Korn is no pop band. The music doesn't go down easily, nor is it meant to. It is a storm of noise and subversive hooks, both tribal and industrial, a place where Goth metal and hip-hop beats share equal billing.
It is also a sound immediately recognizable as Korn and no one else, an important distinction in a genre overloaded with manufactured angst and predictability. Several million in record sales after their 1994 debut, the members of Korn still sound like outcasts.
On Saturday, the first of two nights at the Long Beach Arena, Korn delivered dementia in thundering, five-minute packages, rooted in childhood trauma and grown-up self-loathing. It could make for disturbing, celebratory moments, and seemed more genuine than many nu-metal acts Korn helped inspire.
That sound erupted from the first moments of the band's 75-minute set, opening with the big beats and scraping guitar noises of "Here to Stay," from the band's new "Untouchables" album.
"I cannot give anymore!" shouted singer Jonathan Davis, hopping in place, as frantic, disparate images flashed behind him on a big screen: insects, skulls, children on edge, etc.
Davis was a kind of priest-like figure onstage in a long black skirt embroidered with a large cross, his old running suits now a distant memory. He presided with measured shrieks and moans, but also with the heavy-metal scat singing of "Freak on a Leash" or the openly wounded, strangely yearning expressions of the new "Alone I Break."
As usual, the band connected.
The image of an entire arena floor of fans bouncing in unison to the big beats is a frequent sight at a Korn concert, and on Saturday it still made for a memorable, epic scene.
There were roars of recognition for the rock radio hits, as guitarists James "Munky" Shaffer and Brian "Head" Welch bent over their instruments, with bass lines from Fieldy so thick that they sounded subterranean. But the driving force behind Korn's music was drummer David Silveria, shirtless and the only band member not in black.
Minus his savage beats or hook-filled metal guitar, some Korn songs were dirge-like, as fans watched quietly, though "Anaconda" offered a sly echo of Black Sabbath under the sludge.
Earlier, support act Disturbed carried itself like the night's headliner, with elaborate staging and lights, performing the intense career-making single "Stupify" along with songs off the band's new album, "Believe."
Amid grinding riffs and grim content, singer David Draiman led the band dressed for battle in a black vest and camo pants. The sounds were brooding, thundering anguish with easy, anthemic hooks.
They did not cut nearly so deep. Not like Korn, a modern band proving itself as distinctive in its own way as the darkly epic works of Nine Inch Nails, Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin.