If you ask lead singer Jonathan Davis, Korn‘s foray into dubstep is more natural than the band’s metalhead fans might realize — or admit.
“We were dubstep before there was dubstep,” Davis says. “Tempos at 140 with half-time drums, huge bassed-out riffs. We used to bring out 120 subwoofers and line them across the whole front of the stage, 60 subs per side. We were all about the bass.”
Korn mines those roots on its 10th album, “The Path of Totality” (Dec. 2, Roadrunner), enlisting the talents of the aggressive electronic genre’s top producers, from poster boy Skrillex (aka Sonny Moore) to Noisia, one of its most respected experimental collectives, for an 11-track set that signifies more than an urgent new sound for the almost 20-year-old band. The Path of Totality also stands as dubstep’s first official smash-up with its obvious cousin, hard rock. And if social media tests are any indication, the kids are more than ready for it.
“Probably the most active young audience out there is the dubstep audience, just as Korn’s was when they first came on the scene,” says Peter Katsis, the band’s manager since its self-titled 1994 debut. “There’s a reason why they’re attracted to each other; why a guy like Skrillex went from [singing lead in a hardcore] band like From First to Last to doing what he’s doing [today].”
Korn’s interest in bass music started with Davis, a longtime DJ and student of new sounds. “I’ve been a fan of electronic music since the beginning,” Davis says. “When I first heard Skrillex’s stuff, I was blown away.”
Earlier this year, Davis tried playing some guitar riffs over Skrillex tracks, liked what he heard and got the rest of the band’s blessing. “That’s when I called Sonny, and he was like, ‘Fuck yeah,'” Davis says.
Some studio time with Skrillex-meant more as an experiment than a formal album session-yielded three tracks, including “Get Up!,” which Davis says took three-and-a-half hours to write and record. The incendiary track blends Skrillex’s loose, half-time break beats and growling, stuttering bass sounds with Korn’s moments of melody and Davis’ own demon roar. The band premiered the song with Skrillex during his April 15 Coachella set and posted the studio version as a free, fan-only download on its Facebook page four days later.
“At first we said, ‘You want to give it away? Really?'” Katsis recalls with a laugh.
In the end, the band’s instincts proved sound. According to Katsis, Korn had about 4.5 million Facebook fans before the track posted: It now has 7.3 million, and the number keeps growing. “We have weekly online meetings, and when they pull those stats up on the screen it’s really impressive. You almost have to do a double take,” Roadrunner senior director of marketing Suzi Akyuz says.
“Obviously when we saw that happen, we said, ‘What should we do? Should we make an EP?'” Katsis says. “‘We want to go in this new direction and claim it for our own. It’s struck a unique chord inside all of us, but how do we do it?’ The answer ended up being a whole album.”
Using Skrillex as a conduit, Korn reached out to a host of other young dubstep acts: Canadian-born Excision, whose flinty, metallic sound seemed a natural fit; former drum’n’bass producers 12th Planet and Downlink; U.K.-born Feed Me, who released his first full-length on Mau5trap this year.
“These kids are onto something completely innovative and new,” Davis says. “It’s pure and awesome and underground and heavy and different, not like stale-ass metal and rock’n’roll. I love them all, but the old-school metalheads are not open to change.”
Korn has sold more than 19 million albums in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and even though Davis himself cites the potential for backlash, he says that so far on the band’s 13-date tour — which kicked off Nov. 3 in Boston — everyone is getting along.
“It’s really cool to see glow sticks at the show, to see dance music culture infiltrating and becoming one with the metal community,” he says. “At the last show, there was one mosh pit where they were moshing, and another with kids doing glow stick tricks. They were taking turns and shit. I think we’ve opened up a new style that both sides are happy with.”