Simply put, there's no vocalist out there like Jonathan Davis. Whether it's in Korn or with his solo material, he's always looking for opportunities to buck the norms of what's expected from a "metal" singer, from incorporating elements of the New Wave and goth music he loved as a kid, to letting himself go in spazzy "Boom Chaka" freak-outs. He's less interested in "beautiful" singing than he is in expelling unfiltered emotions through his voice and lyrics, painting masterpieces of angst and lust, hope and despair.
We asked you to pick your favorite Davis vocal performance and each one of these top-five picks below offers a different angle of what he's capable of, and how he manifests feeling.
Korn's "Freak on a Leash" is one of the most memorable songs of the Nineties, and Davis' performance on the track set the bar for what nu-metal should sound like: dismal, tortured, aggressive and painful, much like the youthful unrest to which it appealed. He pulls out his signature scatting for a long breakdown in the latter half of the song. While this risky style might sound corny delivered by a lesser performer, Davis kills it — shining with outrageousness and dynamism.
Looking back now, 2002's Queen of the Damned is a perfect time capsule of the early aughts nu-metal era, and Davis' performance on the soundtrack — which he co-produced as a solo artist, outside of Korn — solidified his status as the leader of the pack during that time. His distorted, gruff approach and passionate delivery matched the menacing yet seductive tone of the film, lending the vampire Lestat an edge to his overt sexuality.
Davis' battle cry of "Are you ready!" at the beginning of Korn opener "Blind" would have larger implications in the years to come, as the band ushered in an entire new genre and subculture with a single album. Beyond the rattle and chug of the song's thunderous start, listeners were introduced to the colorfulness of Davis' vocal abilities, able to switch things up from sounding sinister and quiet to aggressively screaming. Oftentimes on the track, the roars and whispers intersect with one another, setting the stage for the band's sonic dichotomy in records to come.
Sometimes what makes a performance "good" is its ability to deeply unsettle and disturb, and "Daddy" is surely the most unsettling and disturbing entry in Korn's entire catalog. From the angelic intro to its harrowing close, the song showcases Davis' full range of talents, his ability to shift from growled anger to recalled innocence. The cut infamously combusts in an extended outro where the singer breaks down in real, hysterical tears — "Daddy" is a difficult listen and even more difficult for Davis to perform, so the band performs it rarely. Despite being hard to stomach, the song stands out in Davis' body of work as a place where pain, dedication and healing converge to create something memorable, cathartic and necessary.
In under a minute, Davis became inhuman on "Twist," a spasm of rage incarnate. The Life Is Peachy opening track is bizarre, shocking and brilliantly unselfconscious, marking the first time the singer truly unleashed his virtuosic "scat" vocals on a recorded track. Inventive and unhinged, it's truly a twisted performance, in the best way possible.