The next-to-last track on Korn’s latest is called ”When Will It End,” and all but the most rabid — and agitated — nü-metal fans will have been asking themselves the same question throughout the preceding 12 songs. After a barely perceptible stylistic shift on last year’s sulkier ”Untouchables,” Take a Look in the Mirror finds the band back to bludgeoning basics. Jonathan Davis revs up the irked-Satan bellow that made him a beacon of angst; behind him, the music again takes on the numbing feel of a hundred rivet guns being discharged at once. Occasionally, the band veers off into slower, atmosphere-heavy detours, as it did periodically on ”Untouchables,” but it’s only a matter of minutes before Korn wind up in the same old grueling place.
Although the Korn faithful may rejoice at the band’s return to its gnarled roots, an air of defeatism hangs over ”Take a Look in the Mirror.” During its ’90s heyday, nü-metal proffered a fresh alternative to hard-rock cliches (like the hip-hop nod in ”Mirror”’s hardened cameo by Nas). But these days, nü-metal architects like Korn sound more trapped than liberated. In addition to his amelodic vocal technique, Davis dredges up more of the tormented rage that made Korn the band of choice for thinking headbangers. Yet his barrage of obtuse rants now borders on self-parody: ”I’m not doing great/I feel like I’m dead, not thinking straight,” goes one unintentionally amusing couplet in ”Deep Inside.” (The ranting is far worse when he attempts to sing and ends up emitting a strangulated gargle.) In ”Y’All Want a Single,” a thunderous (but elliptical) anti-record-company spew, Davis exhorts Korn fans to shout ”F— that!” in response to the track’s title phrase. Is this what nü-metal has come to: a band that has rarely had to compromise whining about its label? Korn remain technically proficient, but ”Take a Look in the Mirror” serves only to make the case that the genre has officially screamed itself into caricature.