Korn fans shouldn't be all that surprised to learn that, in guitarist James "Munky" Shaffer's estimation, their forthcoming eighth studio album, due in late July, is one of the heaviest the band has ever put to tape.
After all, Korn are and always have been a "heavy" act — save the band's recent dalliance with acoustic rock (see "Korn Quiet Down With The Cure, Amy Lee For 'MTV Unplugged' "). But Munky doesn't just mean that the music is pummeling, which it is, of course. More than that, though, the overall tone of the album — which remains untitled, although the guys are toying with the idea of self-titling it, as they did with their 1994 debut — is "rife with emotion and has a genuine sadness" to it, Shaffer said.
"It's very musical," he explained. "I would compare it to [2002's] Untouchables. It has a lot of highs and lows throughout it, and it's very gothic, I think. It kind of took on this whole gothic feel, which we didn't set out to do. When we were done with it, we sort of just sat back, and we were all kind of laughing about it, because it has that vibe throughout. I think our fans are going to be stunned by how heavy [the album] is, as far as an emotional sense. A lot of these songs are sad. But at the same time, some of the heaviest stuff we've ever done, musically, is on this record. There are moments here and there that are just tough. This one song, called 'Ever Be,' just has this epic ending to it — like, imagine '300' set to song. It's crazy. Some of the stuff's very epic like that, and then pulls way back, so the dynamics on the record are very wide — from one extreme to the next, and all over the map."
The LP, which Korn worked on with Atticus Ross (who produced 2005's See You on the Other Side) and the Matrix production team (Avril Lavigne, Shakira), began to take shape last fall. The final mix should be done before week's end. While Korn started things off with the Matrix, the songs they'd worked on together were later re-recorded with Ross.
"The songs [Korn did with the Matrix] weren't really taking the direction we wanted them to, so the songs we did write with them we had Atticus rework," Shaffer explained. "When we were working with the Matrix, I started hearing some of the stuff back, and it didn't sound like a band was playing it — it didn't sound like something that was going to translate live, and that's why we ended up retracking the stuff."
When it lands in stores, look for the album to include the tracks "Evolution," "I Will Protect You," "Starting Over" and "Kiss," one of Munky's personal favorites.
"It has piano in it, and there's a very melancholy tone to it," he said, adding that, while the guys did tinker with different instrumentation during their "MTV Unplugged" taping, they didn't experiment much in the studio. "We kept it [to] what we normally do. We did write songs with our keyboard player, Zack [Baird, who has been touring with Korn for years now], which was different for us. It was one of those things that we wanted to try out, and he's so talented that it ended up working really well. It was the first time we'd written material with a keyboard player."
On a different track, "Hushaby," Shaffer plays a "reverb-y" mandolin, and another, which hasn't been officially named yet but was known around the studio as "My Arm Hurts," contains one of the most challenging riffs Korn have ever conceived.
"It's a hard riff to play, and if you keep playing it for an hour, your arm hurts," Munky explained. "[Frontman Jonathan Davis] was in writing the song with us, so he's the one who came up with the riff — because he's not used to playing hours on end. He was kind of the second guitar player, filling in the blanks for me."
As for drummer David Silveria, who announced earlier this year that he'd be taking a hiatus from the band, Munky said he expects the kitman will return by the end of this year.
"This band hasn't taken a break ever since we started," he said. "It's always been: write album, record it, tour. And then in between, that's usually when a band will take some time off. We never did. We took a couple of weeks off here and there, and then it was back into to the studio and write. It's been that way for 10 years. That schedule can get to a person, and he needed some time with his family. He just needed to step back for a minute, because you lose perspective about real life. It's hard work, and everybody works hard, but after so long, it becomes kind of like a make-believe world that you're living in. ... But after we do these couple of tours, and by the end of the year, I think he'll be ready. But I don't want to put pressure on someone. If he's ready, he'll call us and tell us. I can't keep calling him and asking, 'Are you ready, are you ready, are you ready?' That would just push a guy like David further away."
Silveria, Shaffer said, has every intention of returning to the band, and said as much to the rest of Korn when he informed them of his decision to go on hiatus from the group. On this summer's Family Values Tour, which Korn will headline and features Evanescence, Flyleaf, Trivium, Droid and more (see "Korn, Evanescence, Hellyeah Top Family Values Tour Bill"), Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison will man the kit.
In addition to his work with Korn, Shaffer's been keeping busy with Emotional Syphon Recordings, the label he formed in July. He'll soon release Monster in the Machine's Butterfly Pinned and American metallers Droid's debut disc. Like former Faith No More frontman Mike Patton's Ipecac Records, Munky hopes his label will be a place where lesser-known acts can come to catch a break.
"Basically, what happened is, I'd come home every year from tour, and a lot of my friends were just very talented, and still struggling at home every year, and here I come off these big tours, and I'm like, 'Aw, man, it was awesome,' and they can't even get a gig at a sh---y bar, and they're so talented," he said. "I was thinking, you know, 'How can I help these guys? I could create a record label and put something on the shelves — maybe that would help.' "
The label will also serve as a platform for Munky's future solo endeavors. He plans to bring recording equipment with him on the road this summer and would like to write material for what would be his first album without his Korn bandmates.
"I have a handful of songs, but it seems every time I record a Korn record, it's like I learn all this new stuff in the studio, so I kind of start fresh again," he said. "So that's what I'll do when I'm on the road this year — compiling music, so that when I get home, I can sit down with somebody and just kind of go through it and see what's good and see what I want to use for my own stuff or see if there's anything the guys in the band will want to use for future Korn songs. I always get stuck when I come up with something really great, because I feel like I can't keep it for myself — that I have to give it Korn because that's obviously my first priority."