Belated Review of The Paradigm Shift: World Tour Edition

In July of this year, Korn re-released their eleventh studio album, The Paradigm ShiftAround that time, a fan site called KornRow held a contest where two winners would each receive an autographed copy of The Paradigm Shift: World Tour Edition. I should add that KornRow isn’t just some fan site, it’s actually a really good source of Korn-related news and discussion. Anyway, I entered the contest, not really thinking much of it… until I was announced as a winner. Usually I ignore contests, because I don’t expect to ever win. But on this particular occasion, I entered and won. Lucky me. A big thank you to Korn and KornRow!

I figure that since I like writing about Korn, and since the album is current, a review would be a cool thing to do. I meant to do this months ago, but held off due to uni life being what it is. But that’s over, at least for now. On with the review.

The Paradigm Shift: World Tour Edition is comprised of two discs: the first containing the standard studio album; the second containing some unreleased studio and live tracks.

Produced by Don Gilmore (Linkin Park, Three Days Grace), the standard album by itself is a solid effort from the band. As fans have been aware for some time, The Paradigm Shift is Korn’s first album with founding guitarist Brian ‘Head’ Welch since their 2003 release, Take a Look in the Mirror. Head’s return definitely lit a fire under the band’s ambitions, allowing them to create a nicely balanced album. Their signature down-tuned sound has been spliced with their recent exploration in dubstep/EDM, only on this occasion, the electronics don’t overshadow the band’s unique blend of alternative metal.

Album opener ‘Prey for Me’ cleaves through you right from the get-go with its pounding rhythms, courtesy of the band’s musicians: Head and James ‘Munky’ Shaffer (guitars), Fieldy (bass) and Ray Luzier (drums). The level of intensity exhibited in this track is the kind you’d generally expect from Korn, paving the way for ‘Love & Meth’, one of the album’s heaviest tracks, which has quickly become a live favourite, up there with staples such as ‘Here to Stay’ and ‘Falling Away from Me’. From the moment Jonathan Davis sings ‘Give me a reason ’cause I’ve got nothing to gain,’ both band and fan alike are right at home. As a musician, Davis has aged well. He doesn’t overdo his vocals, nor does he hold back. Whether it be his singing in the verses, or harder vocals during the chorus, he knows exactly where and how to project his voice.

The tracks vary throughout the album, some being heavier than others, which I like. The real beauty of Korn lies not so much in their awesome heavier material, but their ability to mix things up and take liberties with their sound, all while maintaining their flare. I’ll admit I didn’t know what to make of first single ‘Never Never’ at first, but it’s really grown on me. It stands out from the album, similar to how ‘Kiss’ surprised me when I first heard it on 2007′s untitled album, or ‘Alone I Break’ on 2002′s Untouchables. The only difference this time is that ‘Never Never’ was, for many listeners, the first taste of The Paradigm Shift, as opposed to being a hidden gem in a larger body of work (although one could certainly view it as such). Maybe I just expected the first single to be something heavier. Furthermore, the song does a total one-eighty during the bridge. While the verses and chorus are mellow (in a Korn sense, at least), the bridge is a brutal onslaught of white noise, from the electronic and metal sides of the spectrum. By this point, the song is far from soft. It’s altogether unpredictable, and I’ve really grown to love it.

I warmed to ‘Spike in My Veins’ instantly, simply because I think it’s a perfect symbiosis of all things Korn, past and present. Originally written with Noisia as a JDevil track, the song represents a finer balance between the band’s traditional sound and their recent exploration of electronic music than on 2011′s The Path of Totality. The partly acoustic ‘Lullaby for a Sadist’ boasts eerily soft guitar work, with the vocals and instrumentation gradually building and building before launching into the song’s chorus. ‘It’s All Wrong’ is a solid album closer, one that has more in common with the Klayton-led Celldweller than anything resembling the Skrillex brand of dubstep/EDM.

The second disc, the ‘world tour’ part of this release, consists of three new studio tracks and six live tracks. The first track on this disc is ‘Hater’, which I discussed a few months ago. I still enjoy it. Simple, but with a pointed message: it’s up to us to validate ourselves; that putting too much focus into other people’s nonconstructive criticism gets in the way of enjoying life; the things we love and aspire to do and be. ‘The Game Is Over’ is another track that’s a bit out of left field. Again, electronic elements are positioned within the song, but in a way that reminds me more of bands like Orgy or Videodrone than any recent forms of electronic music. Head and Munky share in thick, overdriven riffs while the synths make up the song’s melodies. Ray’s drumming holds the song down nicely, as Fieldy’s bass has a pulsating feel throughout. All of this while Davis voices his defiance against an unnamed oppressor. Originally a bonus track on the Japanese deluxe edition of The Paradigm Shift, ‘Die Another Day’ has resurfaced for this tour edition. For a bonus track, this is brilliant, and should satisfy those looking for a downright heavy Korn track. Beginning with a mix of distorted guitar, electronics and Fieldy’s signature bass clicks, Davis sings of mounting pressures with the instrumentation bearing all the signs of a song about to explode like a misused pressure cooker. As Davis sings, ‘We have to fight and crawl, to die another day,’ he steers away from the elements of pressure and despair and looks at how one can move forward. Lyrically, this is the common thread in these three bonus studio tracks: how someone can turn a negative into a positive, to focus on their strengths and not be held down by life’s obstacles. Okay, that may have read like a horribly cliched greeting card saying, but the point still stands. These new tracks symbolise movement, as opposed to mulling over what we go through.

