There’s been something questionable about the coverage of KORN’s recent output in a great deal of the rock press, namely that almost every single release has been touted either as a return to form or a return to their heavier roots, or both. Korn III: Remember Who You Are was indeed an album centred around this idea right down to its title and hiring of original producer Ross Robinson, before the band unexpectedly the very next year leaped in the complete opposite direction with the dubstep and SKRILLEX collaborations on The Path of Totality, a move that some saw as a washed up joke of a band hopping on a trend and attempting to appear down with the kids while others saw it as a band who were unquestionably cutting edge in their prime having their finger on the pulse and tapping into the exciting music of the time for a fresh injection of relevance and vibrancy following an album of nostalgia. The Paradigm Shift’s move back towards familiar ground along with the return of Brian “Head” Welch on guitar again prompted cries of “return to form”, and just as if that had never happened new album The Serenity of Suffering is receiving the exact same treatment.
While this is indicative of a wider issue within the media of magazines not necessarily offering the most objective of stances 100% of the time and being afraid to do so in fear of lessening their pay-cheques and offending a generation of listeners who have grown up without real criticism, in the case of KORN there’s another issue at hand; in a subtle but massively impactful way, KORN are quite a different band to the one that changed the face of metal in the 90s. This was made most clear when they returned to their bleak and unsettling debut to play it in full last year and delivered thoroughly competent performances that did not sync up entirely with the oppressive vibe of that original record. KORN are a party band. Jonathan Davis is still exorcising demons but not in such dramatic and nihilistic style, and the band these days are more suited to delivering outrageously fun festival sets than seeping into your psyche and your nightmares. As such, the standards they are held to are not fully appropriate even if KORN sonically do roughly the same thing that they always have. And this is why in terms of pure quality rather than mood or sound, The Serenity of Suffering is the closest to a true return to form KORN have delivered.
It’s not that their previous albums have been bad, far from it. Remember Who You Are feels a little uncomfortable for the same reason that their recent album in full tour did, as a band that had changed and grown were forced to put on shoes that no longer truly fit, but it undoubtedly has moments of real brilliance and a dirty, unpolished charm. At the other end of the spectrum, The Path of Totality for those willing to embrace it has to be respected as both a ballsy move and a collection of songs, and The Paradigm Shift has a sheen to it that adds to a slick modern metal record that feels thoroughly fresh rather than the re-tread of old ground that it may well have turned out as. The Serenity of Suffering though is almost a collision of these two ideas, the sound of a band returning to what made them popular to begin with but with the mindset of where they currently are at and no need to throw their growth and development under a bus.
It has the hallmarks of classic KORN before you’ve even pressed play courtesy of cover art which with its spooky child at a twisted carnival is visually the most peak KORN thing ever created even before you notice the child is dragging the doll from the Issues cover. With the current vibe and heart of the band now clearly established, it is true that sonically at least this album delves way back into the KORN catalogue. If Remember Who You Are’s return to the roots was a raw and stripped back approach in line with the debut and Life is Peachy, this new album’s closest sibling is Untouchables, pouring all effort and expense into the thickest and most enveloping tone possible. It proves to be very much the best possible alleyway for the band in 2016 to go down, gifting them a crunch more undeniable than they’ve had in a while. Producer Nick Raskulinecz deserves a fair bit of credit here, not least for bringing Fieldy’s trademark slapping bass further forward once again ticking another essential KORN box.
Of course while the return of Head to the band is not as publicised around this album as its predecessor, the solidification of this lineup as a unit after that record and the ensuing touring means that his presence is felt more here also. The interplay between he and Munky that defined KORN’s early guitar approach is very much alive on The Serenity of Suffering, bouncing squealing lines off of each other for that unique KORN flavour before locking in together for the almighty payoff riff, and riffs The Serenity of Suffering has aplenty. Opener Insane offsets its melancholic chorus and opening chords with a bounce that will get any longtime fan moving, Take Me’s initial squall bursts into the kind of almost hip-hop groove KORN made their own, and A Different World is ungodly heavy with just a couple of notes as well as featuring what must be many a nu metal fan’s wet dream as SLIPKNOT’s Corey Taylor contributes guest vocals roaring behind Davis’s hook.
Davis is in fine form, not just in terms of his voice but in delivering some of the most memorable melody lines of KORN’s recent career. Rotting In Vain is probably the finest song KORN have written since Untouchables and Davis as a focal point is a large part of that, not least due to the brief return of the classic Jonathan Davis scat which is just stupidly fun, a knowing wink to the past without stepping over into self-parody. If there’s a criticism to be levelled at this album, it’s that while not necessarily having any obvious weak tracks it does perhaps have too many tracks of the same type, beginning to run together a little bit in the second half as shifts in tempo and dynamics do not come as often as you’d like. Please Come for Me closes the album on roughly the same note it’s been on throughout and seems a little abrupt, but ultimately as an updating of their trademark sound to fit where KORN are as a band and as people today, The Serenity of Suffering is a definite success. There’s a chemistry between these men that stopped any of the tidal wave of bands that came in their wake being able to truly match their template, and today with younger bands like OF MICE & MEN and CANE HILL drawing influence from them again it does the same thing. The mainstream press will tell you it’s a return to form and for once, they’re not far off it.
The Serenity of Suffering is due to be released October 21st via Roadrunner Records. Pre-order The Serenity of Suffering here.
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