Ups and downs, restoration and consolidation. When Korn released The Paradigm Shift in 2013, it was seen as a return to form for the band. The album marked the return of guitarist Brian ‘Head’ Welch, restoring the band’s twin guitar sound and overall five-piece lineup. Since Head’s departure in 2005, the band have had their share of ups and downs.
There was a time when it seemed that Korn were on top of their world. Millions of albums sold, arenas filled on tour. However, the fall always comes after the peak. See You on the Other Side was a critical and commercial success, with a huge world tour to match, but subsequent releases weren’t so grand. Sales declined, and it got to the point where fans talked more about the good old days than the band’s newer works.
And yet, Korn managed to push through all of that, doing pretty well as a quartet under the circumstances. And, in 2013, just when some of us had grown comfortable with a four-piece Korn being permanent, Head officially returned to the fold. Fans were doing cartwheels, and a revitalised band released The Paradigm Shift. Head’s return was a rush, but some of us wondered what would happen once the honeymoon period was over. There is a difference between Head returning, and truly being settled back in the band. Fortunately, Head seems well and truly settled.
Produced by Nick Raskulinecz (Deftones, Evanescence), The Serenity of Suffering sees Korn consolidating their restored band sound. Almost all of the essential Korn elements are there: Jonathan Davis balances singing, screaming and everything in between; Head and James ‘Munky’ Shaffer’s guitar work is definitely more compelling and polished than ever before; and Fieldy and Ray Luzier’s rhythm section provides the perfect percussive backdrop for the band’s discomforting tone. And, as always, there’s angst. Angst for days, and we can’t ask for more than that.
The band have already previewed some of the album’s tracks, with music videos for ‘Rotting in Vain’ and ‘Insane’ making a big splash with fans. A collaboration with Corey Taylor (Slipknot, Stone Sour) on ‘A Different World’ only helped reinforce anticipation for the new album, as he and Jonathan Davis have long been hailed as leaders in the so-called ‘nu-metal’ movement. Taylor’s presence makes for a brilliant duet, and a real highlight.
The best way to describe this album is something that feels raw and heavy, but with polished production from Raskulinecz and a level of artistry that elevates the music above pure anger. With Head firmly resettled into the band, and with a newfound hunger for a heavy, guitar-driven sound, The Serenity of Suffering is definitely more riff-driven than some of the band’s more recent work. The band are placing a stronger emphasis on their guitar-driven song introductions that set the tone before Jonathan Davis gets started on vocals. ‘Black Is the Soul’ is a slow but sure headbanger, and tracks such as ‘Everything Falls Apart’, ‘Die Yet Another Night’ and ‘Next in Line’ perfectly illustrate the album’s balance of heaviness and artistry.
There is one missing element: Davis does not play the bagpipes on this record. Perhaps they could have made room for some pipes? This could be a downer for some, but for me, it’s not life or death. After all, there were no bagpipes on Untouchables, and that album remains an all-time favourite not just for me, but for many longtime Korn fans.
When all is said and done, Korn are not doing anything new on The Serenity of Suffering. It’s unlikely that the band will draw in any new fans here. That being said, the album is somewhat unique by virtue of it being quintessential Korn without deliberately trying to recycle the sounds of the band’s earlier works. To say that it’s ‘Album A meets Album B’ would be too simplistic. It’s not so much a return to form as it is a consolidation of the heavy sound explored on The Paradigm Shift. It’s the next logical step. Nothing about this album seems forced, and there is no impression that the band are pandering to fans of the old. Is it their best work to date? Even after a week of listening to it, I don’t know. It’s just a good, solid Korn record, and that’s all I want from them. Nicely done.