there's no doubt that Korn sounds tough on their sophomore CD, "Life is Peachy." In fact, they sound positively pathological. Singer Jonathan Davis rants like a certified lunatic, his tortured lyrics a verbal counterpoint to the atonal buzzsaw of guitarists James Shaffer and Brian Welch. Trouble is, they're a little too tough. There are just a few too many gratuitous expletives thrown in every song; the psychosis is a little too strained as Davis screams "Get the fuck out of my face!" again and again on "Good God." Don't mind if I do. From the band's press kit (which wrings what credibility it can out of Davis' former employment as an autopsy assistant) to their disingenuous anti-commercial rants at www.korn.com, Korn is too tough, too sick, too demented to be believed.
Reacting against bands like No Doubt and Presidents of the United States of America who are trying (annoyingly) to make rock fun again, Korn, like Marilyn Manson and KMFDM, is trying to get crazier and more psychopathic. But many such neo-dementia bands are middle-class suburban boys from bucolic Southern California capitalizing on the theater of shock long after we've been desensitized by it -- the psychosis of "Twist," "A.D.I.D.A.S." and "Ass Itch" was done better by the Butthole Surfers, Flipper and Black Flag 15 years ago.
To their credit, the guys in Korn are trying to expand their musical horizons. Compared to their eponymous debut album, parts of "Peachy" are positively melodic: "Wicked" is built on a killer hip-hop groove, a potentially beautiful tune is buried like a diamond in a dunghill in "Kill You," and on one of the album's most remarkable tracks, Davis plays bagpipes in a sendup of War's classic "Low Rider."
The sine qua non of Korn, the crunch and whine of guitars battling against themselves in anti-musical half-steps, is best experienced live -- a setting that puts their vocals in a more favorable (and less audible) context. The overall impression "Peachy" leaves -- confirmed by its multimedia portion, which features live footage of "Good God" performed at the Astoria Theatre in London -- is that Korn belongs on the road and not in the studio, where the pretensions of a soundproof room and the dangers of an indulgent engineer kill whatever germ of true mad genius may have been there to begin with.