New album, old sound: Nu metal's ultimate heroes Korn are back

Korn band photo

Korn have never been a band to stand still. Early in their career they pioneered the love-it-or-loathe-it nu metal genre, but they then shot off in many directions, the most notable of which was their dabble with dubstep. But on twelfth album The Serenity Of Suffering they’ve perhaps made their bravest move yet – by looking back. Guitarist James ‘Munky’ Shaffer tells us how a fan-cum-producer helped the Bakersfield metallers go back to their roots.

This album has more in common with Korn’s first five albums than anything you’ve made in the last decade. Was that a conscious decision?

It was a subconscious decision. We had written a bunch of ideas and wanted a producer to help shape these ideas into songs, so we brought in [Rush producer] Nick Raskulinecz. He kind of went out on a limb and told us some hard truths. It was difficult to hear. He told us he wanted to be honest, and he was a fan of our band but he didn’t hear the Korn that he fell in love with.

What did he want to hear?

He wanted to hear slap bass, the back-and-forth guitar noises that me and Head do, he wanted funky drums. All these nuances had disappeared through the years. He said from a fan’s perspective that was the stuff we were good at and that was what we needed to focus on.

How did you react to being told that?

I thought, oh man, I guess he’s right. I guess we did get off course for a while. Nick was key in speaking up for what the fans wanted. We needed somebody that we respected to talk to us like that. He showed us a way to sound like Korn but knowing that the riffs could still sound fresh and new. We will sound like Korn no matter what we play. Nick told me that no one plays guitar like I do, no one plays bass like Fieldy, no one makes melodies like Head and no one sounds like Jonathan. He wanted us to bring the old Korn energy.

It’s a very intense album. As you get older, is it difficult to maintain that level of intensity? Aren’t you supposed to mellow with age?

It wasn’t easy. But then when Head and I sit down to write riffs they’re always super-heavy. We always have to change them to make them more melodic. We’re always super-heavy.

Corey Taylor guests on vocals on the track A Different World. Did he also help keep you on your toes?

I can’t believe we hadn’t collaborated with him before, because we have so many mutual friends and connections. We come from similar upbringings. It just worked. Nick worked with Corey with Stone Sour, and he just texted him asking if he wanted to sing on a Korn track. Corey texted him back saying fuck yeah! It was that easy.

Korn round off this year with a UK tour, co-headlining with Limp Bizkit.

I’m excited about that tour. It will be a bit of a nostalgia thing, which is something we have always tried to avoid, but it is what it is. There’s nothing negative about it, it’s just that you want to be remembered for what you’re doing currently. But there are some things that you can be proud of and you can revisit.

The Serenity Of Suffering is out now via Roadrunner.

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Rich Chamberlain

Rich Chamberlain has written for Classic Rock,, Total Guitar, Nuts, FourFourTwo, Billboard, Classic Rock Presents The Blues and Classic Rock Presents Country.