By Tom Sinclair
Updated December 03, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

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. Me, I’d rather hear the Butterfield Blues Band’s ”Drunk Again.” C