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Korn keeps the nu-metal dream of the 90s alive

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Since nu-metal fizzled out in the early aughts it's generally been treated with the kind of derision found in VH1 specials eviscerating bygone pop-culture ephemera. But "What were we thinking?" one-liners are more fitting for the oversize JNCO jeans of those years than the music that defined them, and while it's getting harder and harder to understand how we wound up with Tommy Lee's Methods of Mayhem, a lot can be explained by the 1994 self-titled debut from Bakersfield, California, metal band Korn. Put aside nu-metal's bad reputation and Korn's shoddy output since its 1998 crossover megahit, Follow the Leader, and it's easier to appreciate what made the five-piece special. As bandwagoners remained glued to grunge, this ragtag assembly of funk castoffs genuinely obsessed with Cypress Hill's low-riding hip-hop linked up with a Cure-loving singer (and mortician) to shape a molten, idiosyncratic sound with help from Ross Robinson, a rock superproducer in the making who was figuring it out as he went along. A recent Decibel feature points out some of the X factors that furthered Korn's ascent: on the first album the group prized hooks over six-string wizardry and applied gut-churning heaviness to darken Jonathan Davis's unflinching, vulnerable lyrics, while Robinson teased vitriolic performances out of the band. Rolling Stone's 2014 oral history of Korn highlights the powerful, unnerving session for album closer "Daddy," a song inspired by Davis's experience as the victim of child molestation; the singer broke down at the end of it and wept for five minutes as the rest of the band improvised, a sequence preserved on the album. Before this year Korn had performed "Daddy" live only once, but Davis told Rolling Stone enough time has passed that he's ready for it—and he'll have to be, because tonight the band plays Korn in its entirety.

Suicide Silence and Islander open. October 1, 8 PM, Aragon Ballroom, $39.50-$75.

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