The six live tracks are a welcome addition. Longtime Korn fans will no doubt be familiar with the live sounds of ‘Here to Stay’, ‘Got the Life’ and ‘Another Brick in the Wall’. Those tracks alone are nothing new (an exception being a tasteful guitar solo at the beginning of ‘Another . . .’), but it’s the inclusion of the newer ‘Love & Meth’, ‘Never Never’ and ‘Get Up!’ – arguably more intense than their studio counterparts – that round out this compilation. Together, these live tracks form a tight little set.

As I said at the start of this article, I received The Paradigm Shift: World Tour Edition as a contest prize. It’s not a completely new release, it’s a deluxe edition of a pre-existing album, one that I already own. Would I have bought it myself if not for the contest? Is it even worth having another version of the album, let alone paying for it? I think these are important things to consider, because while I love Korn, I only buy albums if I know I’m going to listen to them. I could have gotten the album the easy way, by downloading it through a torrent like most people do these days. But I like having the album in my hands. I like looking at the album artwork (in this case, a tour photo diary of sorts). I like that I can have an album on a preservable medium, not just as files on a computer. I also like that the World Tour Edition‘s bonus content is practically an album’s worth of songs, more than just a couple of bonus tracks tacked on at the album’s end, so… yes, I would have eventually bought the album. I wouldn’t have rushed out to get it on its exact release date, but I would have bought it. As an overall package, it is rock solid, and I recommend it to fans both casual and hardcore.

R.I.P. Wayne Static, an old favourite

As some of you may know, Wayne Static of Static-X passed away recently.

The actual cause is still unknown, but the how and why of it doesn’t matter now. I’m not going to speculate because it’s not my business. He’s gone, and he won’t be replaced. I didn’t know Wayne as a person, but I am nonetheless stricken by the news that one of my favourite musicians is no more. It actually hurts.

I was introduced to Static-X in late 2000, when the music video for ‘Push It’ came pre-installed on the operating system of what was then my family’s new computer. Months later, a friend lent me the band’s second album, Machine, and it became an instant classic in my book (this was back in the early 00′s, when people actually bought CDs, Internet file-sharing was relatively new, and GeoCities was still a thing). Generally speaking, a band’s second album tends to pale in comparison to the first, but this was an exception. Wisconsin Death Trip was (and is) a great album, but Machine felt more focused, more dynamic, which is quite an accomplishment considering the band had lost their lead guitarist and had to record the album as a trio. Static-X quickly became one of my favourite bands during high school, along with Korn, System of a Down, Coal Chamber and other modern metal acts of the day.

The band followed Machine with Shadow Zone, a finely crafted album, both musically and lyrically. It felt ‘fuller,’ for lack of a better term, and intensely more melodic. Between albums, Wayne found time to record vocals for the track ‘Not Meant for Me’, originally written by Jonathan Davis and Richard Gibbs for the Queen of the Damned soundtrack.

From there, Static-X had their ups and downs, but Wayne kept the band going as long as he could through all sorts of obstacles. Such was often the case for Wayne. He faced numerous hurdles throughout the years, but still, the only way for him was forward. His solo album, Pighammer, only piqued my interest in him as an individual musician even further. Hey, if he could do it with his old band, he could do it without them, right? Unfortunately, various legal and medical problems got in the way of Wayne’s solo career, putting things up in the air for a while. Then, when all of that subsided and it seemed he was good to go career-wise, his life came to an abrupt end.

It isn’t much, but I wanted to pay tribute to Wayne Static simply because I have enjoyed his music so deeply over the years. Bands come and go, and people listen to some artists more than others, but Static-X have been in my playlist for a very long time. Normally, I see bands as collectives, but in the case of Static-X, I can’t help but identity Wayne as the real driving force. I can’t help but feel the utmost respect for him and his art.

More than anything, my heart goes out to Wayne’s family and friends. Warm wishes to them during this time.

