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NEW YORK - In the rock world, a band that has been together more than a decade is almost middle-aged. So it's not surprising that as Korn entered its 11th year last year, the rap-metal pioneers were deep in the throes of a midlife crisis.
Korn's co-founder and guitarist, Brian ''Head'' Welch, left the band that stood as a shining example for debauchery and deviance to devote his life to Jesus Christ. Meanwhile, Korn left its longtime record label and started producing an album by working with - most disturbingly to some Korn fans - the Matrix, a trio of producers best known for making hits for teen pop princesses and relative lightweights like Avril Lavigne and Hilary Duff.
If those looking at the band from the outside didn't know what to make of Korn's future, for a time, it wasn't a much different view from the inside.
''For about a week, it kind of felt like the band was very fragile,'' says guitarist James ''Munky'' Shaffer, speaking of the period after Welch's departure last winter. ''There was kind of a moment where we didn't know what we were going to do.''
The moment was short-lived, however.
''We kind of decided, 'OK, we can just sit back and we can put out a greatest hits album and end this or we can use this opportunity and instead of looking at it as a loss, reinvent what we do,' said Shaffer.
Korn's latest, ''See You on the Other Side,'' marks the first album without Welch, who along with Shaffer anchored the band's guitar-crunching sound and shaped the direction of the band along with drummer David Silveria and the bassist simply known as Fieldy.
For the new album, the band sought out mainstream pop producers such as Glen Ballard, Dallas Austin and Linda Perry before settling on The Matrix and Nine Inch Nails producer Atticus Ross.
Shaffer and Jonathan Davis, Korn's lead vocalist, say it wasn't an attempt to ''go pop,'' but an attempt to update their decade-old sound.
''We kind of felt like we had experienced that genre of rock producers,'' says Shaffer. ''We didn't feel there was anything exciting for us. So we wanted to try and turn to someone who was in a different genre of music to kind of bring out something in us, to kind of push us in a different direction.''
Shaffer says he still misses playing with Welch, and calls him an inspiration: ''It was always kind of like a back and forth, like a pingpong match between him and I.''
But both Davis and Shaffer say his departure not only brought the band closer, it made it a better musical unit.
''It forced me to become a better musician, it forced the band to become stronger for it. It's almost like a gift,'' says Shaffer. ''That's the irony of him leaving.''