Korn share 20 tracks that shaped their game-changing guitar approach

(Image credit: Press)

Brian "Head" Welch

“I got a good list for ya! It’s unique,” says Korn guitarist Brian “Head” Welch. “Well, it’s not really unique. [Laughs] Now that I look at it, it’s more along the lines of metal, but I threw in some atmospheric ones that I can’t live without… 

“And you know what’s crazy? I picked all these artists and a lot of them are still going strong. AC/DC is bigger than ever, Ozzy is still going strong. Iron Maiden had a massive resurgence the last five years. Journey is killing it. So… I picked the good ones! [Laughs]”

1. AC/DC – Back in Black

“The album and the song that got me lit with the fire for the passion for rock music. It was my favorite magical Christmas year, when you’re 10 years old and everything’s magical still. I didn’t believe in Santa Claus at all, but just the season of all these new fresh things in your life. I got a stereo that year, a record player, a new bike and Back in Black

“When I put on Back in Black, something just clicked for me, and I got obsessed. Time has shown that it’s one of the best-selling albums ever, so I guess I had an ear for music… along with millions of other people. [Laughs] That was the year I started to play guitar, and that’s the album that got me going.”

2. Ozzy Osbourne – Flying High Again

Flying High Again reminds me of a time in life when it came out. You know when you hear a song and it makes you feel a certain way… in your soul, emotionally, mentally? This one did it for me. Randy Rhoads was one of my greatest heroes. [AC/DC’s] Angus Young opened the door and I wanted more. 

“I was drawn to really play the instrument. Angus is amazing and he can shred and he has his own blues style. But I love melody. And I love the darker classical approach Randy Rhoads took. And that album and that song got me obsessed with Ozzy and Randy.”

3. Journey – Don't Stop Believin'

“I was into the heavier darker stuff like Ozzy and AC/DC, but I like the lighter side too. And I got into Journey, a lot. Honestly, I listened to Back in Black and Angus, but I couldn’t really play the leads. 

“The first lead I learned was Don’t Stop Believin’. I was faking leads up to that point, but once I could nail that one I felt like I had a chance. [Laughs] I’m definitely drawn to Neal Schon’s style, tone and melody. You felt something when you heard his solos.”

4. Boston – More Than a Feeling

“Dude, I can’t live without this song! Even today if I hear that on a classic rock station, I make sure to stop what I’m doing so I can listen to the whole song before I move on to whatever I was doing. If I was on an island, I would definitely want this song. It’s got a sound… like nobody else.”

5. Iron Maiden – The Number of the Beast

“Iron Maiden were along the lines of Ozzy, as far as, like, the theatrical dark edge and the Satanic vibe or whatever. I wasn’t into any spiritual or Satanic stuff, but I was drawn to the dark and I really loved horror movies growing up. And Iron Maiden had it. 

“They had Eddie and the imagery on the cover. And the opening of that song – ‘Woe to you, o’er Earth and Sea’ – where they speak that whole scripture in Revelation. The drive of The Number of the Beast’ and [singer Bruce Dickinson’s] vocal range… just everything. It makes me feel something special when I hear it, even now.”

6. Van Halen – Eruption

“Such a crazy piece that Eddie Van Halen invented. I think it was a one-take thing he did... It had to be. I mean, How the hell do you do that? It’s just so perfect. I wanna go deep dive and find something that explains the whole recording process.

“The effects he had on it… it sounded like something from outer space! It’s hard to wrap your head around it. But I was like, I wanna do that. How do I do that? [Laughs] It’s mind-blowing.”

7. Soaking in His Presence & William Augusto – It Is Finished

“No one’s going to know William Augusto. I don’t think he’s on any major label or anything. I found him on YouTube… He puts out these instrumental pieces and they get millions of views. 

“I love the song and if I was on an island stranded for the rest of my life, I would really want an atmospheric song so I could just center myself. Because life would pretty much suck without any grocery stores or fast-food joints or friends or family.” [Laughs]

8. Metallica – Master of Puppets

“I was a late bloomer on Master of Puppets. I got into Mötley Crüe and Ratt and I love Def Leppard… So when Master of Puppets came out I was like, ‘Ew, what? That’s too loud.’ [Laughs] But once I gave it a chance, it really got me. It’s structured like a classical piece of music, through the metal lens.

“It’s a work of art. James Hetfield’s voice at that time, the scratchiness of it… I think most people can relate to the message of that song: falling into something that’s mastering you, could be a person, or a substance… Great, great idea for the whole thing. It’s amazing.”

9. Faith No More – The Real Thing

“This is my favorite song by Faith No More. How they put that piece together just blows my mind. It’s a work of art. It starts with the drums, and he does those rim-shots with the dark-sounding synths in the back. It’s an amazing crossover with a thrash feel on the guitars, but not too much. 

“With [Mike] Patton’s freaking bluesy style of singing over very minor music, I thought it was incredible and unique. They were instrumental for me in terms of crossing over into alternative ideas [and realizing] the possibilities are endless about how alternative you can get and mixing different styles of music. They were huge for me and Korn.”

10. Hans Zimmer – Time

“My god, that takes you on a ride. It helps me when I need to think about life, and myself, and centering yourself on positivity and what matters. For me, with prayer and connecting with Christ, that song really helps me. I don’t like organized religion at all, but I love the spiritual aspect of… what I learn about the teachings of the wisdom. This song helps me focus on that and experience that.”

