Few bands out there can lay claim to influencing the creation of an entire musical movement. Meshuggah’s a relatively recent candidate with the explosion of the djent genre that formed in their wake, and despite what you think of the copycats that followed, you can’t necessarily blame them for it; they’re a band that did something different and naturally, others took notice. Korn are in the same boat; their 1993 self titled debut is a celebrated classic, and despite some missteps and the continued teenage angst from an aging band, they should not be thought of in a negative light because of the legions of terrible acts that followed.
Make no mistake though, Korn are responsible for some clunkers that are conspicuously stacked towards recent years. After an fling with experimental industrial music following the departure of guitarist of Brian “Head” Welch, Korn attempted a hamfisted and misguided attempt at their early sound with Korn III in 2010. The band’s foray into dubstep provided a few cool cuts, but was largely hit and miss. Head’s return, which should have been a big deal, was surprisingly pretty uneventful considering how unexciting The Paradigm Shift was. With this streak going, this Korn fan was resigned to the assumption that the band had finally tapped the well dry.
But believe it or not (and you couldn’t tell judging from the godawful cover art), the group’s twelfth studio album The Serenity of Suffering is actually a serviceable and inoffensive addition to the Korn discography, comparable to middle-era records Untouchables and Take A Look In The Mirror, with riffs as massive as the songs were catchy. Serenity captures a spirit that the band hasn’t had in years and is easily the best Korn record released in the last decade, which makes the record particularly exciting after you reconcile with the idea of how low the bar’s been set.
The hypnotic and dynamic intro “Insane” sets a promising tone for the album as a pleasantly familiar Korn record, with a staggering riff and effects-laden guitar melodies that carry the song through an urgent and impassioned vocal performance from Jonathan Davis. Davis breaks out a few rarely heard throaty screams across Serenity, most notably in the standout single “Rotting In Vain” that takes a detour in an enthusiastic “Twist”/”Freak On A Leash” style scat bridge. The music is fit for these screams as well, making for a heavier record than what we’ve seen in recent years.
The whole band are up to snuff with this record, which is encouraging. Head and Munky have shown that cool new Korn riffs still exist, with each track having that characterizing guitar moment. Fieldy’s bass style has settled into a fine medium to fit a finer production style, with his trademark clanky slap being heard against Ray Luzier’s grooving percussion if you listen for it, yet restrained compared to the band’s early work. Jonathan’s performance is commendable as well, despite some cringey lyrical weaknesses — “There is nothing in my head,” being repeated ad nauseum in the otherwise awesome “Everything Falls Apart,” for instance.
In keeping with tradition, Korn have surrounded themselves with auxiliary musicians and guests which boost the album’s creativity: DJ scratches can be heard on the album courtesy of C-Minus, and while that may be a nu-metal as fuck, their inclusion actually benefits the songs in which they appear. Longtime keyboard player Zac Baird contributes some atmospheric depth to “Take Me.” A long overdue Corey Taylor (Slipknot/Stone Sour) collaboration is a highlight, even if it appears in one of the album’s weaker cuts, “A Different World.” Even still, there’s very little in the way of filler, as each track contains either a riff or killer chorus that makes the whole event worthwhile.
Any criticisms levied against Korn for revisiting their past or becoming too familiar with their own body of work may have perhaps become nullified by how well The Serenity Of Suffering works compared to previous attempts. Whether it be the band’s current chemistry or the work of producer Nick Raskulinecz for bringing out the best in them, this record feels honest and refreshing and hits a spot that many Korn fans haven’t felt in quite some time. Of course, Serenity isn’t so much of a revelation for those who were never on board to begin with, but there’s plenty to be excited about for longtime fans looking for some validation in their continued support, or at the very least, some well-executed nostalgia for those who have fallen off the wagon.
Korn’s The Serenity of Suffering is available now via Roadrunner Records.