November 29, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST


Current Status
In Season
We gave it a C

Korn have always gone out of their way to inject ugly themes into their brutal rap-metal. The Bakersfield, Calif., quintet has sung about incest, child abuse, murder — all in one song. Their predilection for grim subjects continues on Issues. Their fourth CD is said to be inspired by singer Jonathan Davis’ battle with alcoholism — which seems apt, as Korn’s songs feel like nothing so much as delirium tremens set to music.

Rock has given us some great, mostly humorous dipsomaniac ditties: the Kinks’ ”Alcohol,” the Who’s ”Whiskey Man.” But an entire alcoholism concept album, one that doesn’t sidestep the disease’s deadly human toll, is a rarity. ”Issues” is as serious as cirrhosis — and about as much fun.

This time out, Korn have traded in their rap tendencies for prog-rock pretense, the better to offset their trademark bludgeoning riffs. Imagine Queen covering the Melvins. On the opening track, ”Dead,” as Davis whispers, ”All I want in life is to be happy,” a choir chants, ”It seems funny to me/How f—ed things can be.” It’s the disc’s one moment of questionable levity.

Most songs veer between gothic dirges and rumbling assaults tailor-made for moshing. Davis screams, whines, pleads, whimpers, and bellows his pain throughout. But the formula wears as thin as the self-parodying lyrics (”I’m about to break/This is my fate/Am I still damned to a life/Of misery and hate?”).

For all its raw power, Korn’s music isn’t terribly cathartic. Its industrial-strength kick quickly subsides, leaving little in its wake save ringing ears. A session with ”Issues” is likely to leave you feeling as if you’ve just come out of a blackout following a three-day bender, greeted by the certainty that whatever just transpired was horrendous. Maybe that’s the point. Still, I’d rather hear the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s ”Drunk Again.”

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