Review Summary: What a surprise...
Well, I guess a dead clock truly is right twice a day.
I tend to look at Korn's career in two parts: Head, and post-Head. I am of course talking about Brian "Head" Welch, Korn's founding guitarist/songwriter who returned to the nu-metal creators last year after leaving in 2005 to kick meth and find God. While Korn floundered ahead on an album that they refused to even name, then tried to Remember Who They Were, and finally got lost on The Path of Totality, Head made a solo album and then formed a new band Love & Death, whose kick-ass debut album was instantly better than anything Korn had released without him. Obviously, old wounds had been healed with time, because Korn invited Welch back into the band permanently. The result is the band's 11th and newest album The Paradigm Shift, which also marked their first time working with super-producer Don Gilmore.
The first thing you will notice immediately in album opener "Prey For Me" is that the guitars are back in a big way. The song is a take-no-prisoners stomper that will almost certainly become a mosh-pit starter live for years to come. All throughout The Paradigm Shift, the nu-metal guitar sound that Brian "Head" Welch and co-guitarist James "Munky" Shaffer pretty much invented in the '90's dominates with riffs galore, complimented by Fieldy's always solid bass-lines (there's also less of the "clinking" bass noises he's famous for). Meanwhile, Ray Luzier continues to show that he is the perfect drummer for Korn, no matter what David Silveria would like to say to the contrary. It's impossible not to believe that everyone in Korn has raised their playing to a higher level as a result of Head's return.
The second thing you will notice on The Paradigm Shift is that the electronics from last album/failed experiment The Path of Totality are still here, but unlike most of the songs on TPOT, the electronics merely blend themselves into the metal music, instead of overwhelming and choking the life out of the metal. There is a collabration with dubsteb artist Noisia on "Spike In My Veins", but the electronics weave seamlessly into the fray and boost the low-end beautifully on the absolutely vicious choprus. For those who were turned off by the shamelessly electro first single "Never Never", the good news is that "Never Never" sounds much better in the context of the album than as a stand-alone single. "Never Never" does contain one of the strongest choruses on The Paradigm Shift, which is the most obvious sign of Don Gilmore's production (The man has produced Avril Lavigne, Linkin Park et al). However, it also speaks volumes about Johnathan Davis's vocal approach to this album.
For the first time in forever, Davis actually steps out of his comfort zone vocally. His range seems to have been improved, and he's growling again (see "Love & Meth" and "Spike In My Veins" for starters). He no longer sounds bored to death, and the whining is gone. Davis actually hits some high notes, and shows that he is more capable as a vocalist than most people thought. His lyrics on the other hand still sometimes sound like they came from a teenager's diary, but they're more tolerable than before.
If there is an MVP award in hard rock/heavy metal, it needs to go to Brian "Head" Welch this year. Not only did Head release a great debut album from his side project Love & Death, but he returned to Korn and helped them create their best album in almost decade. Apparently, Korn got over their "issues" and "took a look in a mirror", and realized that they needed their savior back. Is Brian Welch Korn's Jesus Christ? He must be, because he brought one of the most important rock bands of this generation back from dead.