Released in mid-September, The Nothing is Korn’s third album to feature guitarist Brian “Head” Welch after he re-joined the band in 2013. It’s also the second consecutive record contemporary metal maestro Nick Raskulinecz has produced for the Californian quintet.
The presence of both parties has allowed Korn to recapture the same twisted darkness and grave-digging grooves that made them one of the most successful and influential rock bands of the late 1990s.
The Nothing was tracked in Raskulinecz’s home city of Nashville. The producer’s had a hand in a slew of high profile releases over the last couple of decades, including Alice In Chains’ Rainier Fog, Mastodon’s Once More 'Round the Sun, Deftones’ Koi No Yokan and Foo Fighters’ In Your Honor and One By One.
As the four instrumentalists – Welch, drummer Ray Luzier, guitarist James “Munky” Shaffer and bassist Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu – assembled in Nashville, singer Jonathan Davis retreated to his Californian studio to work the lyrics. It might sound like a disjointed approach, but the frontman still had an influence on the record’s stylistic development.
“We send it to him over email or Dropbox,” says Welch. “So some days we’ll go in and we’re like ‘what do you feel like hearing today?’ And he’ll be like ‘think Vulgar Display of Power,’ or one day he’ll be like ‘think ’70s funk, but heavy.’
“He’s all over the place and that’s what makes him amazing, because he knows what he wants to hear and then we kind of Korn-metalise it. So if he’s listening to ’70s funk, we’re like, ‘that dance thing is not going to work with us, but if we make it like Slayer-meets-funk or something, or Korn-ise it, then we have something cool.’”
It makes sense for Davis to take on the conductor’s role given how central his lyrics are to the emotional thrust of the average Korn song. That’s not to say the rest of the band were bankrupt of ideas, however.
“The two singles, ‘Cold’ and ‘You’ll Never Find Me’, those were written just by us jamming and we didn’t even talk to [Davis],” says Welch. “Those were us getting in a room – me, Ray, Munky and [Raskulinecz], little bit of Fieldy – and writing a song.”
2016’s Raskulinecz-produced The Serenity of Suffering garnered the biggest reaction for a Korn album since their turn-of-the-aughts heyday. Its predecessor, 2013’s The Paradigm Shift, was Welch’s first album with the band after an eight-year absence. He says it wasn’t until Raskulinecz’s arrival that the decision to re-join felt worth it.
“When I came back into the band, that was an experimental Korn still,” Welch says. “They were messing around with some electronics and there were some old songs that we brought up to do. We were finding each other out again, discovering who everybody was. Then Nick came into the picture and he said everything that I wanted to hear.
“He was flipping burgers listening to Korn when he was younger. So he’s like, ‘Man that feeling I got…’ and I was like, ‘yeah that’s what we want, let’s really work at it and get this heavy intensity back.’”
And work hard is exactly they did – The Nothing sessions were particularly exhaustive, with each song being recorded twice.
“We did a demo for each song to get them sounding the best quality we could for Jonathan to hear and then we went back and re-recorded it and maybe kept some of the rhythm tracks, but not much,” Welch says.
“I’m lazy so I’m like, ‘let’s keep the guitar tracks that we did and re-amp them.’ But Nick just always says, ‘No, we can get a better take. You can play tighter.’ And I’m like, ‘I played tight on the demo! Just use that.’
“You’ve got to respect someone like that who just wants to put in the work. I think he’s in the mindset where the pay-off is better at the end the harder you work. So we just kind of go with it, even though he makes us work harder than on any records I’ve done in the past. Honestly. But we keep going back to him, so he’s doing something right.”