Review Summary: Korn regain their focus and release their best album in 15 years.Untouchables
was supposed to take Korn’s career to the next level. It was supposed to be their Black Album
, and they followed its blueprint to the letter. They brought their production to new heights; turning in a huge polished sound that was in direct contrast to their previous releases. They also significantly diversified their style, especially the riffs, and brought hooks and melody to the forefront. For whatever reason, though, Untouchables
didn’t drastically increase the band’s fan base, and they have been looking for a direction ever since. Korn have had a couple of ‘back-to-roots’ releases, a couple of ‘flavor-of-the-week’ electronic albums, and a few by-the-numbers albums – and none of them were very good. It also didn’t help matters when the band’s most prolific songwriter jumped ship after Take a Look in the Mirror
. This left the remaining members without the ability to do much more than meander through their own tired sound while trying to stay relevant. That relevance didn’t come until their guitar player returned for the release of The Paradigm Shift
Have you ever got back together with an ex after an extended breakup, and noticed that those first few interactions were cordial to the point of being uncomfortable? That’s how I imagine the recording sessions for The Paradigm Shift
. Nobody was willing to rock the boat or push anyone outside of their comfort zone, and the end result was a safe, sterile release – one that was still better than the four previous releases lacking Brian Welch. So, the band regained their relevance and their guitar player, but the music still didn’t justify the renewed interest. With the release of The Serenity of Suffering
, Korn finally have the music to validate the renewed hype. There’s groove, crushing bottom end, diverse riffs, melody and hooks, and a top-notch performance from Jonathan Davis. If I had to make a comparison, The Serenity of Suffering
honestly sounds like the spiritual successor to Korn’s most complete release, Untouchables
, combined with the visceral edge of Take a Look in the Mirror
Much like Untouchables
, The Serenity of Suffering
features a huge polished production, solid hooks and melodies, and a powerfully heavy bottom end. It also features a diverse range of sounds, styles and experimentation. The first two tracks display Korn’s archetypical sound at its finest. There’s plenty of lumbering bass, fat rhythmic riffs, and a ton of angst from Jonathan Davis. While being quintessential Korn songs, both ‘Insane’ and ‘Rotting in Vain’ step beyond the bland back-to-roots crap the band have been peddling by approaching that core sound from different angles and doing so with a sense of potency. The Serenity of Suffering
isn’t just another attempt at reliving the glory days, though. Beginning with the third track, ‘Black is the Soul’, the band begin to diversify beyond their core sound. ‘Black is the Soul’ is a slower rhythmic track that features Jonathan Davis singing over a keyboard/guitar melody that is carried by an undulating, cyclic bass line. Of course, there’s a quick visceral part in the middle of the song, but what is Korn without a little random anger.
As the album carries on, I hear a lot of Untouchables
influence in the diversity of the songs, as well as the strong sense of melody and hooks, but I also hear an aggressive edge that hasn’t really been this pronounced since Take a Look in the Mirror
. This is especially apparent in Jonathan Davis’ vocals which include singing, screams and quite a bit of guttural growls (often times layered one over the other). The riffs, too, are more powerful than they have been in a long time; from the atonal squeal scattered throughout ‘Everything Falls Apart’ to the twitchy back-and-forth on ‘Next in Line’. On the flipside, just about every song also features a chorus that can hook on first listen, as well as a prominent sense of melody – especially on album closer ‘Out of You’. There are other songs such as ‘Die Yet Another Night’ that feature new facets of Korn’s sound – from the twitchy guitar lead that opens the song to the borderline thrash of the main riff – that show they’re still not done being creative within their chosen framework.
If your stance on Korn is one born of cynicism, then there’s probably nothing the band could do to win you over. Jonathan still wears his angsty feelings on his sleeve, and the core Korn sound is still very much present, but it is being done better than it has in nearly fifteen years. It seems the band have taken stock of their 20+ year career and selected the parts that would best work for them today and combined those pieces with some newer ideas and fresh sounds. The result, to me, sounds like a natural evolution from their best release, Untouchables
, with stronger songwriting and a significant increase in aggression. The Serenity of Suffering
is easily Korn’s most diverse release; featuring melody, aggression, new sounds and old staples in just about equal measures wrapped into some of the band’s strongest songs in years.