How Korn changed the face of guitar music

(Image credit: Bob Berg/Getty Images)

Founded in Bakersfield, California, in 1993, at a time when alternative rock and metal was blossoming and anything and everything was up for grabs, Korn seized the nettle and took a different path to their contemporaries.

Influenced by Faith No More, Red Hot Chili Peppers, the iconoclastic idea of referencing hip-hop in rock, and, perhaps most significantly, inspired by the musical potential of having a 7-string guitar in the shape of the Steve Vai-designed Ibanez Universe, guitarists James 'Munky' Shaffer and Brian 'Head' Welch tuned metal down, loosened it up, pocketed it in a groove. 

The quiet/loud dynamic that allowed for the chorus to be explosive was exploited in full, especially once they hooked up with producer Ross Robinson – a collaboration that established nu-metal as a global concern with the breakthrough success of their sophomore LP, Life Is Peachy. Imitators followed, in their scores. Others absorbed the influences and took it in a different place. And in 2022, the Korn legacy has been traveled far and wide.

1996 – Sepultura

Although Sepultura formed a whole decade before Korn, the Brazilian metallers’ classic 1996 album Roots took some major cues from the Californians. 

The album even featured guests spots from Korn singer Jonathan Davis on Lookaway and drummer David Silveria on Ratamahatta, and was produced by Korn’s go-to guy Ross Robinson. 

“Sepultura adopted our nu-metal sound for a couple of records, which was really flattering,” says Korn guitarist Brian ‘Head’ Welch. “But at the same time we were like, ‘Ross, why are you giving our tone away?!’”

1999 – Slipknot

Slipknot’s first album was released five years after Korn’s, and though they would end up surpassing them commercially, the members of Slipknot have always been open about their admiration for Korn. 

“I feel like people have forgotten how explosive and poignant Korn were when they hit the scene,” said Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor. “To me, I would put the first Korn album on the same level as Appetite For Destruction and Nevermind as far as albums that shifted things culturally.”

2000 – Limp Bizkit

Korn didn’t invent rap-rock by any stretch, but they were certainly responsible for aligning hip-hop grooves with more extreme, down-tuned metal riffs. It’s something Limp Bizkit took and ran with – particularly guitarist Wes Borland – spawning early noughties hits like Break Stuff and Rollin’.

2010 – Of Mice & Men

Californian metalcore quartet Of Mice & Men have been on Korn’s radar for many years. 

As Korn guitarist Head says: “There’s a lot of bands out there we’ve influenced, and I would say Of Mice & Men are definitely one of them, though it’s very hard to replicate Korn because of Jonathan’s unusual style of singing... no-one else tries or wants to do that!”

2016 – Cane Hill

As well as naming their band after psychiatric hospital in the London suburb of Croydon – which is exactly the kind of thing Korn singer Jonathan Davis would think of – this New Orleans quartet have made a name for themselves as one of the breakout groups in the recent nu-metal resurgence.

2018 – Poppy

Twisting childlike innocence with macabre horror much like Korn were on Follow The Leader, this Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter’s videos are certainly not for the faint-hearted. Drawing from a diverse pool of bubble-gum pop, industrial rock and nu-metal, she is an artist who thrives in contrasting extremes.

2020 – Tallah

Featuring Max Portnoy – son of ex-Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy – behind the kit, Tallah certainly have a rhythmic advantage over other modern metal bands. 

Further intensified by the down-tuned riffs played by guitarists Derrick Schneider and Alex Snowden, it’s helped establish them one of the most explosive newcomers to the modern metal scene.

2021 – Tetrarch

“We like to mix nu-metal with shred stuff,” Tetrarch guitarist Diamond Rowe told Total Guitar last year. “When I started learning guitar I was listening to bands like Korn, Slipknot and Linkin Park – they were the contemporary metal bands of my teenage years. That’s where we are coming from musically.”

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Total Guitar editors

Total Guitar is one of Europe's biggest guitar magazines. With lessons to suit players of all levels, TG's world-class tuition is friendly, accessible and jargon-free, whether you want to brush up on your technique or improve your music theory knowledge. We also talk to the biggest names in the world of guitar – from interviews with all-time greats like Brian May and Eddie Van Halen to our behind the scenes Rig Tour features, we get you up close with the guitarists that matter to you.