When estranged, born-again guitarist Head returned to Korn in 2012, it was unclear whether they’d stick with The Path Of Totality’s new dubstep direction or return to the old-school vibe that made them famous. The Paradigm Shift was a balance between the two, with electronics sitting firmly in their downtuned palette. This time? They’ve gone much further back.
The Serenity Of Suffering is like a selection box of Korn’s defining moments. There’s Jonathan Davis’s satisfying scat vocal attack on single Rotting In Vein, pulled straight from Life Is Peachy’s Twist. In the middle of the pacey Take Me, he yells, ‘Go!’, gloriously recalling Follow The Leader’s hit single Freak On A Leash. Then there are the violent vocal breakdowns on each bridge; with the exception of Die Yet Another Night, they all see him explode with characteristic torment. The only classic thing missing from his performance is the bagpipes. Lyrically, it sounds like he’s been playing Korn fridge poetry, with reoccurring metaphors about following paths and playing games all surfacing amid the usual themes of self-loathing and sadistic love. That’s not to cheapen his approach, though – it falls into the realm of familiarity rather than parody. As the album title implies, there’s an odd sense of comfort about repeatedly revisiting those feelings.
The album is also heavy, with Munky and Head bouncing off each other to produce some of the most earth-shuddering moments of their partnership, their monumental melodies and spooky flourishes suddenly making The Paradigm Shift sound thin in comparison. Meanwhile, Fieldy’s loose bass provides a recognisable, rattling undercurrent. Highlights include thundering opener Insane, the grinding groove of Black Is The Soul, and the atmospheric anguish of The Hating. And once you get over Jonathan’s surprise, sleazy intro to Baby, the riffs absolutely slam. Electronic elements are used much more subtly this time around, colouring rather than leading the songs, allowing Korn to keep a sense of modernity while revisiting their past.
While the vibe on their 12th album is bleak, you can’t help but feel the band had fun making it, reconnecting with their history and playing with the elements that characterise them. Amid this celebration of their identity, the screaming cameo from Corey Taylor on A Different World feels out of place. It’s not that it’s badly executed, but more that it pulls your brain out of the dark, Korny freakshow you’ve been drawn into, breaking the feeling of total immersion.
In terms of intent, this record could be called Korn IIII: Remember Who You Are. With Head firmly re-established in the fold, it’s a strong reminder of where they’ve come from and what makes them unique. In terms of sound, it’s most like Untouchables, combining hooks with heaviness to rich effect. But more than anything, it shows that despite 22 years of ups, downs and experimentation, no one else sounds quite like this band of brothers from Bakersfield.
WHAT BROUGHT ABOUT THE RETURN TO A MORE OLD-SCHOOL KORN SOUND?
“Well, The Paradigm Shift was very neat and proper with everything on the grid. There’s a lot of good songs on it, but it just feels so tidy, and as a band we’re not really tight. That’s kind of a great thing, because there’s an organic push and pull that we have. Some songs sound different live than they do on the record, and they kind of evolve as tours go on – we add things and remove things. Me and Brian [‘Head’ Welch] felt like we wanted to experiment more like we did in the Issues and Untouchables day.”
HOW DID YOU ACHIEVE THAT ON THIS RECORD?
“We used more guitar pedals and more interesting tones that we didn’t really feel like we had done on The Paradigm Shift. Our producer, Nick Raskulinecz, had a lot to do with that, because he really approached us from a fan’s perspective, like, ‘I’ve been a fan of your band for a long time, and here’s the things that I miss as a fan: I wanna hear heavy guitar riffs, I wanna hear Fieldy’s bass slapping, I wanna hear the weird back-and-forth things that you and
Head do, and I wanna hear Jonathan scream!’”
WHAT DID NICK THINK ABOUT THE PARADIGM SHIFT?
“He told me that on the last couple of records, he hadn’t heard that, and it was kind of tough to hear him say, because we think we’re treading new ground and evolving, when actually we’re getting further away from what made fans like us.”
KORN’S HEAVIEST ALBUMS REVISITED
IMMORTAL/EPIC – 1994
Opening with the raging Blind and closing with the emotionally fraught Daddy, Korn’s self-titled debut ushered in a new era of metal and launched uber-producer Ross Robinson’s career.
IMMORTAL/EPIC – 1999
While the darkness on
1998’s Follow The Leader was interspersed with celebrity guest spots, Issues was dark throughout. The likes of Trash, Falling Away From Me and Somebody Someone were agonisingly weighty.
IMMORTAL/EPIC – 2002
Jonathan has called this Korn’s heaviest record, and it kills from start to finish, combining huge melodies and electronics with massive, crashing riffs. It’s their heftiest and yet most accessible album.
Korn III: Remember Who You Are
ROADRUNNER – 2010
Coming off the back of 2007’s experimental Untitled, Korn III saw the band reunite with Ross Robinson. Recorded to tape and featuring raw lyrics, it was heralded as a return to their roots.