15 Years Ago: Korn Release ‘Take a Look in the Mirror’
Having spent nearly two years working on their 2002 album Untouchables with perfectionist producer Michael Beinhorn, Korn decided they wanted to bang out their sixth studio album, 2003’s Take a Look in the Mirror, quickly and rely more on the impulse and spontaneity that inspired them in the early years of their career. To avoid an extended entanglement with another high-profile producer, frontman Jonathan Davis produced the album at his home studio in Tarzana, California, recording most of it between April and June 2003.
“Before that album, we had done all this shit with huge budgets and all this work with different producers and all these people, and some of us had gotten really into meth and other stuff and we were so bummed for all these different reasons,” Davis told me. “We were like, ‘You know, fuck this. Let’s just do an album really quickly and get back to how we used to do things.’ So we produced the album ourselves and put the shit out.”
In keeping with the spirit of returning to their roots, Korn included a new version of "Alive," which had previously only been featured on the demo that got them signed, Niedermayer’s Mind. The vibe of the song set the tone for the album, which was louder and heavier than Untouchables and featured an abundance of dense, surging seven-string riffs balanced by cleaner, more atmospheric segues. The singles “Did My Time” and “Right Now” were reminiscent of songs from Korn and Life is Peachy, the band having written many of the songs while they were on tour for Untouchables.
“I had my bus, with a studio on it, and an engineer that would come out and set up the writing rooms every day,” Davis said. “We sold out the old Wembley Arena in London the first time we played it. We sold that motherfucker clean out, and right after the show we all went in and started writing music. None of us were partying, we just wanted to write music. We did the same thing at Madison Square Garden. Sold that bitch out, and right back to writing. We wrote a ton of music, and then we wanted to record right.”
After finishing the tour cycle, the band worked in Davis’ home studio with Beinhorn’s engineer, Frank Filipetti. “We worked together really well,” Davis said. “We did it quick like we used to and the title says it all. Take a look in the mirror. We had all gone on this big rock star trip and we wanted to strip it back and take it back to the way we used to do things and get some of that excitement. My assistant [Jim] ‘Bud’ [Monti] was the engineer on there because my other assistant Pebble bailed. But we just went with it and put that bitch out and everybody liked that a lot.”
In addition to featuring some old-school nu-metal and a couple killer singles, Take a Look in the Mirror included a collaboration with rapper Nas called “Play Me.” Korn met Nas backstage when they played Untouchables in full at the album's release celebration at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. The two became tight and the chemistry on the track is tangible even though the two artists were on different sides of the country when they recorded the song.
“I had ISDN lines in my studio,” Davis explained. “There was a datafax and he was in a studio in New York and we were connected through this special line. We did the whole thing in real time, which is no big deal today, but back in 2003 that was pretty ahead of its time. So Nas is rapping about people taking advantage and I was just like, ‘Play me. Yeah, that’s it. You wanna play me?’ That was the shit. I love that guy. He’s the man.”
While Korn were able to recapture the spirit of their early days on Take a Look in the Mirror, their fans didn’t react to it the way they had to the band’s earlier records. It went platinum less than a month after it was released, but it received mixed reviews; the only song Korn still play from the record is “Right Now.”
“I just think of that record as a ‘whatever’ record to me,” Davis said. “It’s not my favorite album by any means, but we did what we set out to achieve, which was to get back to the kind of band we used to be before all this crazy shit started happening. And I think we kind of did that.”
Take a Look in the Mirror may have forced Korn to re-examine themselves, but ironically, after doing so, guitarist Brian 'Head' Welch didn’t like what he saw. He had become addicted to meth and was rarely sober, so he quit the band and became a born-again Christian.
Korn continued without him for almost a decade -- with guitarist James 'Munky' Shaffer taking the sole riff writing roll –- but without Head, they lacked the galvanic spark the two guitarists generated together. And while Korn continued to release creative, agonized music, many fans argue they didn’t hit full stride again until Head rejoined the band in 2013 for The Paradigm Shift.
Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the co-author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, as well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax, and Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and the Agnostic Front book My Riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.
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