ in the sense that it’s accessible and radio-friendly, as opposed to the bludgeoning force that characterises tracks such as ‘Love & Meth’. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. Previous singles ‘Got the Life’, ‘Twisted Transistor’ and ‘Never Never’ are radio-friendly tracks that have nevertheless managed to sit comfortably in the playlists of many hardcore fans. Even the ill-conceived cover of Cameo’s ‘Word Up!’ earned some props.

Lyrically, ‘Hater’ is typically direct. As is the case with vocalist Jonathan Davis, he pulls no punches. He’s not the type who bothers with clever little hidden meanings, he goes straight for the jugular. In ‘Hater’, he sings, ‘You can’t bring me down / Already had my life turned upside down / I ride a downward spiral round and round / But I keep flying, I keep fighting / You won’t ever bring me down.’ This kind of sentiment isn’t completely out of left-field, but it is somewhat unique for a band of Korn’s ilk. Davis has gone past the point of despair, of feeling wronged, instead opting for a more stoic outlook regarding his detractors.

As I’ve mentioned, ‘Hater’ is to be featured on the new deluxe edition of The Paradigm Shift. Normally, when I hear of an unreleased track, I tend to prepare myself for a second-rate number that didn’t make the album precisely for that reason: because it’s second-rate. This is not the case with ‘Hater’. Sure, it may be different. But this difference is nothing new; it seems to have been the case with all of Korn’s material since See You on the Other Side. It’s not exclusive to the post-Head/David era either. I remember UntouchablesIssues and even Follow the Leader leaving more than just a few scattered fans scratching their heads. And these are albums that now enjoy the status of ‘Korn classics.’

Korn’s recent direction hasn’t pleased everyone, and there are many who long for the day when original drummer David Silveria returns to the fold, for reasons I understand and agree with. But the band are happy as they are, and for all we know, that David-reunion may never happen. It is perhaps the difference between the new sound and the old that makes the perceived golden-age of Korn (1994-2003) so special. I say ‘perceived,’ as it wasn’t loved by all the fans, all the time. It’s just something to keep in mind.

Thank you for reading.