A look at This Boy’s Life, and some thoughts on The Catcher in the Rye

On this blog, I would like to review new books as they come up, but since this is my first review and I’m still figuring out how to go about writing them, I thought I’d go with something I already know and love. One thing I do know is that I’d like to write about how particular books resonate with me on a personal level, rather than attempt to objectively evaluate them.

I’ll begin with This Boy’s Life, by Tobias Wolff. First published in 1989, it is the memoir of Wolff, recounting his childhood.

Essentially, This Boy’s Life is the story of a boy growing up in a post-divorce family in 1950′s America. What’s interesting to me is that I never would have identified it as a memoir without first knowing that it was. To me, it reads like a good story, simple as that. Wolff just describes things as they happen, with little or nothing in the way of post-facto rationalisations.

While his brother grew up in relative comfort with his father, Wolff lived in working class neighbourhoods with his mother. As a boy, Wolff was a liar, he admits. He lied to himself, and to others, his imagination serving as a means of escaping the harsh reality of his childhood (early in the story, he changes his name from Tobias to Jack, the element of fantasy inspiring this). His grades were poor, he drank underage, and he often got into fistfights.

I know some people who have compared This Boy’s Life to J. D. Salinger‘s work, The Catcher in the Rye, though I’m not really sure why. I mean, in principle I almost can understand why people would, but it doesn’t work for me in practice. First of all, one is a memoir and the other is fiction. The common thread, if you can call it that, is the ‘coming of age’ aspect, along with the whole ‘black sheep’ theme.

From there, I see more differences than similarities.

When I first read The Catcher in the Rye, I enjoyed it. I read it during my teens. It was the peak of my adolescence, and while I never would have admitted it then, I liked the idea of being a black sheep. I wanted to have people hate me, and to leave for school every day and say ‘fuck you’ to as many people as possible. As far as books were concerned, The Catcher in the Rye was right up my alley.

Looking back, I think that while I’d convinced myself that I was a black sheep, I wasn’t even close to actually being one. It’s not easy to admit, but I was posing. I liked the attention, and acting like a misfit was an easy way to get it. Over a decade later, having toned down my attitude, I don’t relate to that mindset or The Catcher in the Rye anywhere near as much. I’m still a fan of the ‘me-against-the-world’ sentiment famously expressed by Salinger’s archetypal sullen teenager. However, as time goes on, I’m drawn more to the harsh reality of This Boy’s Life. To put it kindly, Holden Caufield now strikes me as a whiny, needy, obnoxious, never-satisfied cynic who doesn’t appreciate anything. That’s more or less how I used to be. Maybe that’s the real reason I’m so over The Catcher in the Rye. Maybe I daydreamed as Wolff did.

As for Wolff, he genuinely struggled as a youth, and he makes this clear in his memoir. As readers, we see him grow up in poverty. His stepfather is, for the most part, the quintessential asshole stepfather – physically and verbally abusive, drinking excessively and stealing money from Wolff  and his mother Rosemary. The only time we see anything resembling a bond between Dwight and Wolff is when Wolff takes his aggression out on a local ‘sissy.’ Hardly the sentiment of a positive role-model. Despite this, Dwight is not simply set up to be demonised in every instance. The scene where he meets Kenneth – the latter attempting to impose his smug sense of superiority on Dwight’s family – almost makes Dwight look good. Almost.

I find it very hard to fault Wolff’s mother. Rosemary would never intentionally hurt him, and her intentions are good, but her follow-through leads her and Wolff into some disastrous domestic situations, e.g. living with Dwight. Her own abusive childhood is the catalyst for disorder, leading her to emulate her past with a string of abusive, neglectful men. Despite this, Rosemary does not lose her sense of self or her devotion to her son. She is always aspiring to make a better life.

At the very least, This Boy’s Life considers the perspectives of others, and not just that of the protagonist. Wolff could very easily have made this memoir all about him, and I’m sure he could have done it well, but he didn’t. This, to me, is a real positive.

Nevertheless, I am charmed most by Wolff himself. Despite his miserable upbringing, like his mother he remains optimistic in regards to his future. Although he does all the wrong things a boy can do, he takes responsibility for his actions. There is no malevolent intention on his part, he just finds himself in all the wrong places, and he lets his imagination get the better of him. Who hasn’t been in that situation at some point in their lives?

His loyalty to his mother is perhaps his most endearing characteristic, he feels a strong sense of duty and is always looking out for his mother, sometimes reversing the role of parent and child. Here, Wolff reveals a rare level of insight and maturity for boys his age. The only instances where he craves attention are when he experiences it first hand. Like a cigarette, you don’t feel like you need it until you’ve had it regularly.

Everyone has problems in life. I know it seems like I’m savaging the Holden Caufield type, but I’m really not. People feel pain; they suffer, regardless of privilege. I suppose I’m just telling myself more than anyone that, somewhere out there, someone is having a worse day than me. It would be fair to say that I read This Boy’s Life to keep myself grounded, and to enjoy a great text.

