Of those albums that changed the face of heavy music, Korn‘s 1998 album Follow the Leader holds a special place. Usually, these records are either mainstream chart-toppers that redefine how big a metal band can get or underground game-changers that influence millions of bands to take new risks. And yet Follow the Leader was somehow both, a filthy, experimental album by an up-and-coming act that was also a massive success, spawning two song-of-the-summer singles that would echo in the hearts and minds of listeners around the world for years to come.
Since today marks the anniversary of the record’s release, we decided to rank the 13 tracks on Follow the Leader from worst to best. Here’s how the hopscotch court falls…
13. “All In The Family” featuring Fred Durst
For the more rap-oriented Korn fan, “All In The Family” was an awesome introduction to Durst and Limp Bizkit, but admittedly it has not aged very well. Sure, the verses are meant to be fun and sophomoric, but they could use some better rhymes, and Davis calling Fred a “little faggot ho” immediately makes the listener reconsider putting this on at a party. Chalk this one up to a product of its time.
Christ, the opening riff of this one just slaps. While “Pretty” doesn’t always follow through on that promise, it has a cool drugged-out quality that Korn were masters of in ’98. Jonathan’s voice and Fieldy’s bass float on their backs here, languid and detached. If only the other instrumentals in the song as a whole was a little more compelling, this one might rank higher, but in this collection of gems, it can only climb so far.
11. “Cameltosis” featuring Tre Hardson
What. A. Title. “Cameltosis” is certainly one of Follow The Leader’s weird moments, combining Tre Hardson’s slick rhymes with some of Korn’s more diseased and agitated guitar parts. The ear craves a greater kick that never comes, though, and as such the song feels like a B-side more than anything else. That said, it should be noted that every album like this needs a song to smoke a ton of weed to, and this one definitely delivers.
Man, if only “Seed” went harder in the paint on its strung-out quietness. The song is a traditional Korn track wedged between these strange psychedelic moments, but never quite follows through on the promise of either. At the same time, it does contain easily the weirdest of Jonathan Davis’ scat vocals, with the usually guttural gibbering giving way to strange donkey-ish cries of pain. Gets an A for weirdness.
9. “Children of the Korn” feat. Ice Cube
At the time, Korn getting Ice Cube to guest-star on a track was a massive deal, and seemed to legitimize this whole rap-metal thing. Today, the song feels like a hip hop number in the middle of a metal album, and therefore lands a little lower on this list. Still, the band bring ample angst on their part — Davis’ guttural vocals are certainly frightening — and the song stands as a testament to how ahead of the game Korn were when Follow the Leader came out.
8. “It’s On!”
What an opener. Korn definitely had their work cut out for them, their previously albums kicking in with the massive “Blind” and the unhinged “Twitch.” But “It’s On!” is a perfect introduction to Follow The Leader in that it’s a measured, mapped-out song rather than just a burst of spleen. For the very beginning, one hears the band leaning into their more mature sound, until they explode in a mid-paced brawl. Welcome to the new breed.
7. “Reclaim My Place”
Korn fandom usually get split into two sides — hip hop-oriented, all graffiti and cars; and rock-oriented, all broken dolls and haunted houses. But “Reclaim My Place” really goes hard in the metal vein, its unstoppable riff like claws down your back. There’s a tightness to the track, too, a thrash-esque self-contained quality that kicks the listener right in the ass. Could this be Korn’s patch-jacket track?
It’s awesome to hear Korn broken down to their different parts. “B.B.K.” is a junky, all-elbows nu metal rager, with every bit of the Bakersfield boys’ rattle, clank, and grind up front in the mix. It also includes one of the better and more underrated Jonathan Davis scat moments in its bridge, compelled by Head and Munky’s shrieking guitars. Definitely one of the greater metal deep cuts out there.
5. “My Gift to You”
Follow The Leader’s closer stands out for all the reasons that most last songs don’t — it incorporates elements not yet heard in the songs before it, it switches up the album’s style without abandoning it, and it includes a bonus track people actually want to hear. Davis finally breaks out the bagpipes, leading into what is essentially Korn’s doom metal track, full of echoes and atmosphere. And then there’s “Earache My Eye,” the secret Cheech and Chong cover that has since become a band staple. It’s rare that a record’s closer ranks higher than its opener, but this unusual song is the exception.
4. “Dead Bodies Everywhere”
Every band worth their salt has a cool, terrifying track you can play at Halloween, and for Korn that will always be “Dead Bodies Everywhere.” Sounding as though performed by marionettes full of writhing maggots, this one’s spooky in all the right places, the strange singing-saw howl that runs through the verse only elevating the unease. That said, it’s the genuine disenfranchisement in Jonathan Davis’ lyrics that puts this track a cut above those bands trying to sound scary. Go ahead, do a JD impression on the chorus — we know you want to!
3. “Freak on a Leash”
The song that spawned a thousand Jonathan Davis imitations. “Freak on a Leash” remains Korn’s biggest hit, a massive anthem for all the weird, damaged kids who found their voice in the band. Not only was the track’s video a monumental MTV staple, it also merged with the song to perfectly encapsulate Korn’s vibe — overheated, bizarre, and intimidating. One of the most important metal songs of all time — if not the best on this album.
While the world at large couldn’t stop talking about “Freak on a Leash” when Follow the Leader came out, the kids who wore out their copies of the album usually talked about “Justin.” Buried deep in the record, this strange, static track felt like a song written for Korn fans, not radio listeners or MTV viewers. Eerie and psychedelic, corrosive in its heaviness, “Justin” is a monument to the rad shit Korn was doing when the world wasn’t looking. Like mushrooms, these guys thrived in the cold, dark spaces that no one else could see.
1. “Got The Life”
Don’t deny it: you love this song. “Got The Life” may have eventually been eclipsed by the massive success of “Freak on a Leash,” but it’s the superior track by a nose. The beauty lies in its momentum, that fleet-footed drive that propels the chorus forward. This one defined the bounce riff, solidifying that late-’90s image of an entire field of people leaping on the balls of their feet as a cultural trope. Nu metal never got more fun, more driven and confident and rad, than this right here.
Words by Chris Krovatin