#TBT: KORN and Their Breakthrough Album Follow The Leader
Welcome to Throwback Thursday! This is the place where we get to indulge in nostalgia and wax poetic about excellent metal of years past. Today's 81st TBT features the mainstream breakthrough for Korn which set the band, and nu metal, on a global radar. Follow The Leader proved to be wildly popular, eventually landing in the number one spot on the US Billboard Top 200. This popularity catapulted the band into the mainstream hard rock radio world, hurling Korn into a celebrity status far beyond the bands' wildest dreams. The onslaught of Follow The Leader's success brought about sex and drugs to round out the rock 'n' roll trifecta for Korn, thus making this album not only a milestone for metal, but a turning point for the band as well. Beloved by fans and maligned by many critics, Follow The Leader is a landmark album for metal because it helped established the derisive and adored sub-genre: nu metal.
KORN'S FOLLOW THE LEADER
Release Date: August 1998
Record Label: Immortal/Epic
Korn's 2019 release The Nothing is revisiting Korn's comfy old position on the top US Billboard charts, landing somewhere in the top 10 as of today. However, It's hard to believe that fellow Billboard charter Follow The Leader is already 21 years old. This third studio release for Korn still feels fresh because of its appeal to a wide audience with cutting-edge concepts and genre-breaking sound. Follow The Leader is arguably still listened to as much today as it was 21 years ago. Check out the astounding 167 million-view count on the iconic music video for "Freak on a Leash":
Love 'em or hate 'em, this genius video struck a chord with every misunderstood young person who laid eyes upon it. In many rights, the album has aged well thanks to Korn's unmistakable hallmarks including: Johnathan Davis's harsh mid-tone rasp mixed with his creepy, soft, whisper-y voice; chingy, ear-splatting, percussion-esque bass; and dissonant warble-y guitar work interwoven with chuggy fuzz. All pieces of Korn's identifying sound still have no hugely popular parallel. However, as many critics (and even Korn themselves) have pointed out, not all songs on the album are gems. Davis said this of playing Follow The Leader on it's 20th anniversary tour last year,
"We're not gonna do it in its entirety. There's a couple of songs that are just dumb [laughs], that we don't wanna play. We were really drunk when we made 'em. But we're gonna play the majority of the record."
Drunk may be an understatement. Korn estimates to have spent 60,000 dollars on liquor alone during Follow The Leader Sessions. From the linked article, "Davis noted to The Ringer that the recording sessions for the album were fueled by “cocaine, speed, and just constant gallons of Jack Daniel’s,” before Davis got clean for that fall's Family Values Tour." From a 2019 article from Loudwire, Jon Weiderhorn reports, "There were lots of times we almost broke up,” bassist Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu said. “We had too much of a good thing and that turned into a bad thing. We couldn't stand being around each other and we did a lot of s–t just to get through the day.”
In another illuminating section from the same Loudwire article, Weiderhorn writes that along with alcohol and drugs, girls were in the studio "all the time" when they were supposedly working. That level of… distraction surely led the band astray from writing stronger tracks such as "Got the Life":
Nothing else at the time held excitement like Korn could, and they exploded onto the scene and MTV at just the right time with the right sound to make it huge. Hosting guest appearances from Ice Cube on “Children of the Korn” and Fred Durst on "All in the Family" added to the mania of media surrounding the album. Many of the songs and their elements are still considered shocking and effectively memorable. Shouting "I just want to live!" in between Ice Cube's "Stop fuckin' with me!", alongside some of the first instances of metal scatting are two elements of hiphop and jazz that one does not often hear in the metalverse. These elements are as memorable as the look of the band themselves, sporting the most 90's of hair dreads and jean shorts waaaay down below the knees.
Whether you're new to Korn or reliving nostalgia from the past, Follow The Leader seems to have a place in every meatlhead's life, if not by love then at least by influence. And while every song on the album wasn't a knock out of the park, we at least have the memory of when MTV actually played music videos and Korn dominated TRL.