James "Munky" Shaffer

“I looked through my library of songs, and I thought, Man, how can I not live with all of this!” says Korn guitarist James “Munky” Shaffer with a laugh. “Music’s so important to me and has gotten me through so many hard times, and good times as well. 

“I make playlists: I made playlists for my wedding and the reception, and for when my children were born. The doctor let me play songs in the delivery room! But I narrowed this list down to ‘why I play music’ and some of the more important guitar-driven songs. And it’s still hard! [Laughs] And these are in no particular order. It would take me a week to put these in order!”

1. Faith No More – Caffeine

“Lemme start with [guitarist] Jim Martin and his contribution to Faith No More on Caffeine. It’s got, I think, a 6/8 or 3/4 time signature. So when I first heard it in 1992 I was kinda put off by the feel of it. I was probably 21, and it was something new for me.

“Of course, Mike Patton delivers these screaming verses that are just epic. And then it has two breakdowns in it, which is unusual for a song. It comes out of that heavy section in the middle and into the ending with a really melodic thing. Those guys have been such a big influence in my personal musical growth in every aspect.”

2. Pink Floyd – Time

“David Gilmour, Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of the Moon … It’s hard to narrow down one song! But I listened to the album last night, which was fun, and the song Time feels like an epic moment for me. The intro – and the way it draws you in – is so intense. 

“The song’s called Time, but it’s really a timeless song. Lyrically speaking, musically speaking, it has something I feel resonates through generations. The way Pink Floyd plays with the minor dark and the major uplifting moments is just brilliant. That’s something I try to strive for to this day.”

3. Mr. Bungle – Quote Unquote

“Another one of my favorite guitar players is Trey Spruance from Mr. Bungle. When I first heard the song, it was originally called Travolta. But for whatever reason they changed the name ... There’s a bottle smash, and then it comes in so heavy. It was like nothing I’d ever heard. 

“That band and the way he plays is so non-traditional … It made me feel like music can be everything. It influenced me on so many creative levels [including] the aesthetic and the ominous look of the band. I was like, This is what our band has to be like!” [Laughs]

4. Nine Inch Nails – The Wretched

The Fragile is such an epic double-album. Lyrically it pulls on you … When you’re in a dark place and you want to feel like you’re not alone you can put on that album and that song. It has the pulsating electronic elements … The way Trent [Reznor] creates songs, the electronic portion of what he does is very organic. 

“I’ve watched all the phases they’ve gone through. I like all the old stuff and new stuff. But this album captures it for me, as well as that particular [touring] band: [guitarist] Robin Finck, [keyboardist] Charlie Clouser and [bassist] Danny Lohner, those guys killed it.”

5. Tool – 10,000 Days

“My favorite song from Tool is 10,000 Days … I love the metaphysical aspect of Tool and the art and the videos. Even [without] the visuals, if you just listen to them it takes you on a journey, I think, spiritually. There’s something I can relate to on 10,000 Days.

“I lost my mother to cancer … And she was very religious, and this song really touches me because I know there was a similar situation that [Tool singer] Maynard [James Keenan] had gone through with losing his mom and what this song’s about. That song I hold very close to me, and that band is very special to me.”

6. A Perfect Circle – The Package

“This song starts so chill, and the snare is turned off – I think Josh Freese is playing. Him, [guitarist] Billy Howerdel and Maynard … I can’t say enough about them. Their chemistry together is epic. 

“These are three of the most talented people on the planet. The way the song builds, and draws you in is very… I can’t articulate what it is. [Laughs] I don’t have words for it! It’s heavy, melodic and all the things I love about music.”

7. Ozzy Osbourne – Diary of a Madman

“This was the first cassette I bought with my own money. I was maybe 12 years old, right around 1982 … Diary of a Madman is the last song, and it starts with this classical guitar intro and there’s an odd time signature. And then the guitar solo … It’s Randy Rhoads, I feel, at his best at the time. It’s everything I love about Randy. That’s one of the albums that really got me into heavy music.”

8. David Bowie – Fame

“A song my mom used to play. It’s a collab between David Bowie and John Lennon. She had it on vinyl, and she’d put it on and dance around – my mom was a very eclectic person and full of life, crazy in a good way. 

“When she used to play this song, she’d get into this weird, strange mood and it made me feel good. So when I hear this song it reminds me of her. And now I can relate to some of the lyrics, as well. But that’s a cool, funky song with a lot of cool guitar textures throughout.”

9. Van Halen – Eruption

Van Halen came out in 1978, so that was kind of the first hard rock I ever heard. It [started with] Runnin’ With the Devil and then goes into Eruption, and when I heard that at first I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know it was the sound of the guitar. 

“It was before I played guitar, so I didn’t understand what it was. I just thought, ‘This is the most incredible thing in the world!’ It awakened my senses in some way that nothing else did.”

10. Led Zeppelin – The Rain Song

“Jimmy Page has an unusual way of tuning his guitar – the voicings are different. When you try to tune your guitar to Jimmy Page tunings, it opens so many doors, musically, for a guitar player that’s just starting. And also, it’s one of the first rock songs that I heard with strings in it, and I thought it was the greatest thing. 

“It takes you on a journey. It’s melancholy and then it lifts you up and the drums come in, and then it ends on this really dissonant diminished kind of chord and then right at the end it releases into a major. It’s a brilliant piece of music.”

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Brad Angle

Brad is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor and video producer. He is the former content director of Revolver magazine and executive editor of Guitar World. His work has appeared in Vice, Guitar Aficionado, Inked and more. He’s also a die-hard Les Paul player who wishes he never sold his 1987 Marshall Silver Jubilee half stack.