Spiraling into the titular void on 13th album The Nothing, Korn frontman Jonathan Davis pulls his bandmates down with him, delivering the veteran metal crew's most vulnerable and mature work to date. Intensely cathartic, this dark journey is strongly influenced by the 2018 passing of Davis' wife, Deven, resulting in some of the most painfully honest work they've ever produced. The words "brutal" and "heavy" are frequent descriptors of Korn's trademark musical style, but here they take on new meaning. Psychologically, The Nothing is relentless, an unflinching dive into the grief and despair that follow the untimely death of a loved one. Davis' honesty in the face of the ugliness and messiness of that anguish permeates every track, whipping anger, guilt, and frustration into a potent cocktail that leaves little time to catch a breath or hide from the assault. As such, The Nothing is emotionally exhausting; but for those familiar with the grieving process, it's ultimately cathartic in its truth. As the funereal bagpipes blare on opener "The End Begins," Davis repeatedly roars "Why did you leave?" through seething cries and heart-wrenching sobs. From there, the band -- guitarists James "Munky" Shaffer and Brian "Head" Welch, bassist Reggie "Fieldy" Arvizu, and drummer Ray Luzier -- serve as an emotional support unit, offering a typical precision attack to help Davis push through his personal nightmare. While "You'll Never Find Me" and "Cold" jolt listeners back to their '90s heyday, "Idiosyncrasy" and "H@rd3r" push them into a punishingly harsh territory usually occupied by Slipknot. As the band pummels and stabs, swirling production sucks them into the abyss, creating a focused experience that they previously achieved on The Paradigm Shift, Issues, and their self-titled debut. Although Davis has always been open about his demons and struggles, his sometimes clunky and ineloquent lyrics make his real emotions come off as immature and underdeveloped. Here, there's a distinct adultness and vulnerability that set The Nothing apart from much of their oeuvre -- save for harrowing moments like 1994's traumatic "Daddy" -- and Davis' bloodletting is so palpably real that, even after 25 years, this manages to feel fresh. On penultimate track "This Loss," Davis ponders his life, stripped of joy and robbed of happiness, accepting his fate even as he screams in desperation, "I wanna take it back!" At this vulnerable low, The Nothing swallows Davis with closer "Surrender to Failure." Over atmospheric NIN-like piano and towering drums, he exposes his guilt-stricken soul in a final confessional. As the swell fades away, he weeps, "I failed, I failed." It's one of the saddest moments in their catalog, a low point that ironically elevates this album to one of their strongest statements. Korn have always excelled at pain, but with The Nothing, this is the most authentic it's ever been.
AllMusic Review by Neil Z. Yeung
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