Why Untouchables is Jonathan Davis’ favorite Korn album

Opinions have always been divided on Korn’s fifth album, Untouchables, with even band members feeling conflicted with the record. What everyone agrees on though, is that in the end, it was the most expensive album in history, coming in at around four million dollars. So what happened, exactly?

“Simple fucking stuff,” Jonathan Davis says today, and you can practically hear his wry smile on the other end of the phone. “They say it cost about four million dollars. I’d say 3.1 of that the whole touring crew was held back for two years. It was a crap; we should have listened.”

The way Jonathan talks about it, you’d think he found out he could have gotten a better deal on his car insurance, rather than his band spending millions to make a record. But then, for him, it was probably a profession worthy of the name; Untouchables is his favorite Korn album, after all.

“He is!” he says, with such enthusiasm, you’d think the clock had turned back 20 years since the album’s release. It’s a very important record – a record that couldn’t be made in our time. I call it ‘Heavy Metal Asia’ because of the production and sound quality… people still use it today to tune their speakers. It’s our The dark side of the moon, I love it. And that’s exactly what I said [producer] Michael Beinhom – ‘I want this to be our The dark side of the moon‘. He said, ‘Cool, this is going to take a long time.'”

He wasn’t kidding. Sessions for Untouchables lasted up to two and a half years, with Michael going into microscopic detail to ensure that every part of the recording was perfect. Even for Korn, the band that had previously recorded with Ross Robinson, a producer who literally punched and scratched them to make sure their playing sounded tortured, it was a test of endurance.

“I wanted to fight [Michael]”, laughs Jonathan. “I was going in to do vocal melodies and he was like ‘Ew! What are you doing ? Go home, you suck today. I can’t even count how many times this has happened. My feelings were so hurt, but he knew I could do better and pushed me to greatness.”



In 2002, that was exactly what Korn needed. The band had spearheaded the nu metal revolution of the mid-90s, opening the doors to a legion of boundary-pushing bands that redefined the look and sound of heavy metal. They had also spawned a retinue of imitators, disdainfully dubbed by their former producer Ross Robinson as “tracksuit metal”.

1998 follow the leader had been hailed as a genre-defining masterpiece, while taking the band to the top of the charts. His 1999 follow-up Problems achieved similar commercial success, but was met with a lukewarm critical response as critics felt the album was rushed and merely rehashed old ideas (something we don’t particularly agree with). With other nu metal bands now climbing the charts – including ex-Korn-kopyists Limp Bizkit – eyes were on Korn to see if they could once again redefine the genre they helped popularize. at the dawn of a new millennium.

“When the nu metal thing really took off, there were a billion Korns,” says Jonathan. “But we don’t care about our popularity or how much attention people give to it – we just wanted to make good art.”

These were the last days of Rome, as far as the hedonism of the past was concerned, and while Korn (or Jonathan, at least) had renounced the sex and drugs that had characterized follow the leaderthere was still plenty of excess to be found.

“Everyone was partying and I was the only one sober,” Jonathan recalled (Head recently commented that he was “trying to get sober too” around this time). “I locked myself in the master bedroom and wrote [Untouchables] all there. It wasn’t all booze, girls and drugs then, it was just silver. We could basically do whatever we wanted – we rented three houses in Arizona just to write the record, and then I started doing vocals and melodies in Canada. I didn’t like it there, I didn’t vibrate, so we moved, paying for everyone’s accommodation… It was crazy.

Fortunately, the efforts paid off. With Michael pushing the band, Untouchables reunited and were finally released on June 11, 2002. Mud-soaked opening notes from Here to stay, to the spooky gothic vibe of Persuade (“my favorite song on the record,” says Jonathan. “I’m still warming up to it now – if I can hit those notes, I know my voice is good”), pulsating somp from thoughtless and stylish chugger Once againthe album saw Korn experimenting with the basic elements of their sound while keeping the core unchanged.

Unfortunately, the ambitious creative process that gave birth to Untouchables did not necessarily result in commercial success; unlike its predecessors, it failed to reach number 1 in the US, held to the top spot by Eminem’s The Eminem Show. Although in fairness there were extenuating circumstances, in that Korn had fallen victim to the scourge of the music industry of the 2000s: piracy.

“It leaked four months before the release date, so it really pissed us off.” Jonathan said with emotion. “But in the end, it was all worth it. The whole process, the nitpicking…it made it sound so amazing. It spawned my passion for production – it’s all because of Michael. He made me singing with a vocal coach and I started taking so many lessons…Untouchables That’s when I really started to blossom as an artist.”


Korn

(Image credit: Press/Korn)

Although Untouchables did not retain the top spot on the charts like its predecessors, it proved Korn’s continued ability to evolve and grow. America in 2002 was a very different world from the one the band had set Problems in, a confluence of events darkening the horizon. While Korn was no stranger to exploring dark themes in his lyrics, they usually dealt with “anxiety, depression…a snapshot of where I was at,” says Jonathan. But thoughtless was written in response to national events – namely the Columbine High School shooting in April 1999.

While Jonathan wasn’t about to defend the shooters, he recalls hearing reports that they were bullied and remembering his own past. “I was beaten so many times at school and there was no help,” he says.

“I would go to the counsellors, I would go to the teachers and say ‘help me’ and they would laugh at me and laugh and say it was because I was gay. They would tell me to go see the gay counselor, who also happened to be my music teacher. But he sat me down and tried to help me. It was a complete failure of the school system.

The music video for the song – with the future breaking Bad star Aaron Paul – also made the subject of the song unambiguous, but with a less violent result. “I’m not pro-revenge — that’s fucking awful — but that’s where I was at. The hell people put you through is unbelievable,” Jonathan said. “At that time it was very taboo, but I wanted to bring it up. It was a symbol of what was going on in America, but these days there’s a shooting almost every day. It’s damn ridiculous.”

Although originally written from a place of pain and anger, thoughtless would later be reimagined when Evanescence covered it in 2004. “That cover is gorgeous,” Jonathan says happily. “They have a way of playing it in a really nice way. Ours is melodic, but it’s also tough and angry, so Amy [Lee]is gorgeous and you can really hear what she brings to it.”

Likewise, while the song was originally about pain and outrage, over time it (like Korn themselves) has been embraced as a beacon for struggling Korn fans. We have to ask – what does it feel like for Jonathan, knowing that his band offers comfort to people going through a tough time?

“Fuck, that’s great, that’s why I do what I do,” Jonathan said happily. “I could probably retire happily now, but every time I see those kids faces I hear someone say ‘your band saved my life, they got me out of a really dark place “, it is the reward I want. All the money and shit that comes with it is fine, but the real reward is touching someone on an emotional level with your art and I’m glad the misfits have an outlet. Shit, I I needed that – my bands were The Cure and Duran Duran, the new romantic shit, so to be that for someone else is amazing.


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