It is a story detailing a litany of complex characters with an abundance of feeling. It depicts the tough life of an individual while making room for the thoughts and feelings of those around him, not merely there to play the foils. I can see myself reading it again periodically in the future.

Thank you for reading.

My thoughts on Korn and their new single, ‘Hater’

While it would be tactful of me to introduce the band to the reader, I’m going to focus more on my personal thoughts regarding Korn and their latest single. For an overview of the band, click here. It details their history and discography more eloquently than I could.

I’ve been a fan of Korn since I was ten. I saw the ‘A.D.I.D.A.S.’ music video on TV, and a year later, Follow the Leader came out and sealed the deal. Untouchables is my favourite album and I don’t know what could possibly top it.

Why I love Korn: To quote an MTV feature article, they ‘created a haven for frustrated, angry listeners who ached for something heavy, but sneered at the conventions of traditional heavy metal.’ I’ve never been crazy about guitar solos and power chords. Do I appreciate them? Sometimes, yes. I’m not the type who listens to the same kind of music all the time. That being said, I gravitate more towards rock and metal bands that are rhythm-based, that function as bands as opposed to a singer and guitarist looking pretty in the spotlight, while the bassists and drummers do all the grunt-work, practically behind the scenes. This isn’t to say that I dislike the latter kind, far from it. I certainly don’t ‘sneer’ at it either. Rather, rhythm-based music hits the spot for me more than anything. As for lyrics, I don’t look for any particular theme or focus. It’s more about the flow than the actual content. Although, every now and then I’ll hear some lyrics that resonate with me on a personal level.

As for the here-and-now: Korn’s most recent effort, The Paradigm Shift, was released in October of 2013. The band are dropping another deluxe edition of the album on 15 July. Titled The Paradigm Shift: World Tour Edition, it will feature several unreleased tracks and live cuts, one of which is the single ‘Hater’.

The instrumentation is nice and tight, with Fieldy’s bass and Ray Luzier’s retentive drumming anchoring the twin-guitar sound of Brian ‘Head’ Welch and James ‘Munky’ Shaffer. However, this track stands out in that it’s upbeat, musically and lyrically. Not your standard Korn fare. It’s the kind of song that may alienate fans at first, possibly drawing them back later. I suppose it is ‘poppy’ in the sense that it’s accessible and radio-friendly, as opposed to the bludgeoning force that characterises tracks such as ‘Love & Meth’. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. Previous singles ‘Got the Life’, ‘Twisted Transistor’ and ‘Never Never’ are radio-friendly tracks that have nevertheless managed to sit comfortably in the playlists of many hardcore fans. Even the ill-conceived cover of Cameo’s ‘Word Up!’ earned some props.

Lyrically, ‘Hater’ is typically direct. As is the case with vocalist Jonathan Davis, he pulls no punches. He’s not the type who bothers with clever little hidden meanings, he goes straight for the jugular. In ‘Hater’, he sings, ‘You can’t bring me down / Already had my life turned upside down / I ride a downward spiral round and round / But I keep flying, I keep fighting / You won’t ever bring me down.’ This kind of sentiment isn’t completely out of left-field, but it is somewhat unique for a band of Korn’s ilk. Davis has gone past the point of despair, of feeling wronged, instead opting for a more stoic outlook regarding his detractors.

As I’ve mentioned, ‘Hater’ is to be featured on the new deluxe edition of The Paradigm Shift. Normally, when I hear of an unreleased track, I tend to prepare myself for a second-rate number that didn’t make the album precisely for that reason: because it’s second-rate. This is not the case with ‘Hater’. Sure, it may be different. But this difference is nothing new; it seems to have been the case with all of Korn’s material since See You on the Other Side. It’s not exclusive to the post-Head/David era either. I remember UntouchablesIssues and even Follow the Leader leaving more than just a few scattered fans scratching their heads. And these are albums that now enjoy the status of ‘Korn classics.’

Korn’s recent direction hasn’t pleased everyone, and there are many who long for the day when original drummer David Silveria returns to the fold, for reasons I understand and agree with. But the band are happy as they are, and for all we know, that David-reunion may never happen. It is perhaps the difference between the new sound and the old that makes the perceived golden-age of Korn (1994-2003) so special. I say ‘perceived,’ as it wasn’t loved by all the fans, all the time. It’s just something to keep in mind.

Thank you for reading.

Introduction

This is my blog. Some entries will be on books, music, film and culture in general. Other entries will concern more basic thoughts. It won’t be Kurt Vonnegut-grade material, just whatever happens to hit the keyboard on a particular day.

Thank you, and happy reading.

A guy who loves books, Korn and a good conversation.

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