New albums from such younger acts as We Came As Romans and Of Mice & Men have shown that the nu-metal genre that was prevalent in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s will forever ingratiate itself into rock music in some way. Many of those bands, now older, attribute Korn to be a source of inspiration. While those bands draw musical DNA from throughout their 25+ year career, Korn has experienced some peaks and valleys. 2002’s Untouchables may have been the pinnacle of the band’s early output (although some also prefer the dirty, aggressive 2003 album, Take A Look In The Mirror).
Like the fans that stuck by them as close as the stitching of an Adidas sweat suit, they grew older and so did their musical pallet. Other albums saw the band trying to compensate for the loss of lead guitarist Brian “Head” Welch whether it be the brief reunion with producer Ross Robinson (2010’s Korn III: Remember Who You Are) or the inclusion of electronics (2011’s The Path of Totality ). There was something missing within all of the layers. It seemed like the band that was at the forefront of a genre that inspired a generation of rock bands began to lose itself in the shuffle a bit. The days of the backyards caps and DJ’s suffusing themselves within a rock back are long gone, but is some morsel of the magic left?
Their most recent album, The Serenity of Suffering sees a return to a more comfortable, agile, and confident band. 2013’s The Paradigm Shift which was the return of Welch, sounded great in parts, but seemed like the band struggled at points to collectively include all of the influences that they brought in since 2005’s See You On The Other Side. Right from the opening bell, the band comes at you with one of the more aggressive starts to their catalog. “Insane” is dripping with huge guitars and “Rotting In Vein” is one of the more complete songs in recent memory. Lead Singer Jonathan Davis sounds energetic going in and out of melodic and rough vocals. The listener can tell that there’s a belief and pop to the material he’s singing even though some of the motifs have been heard before. Older vocal techniques like Davis’ scat and pronounced lower growl make their welcome return as well.
A key factor with this album is the synergy between both Welch and rhythm guitarist James “Munky” Shaffer. One of the main attributes in early Korn albums is the instrumentation between the two – the opening songs “Insane” and “Rotting In Vein” show that they can play crunching guitar lines and experiment with the weird chord bends within the verses. They were once complaint in previous albums , particularly with the mixing is that you could not hear bassist Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu. They were almost drowned, but now, thankfully more pronounced. Coupled with drums from Ray Luzier, there’s a rhythm that was not prevalent previously and gives these songs structure and balance. Every instrument gets time to make a mark.
The electronics and keyboard do not feel so out of place and implemented neatly in songs like “Black Is the Soul” and “Everything Falls Apart”. Instead of trying to fight for room in the song, they add a more serene feel to the heaviness of the album – and heavy, it is. “Next in Line” starts with a riff reminiscent of the “Life Is Peachy” era, but there’s a new melodic wrinkle that plays a small part to show that the band is willing to add new things while exploring old territory. Although, the turntable scratches may be a little out of place. The perfect marriage of old and new Korn comes with “When You’re Not There”. The big breakdown begins with the slap-bass style of Arvizu and erupts into an avalanche breakdown.
If there was a way that we can go into a time machine and enter TSOS in-between both Untouchables and TALITM, that would be the best chronological fit. Since, the re-inclusion of Welch, the band has seemed to return to the creative and tenacious sound of their youth. They say you can never go back, but time has made Korn more conscious of who they are and how to bring that into present day rock music. Like the last song, “Please Come For Me,” TSOS does not stay too long – it’s here to make a concise statement that the elder statesmen still have something left in the tank.
Metal | Roadrunner Records