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Christian Living

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Rocker Brian Welch Plays Metal With a Mission

Tom Buehring - 700 Club Producer

The guy nicknamed ‘Head’ -- Korn guitarist Brian Welch -- is used to changing tunes especially after his rock star life caused a radical awakening. Brian says, “I was a millionaire and I had houses, cars and all that stuff. And I was famous. And I had no rest inside. I was an empty shell walking around with anxiety filled inside. Jesus says, ‘Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest’.  When He came in, He gave me that peace and rest I couldn’t buy.”  

To confront addictions and raise his daughter, Brian left Korn, seemingly for good. But nearly a decade later, his surprising return to the famed heavy metal band - struck a cord. Brian explains, “Some of the religious people are like, they tell me, ‘how can you be in Korn, you know, how can you play that music’? I know that I’m controversial sometimes with people because I went back to Korn. I wouldn’t bring my youth group there. But I’m called to be there, to affect people and be a voice for Him. Paul said, ‘I’ll become all things to all people that I might save some.”     

All things include concerts - one of 45 stops on Korn’s current tour - playing songs to captivated metal audiences from a playlist often described as disturbing. Brian describes it as, “Intense! There is this music and this aggression. Some people don’t think about it too deeply, they’re just like ‘I like it. I like it’! It’s a place where people are passionate.  People are saying what’s in their heart its coming out of their mouths, like ‘you hurt me, you did this to me and I hate you.’ But, you know, I’m going to be okay and I’m stronger because of it, that type of vibe.”

What was Brian’s source of rage? “Probably, self-hatred,” Brian says, “and my dad and his anger, that was a big source, you know, because I think his dad struggled with it, then he struggled with it, then I struggled with it. It was just passed down. It was a lot of factors but I didn’t like myself.”                

Music appeal aside metal concerts can double as a place to vent.  So is that the tie that connects audience to artist, the rage and the aggression?”                       

Brian explains, “When we formed our band our singer Jonathan said, ‘what if we call it “Korn”’ and what if a kid misspelled the name and we’ll spell it with a “K” and a backwards “r”. Because he was singing a lot about child abuse - he went through some stuff.   Some people have told us that they –we gave them a voice for their abuse they went through. And they didn’t want to kill themselves.”                                               

Brian identifies with their pain, saying, “We’re all living this life trying to get through our wounds and our hurts and some people deal with it through drinking and drugs. I did it for years. I didn’t know any other way.”                      

Brian recalls how bad it got, saying, “I started doing meth towards the beginning of Korn, before we got a record deal and that just opened the door more for addiction, cocaine, pills and all that. When I did a world tour, I ran out of drugs on my trip and I had my dealer send me - 8 balls and packages of meth, overseas! That was my rock bottom.  I’m doing anything for my high, even risking my freedom.”

Still battling his addiction after failed rehab attempts he was invited to church by an acquaintance. Brian recalls, “I just felt the presence of God and the pastor said, don’t get your life right and come to Jesus. Come to Him with all your garbage, learn about your faith, read the Bible and pray and your life will change. I did those things and within a couple, a few weeks I was off the drugs and in love with Christ. It’s a cycle. And I still fight with it sometimes, you know, just addictive behavior. And so yeah, it’s frustrating, you know. But it’s just—it’s like every year I feel like I gain new ground on it. The appeal to that stuff that used to rule my life is just not there anymore.”                                     

But Brian did face new hardships while single parenting a teen and troubleshooting business betrayals. He was unknowingly being prepared to reconcile with what he walked away from. It led to his return to Korn. “God was forming Christ in me,” Brian says, “and He was using all the pressures and the difficulties. We do our best, but He does it supernaturally. And if we let Him through trials, we become stronger. By humbling me, He could build me back up.  When He built me back up, I was strong enough. And He said, ‘you’re ready - go’”.

His friend and Korn band mate, Fieldy Arvizu says, “We’ve been through it all. So it’s already rooted enough to be where there’s a brotherhood there.  We’re just kind of sticking by each other a day at a time, just like family does. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?”

For Brian it could bring another concert and another tattoo, adding to the 35 he has, saying, “Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, when they had an encounter with God, and they had a revelation, they would build an altar right! Those were the altars in remembrance of what happened. So these tattoos are my altars - they’re my remembrances. If I leave my bible at home, Bam, bible verses right there. I’m having a bad show and look at this, my pick hand – ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’, right there!”

They include Hebraic words tattooed on both eyelids. Brian says,” I like to go inside the Word and really find out what it means. So the glory of God, there’s Shekinah glory and the Kabod glory. And Shekinah’s like the sweet presence, the inner dwelling and the Kabod’s like the weighty, like powerful presence of God. So I just loved the meaning of that.  He was revealing revelation with those words to me. And so I put them on my eyelids. My book, With My Eyes Wide Open, it’s talking about the eyes of the heart being opened and enlightened by revelation. And I want as many people as possible, for their spiritual eyes to open so they can see that God is real.”

Despite the band members varying beliefs, Brian’s focus is to give to others what he’s received. Is there an added mission now with Korn? For Brian, in addition to entertaining an audience, he says,  “I want as many people as possible for their spiritual eyes to open so they can God is real and that He loves unconditionally. All this wounding and this –this up and down that we’re living, as we walk towards our day that we have to eventually die, all of us, that He’s right there. He is the resurrection and the life and we’re finding – we can experience that resurrection and life on this side of eternity, now! You get to know and walk with the Person who is raised from the dead now. You walk with Him in life. I want those people to get this! That’s where the adventure comes! You’re walking with Him. I want those people to get this. Because that’s where the adventure comes, you know. You’re walking with Him!”

His message is simple and profound, “Look at us, we’re just messed up people that a mighty, like beautiful, powerful God came and had mercy on us, so, just displaying that mercy back to those people and letting God do His work.”

What could the church do better earn a voice to a metal audience? Brian answers, “They can get real with themselves and realize that they are just like those people in the metal crowd. They’re broken and without God then they’re not holy. There’s not one that is perfect except Christ. We all need Him. We’re all the same! Stop judging, be patient and don’t be afraid to let your light get close to them and let your light shine.”

How does he guard his heart against judgmental Christians who object to his unique positioning by returning to Korn?  Brian says, “Just look the other way and don't listen. But when I do have to hear it or I do find myself reading it or whatever, I just, you know, say, you know, Lord, I feel anger.  I choose to forgive them and, you know, cleanse me of bitterness. God has been doing this since the beginning. Read the Old Testament. Joseph in Genesis, he got sent into Egypt. He was like given like some Egyptian name or something. And he dressed like them and had the jewelry. I mean, I’ll bet you Christians back then, if they were Christians, they’d be saying ‘ah! He looks like the world’. Daniel, you know, they changed his name and he was right in there with all the –just it was crazy, you know. It’s just –so God does –He’s been doing that for a lot of years, you know. So, it’s nothing new. It’s just sometimes the Christianity in America and the religious system will just say, ‘hey, you can’t do that.’  But God’s been doing it for a long time.” 

While touring, Brian’s hits a high note, first performing for an audience, than meeting to pray with them.  He does it with compassion, not for recognition, adding, “Some people will come to Him saying ‘Lord, Lord you know, we did this in Your name, this, that in Your name’ and He said ‘I never knew you’. So I want Jesus to look me in the eye and say, ‘I knew you and you knew Me. And I know you and you know Me.’”

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