Being a Korn fan these days is a lot like being a Weezer fan – you keep hoping for another album of greatness, only for those hopes to be dashed with the latest lacklustre full-length. While Korn’s latest material hasn’t been as egregious as a lot of Weezer’s late period work, the Bakersfield mob’s post-2010 efforts haven’t exactly been praiseworthy. 2010’s Remember Who You Are is utterly forgettable apart from Let The Guilt Go (and maybe Oildale at a push), 2011’s foray into dubstep with The Path Of Totality was okay but hasn’t aged well, and 2013’s The Paradigm Shift was, again, utterly forgettable. But there’s always hope that the nu-metal legends will come back with something up to par, and The Serenity Of Suffering is the latest basket that all the eggs are being unloaded into. After all, if Weezer’s White Album earlier this year can be their late-period return to form, hopefully Korn can pull off something similar.
But before that, it’s worth considering what a success would constitute for this point. As much as the band themselves have expressed this to be a darker, heavier album, like it or not, Korn are a mainstream metal band these days, leaving the hopes of true psyche-scraping horrors returning like Daddy or Faget out the door. Instead, The Serenity Of Suffering is more closely linked to their work on 1999’s Issues, from its meatier, low-end rumbles right down to the return of the doll that adorns the cover art. It’s a natural fit for them, especially given that this is the first time guitarist Brian ‘Head’ Welch has played a hand in writing since his departure in 2005 and subsequent reinstatement in 2013, bringing the thicker influence of the band’s Issues and Untouchables eras colliding with their slicker but no less hefty modern production. It’s a smart move too, as this is easily Korn’s best album in years, mostly thanks to the advent of much better songs. Insane and Rotting In Vain are the ideal pair to kick things off, two of the album’s best songs that see Jonathan Davis’ sinister vocals laid over the kind of fat, heavy riffs that the band have been lacking for some time. The rest of the album follows suit as well – The Hating and When You’re Not There are arena-metal at its most effectively crushing, and though the underuse of Corey Taylor’s guest spot on A Different World doesn’t slot it in the same pantheon of Korn collaborations as All In The Family or Children Of The Korn (even though lyrically the former hasn’t held up well at all), it’s still a damn great song in its own right.
Consistency is probably The Serenity Of Suffering‘s greatest asset; there isn’t a single bad song on here and pretty much any of them would be a smash on the harder end of rock radio. But then again, therein lies the main problem, in that Korn have always been at their best when representing the more unkempt, animalistic side of nu-metal. The Serenity Of Suffering doesn’t really do that – it’s more polished and streamlined, hitting the mark of a more metallic brand of hard rock, and subsequently losing a lot of the tics that elevated Korn above their genre’s boundaries. There’s a feeling here of an attempt to retain some of them, like Davis’ devilish scatting on Rotting In Vain or the turntable scratches on Next In Line, but the overt smoothness means this album isn’t quite up their with Korn’s very best.
But regardless, the spike in quality that The Serenity Of Suffering displays to Korn’s recent output is still pretty staggering. Again, there isn’t a bad song here (the choppiness of Die Yet Another Night is something of a mood-killer but it’s still nowhere close to bad), and the fact that there isn’t a real standout here pushes this consonant strength right to the fore. For a band who many would be forgiven for thinking were running on fumes, The Serenity Of Suffering is proof that there’s still juice in the tank yet, and to pull one this strong is just the icing on the cake. Plus, with the nu metal renaissance close to reaching its apex, it’s about time one of the old guard came back to prove they can still roll with the best of the them.
For fans of: Slipknot, Papa Roach, Marilyn Manson
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘The Serenity Of Suffering’ by Korn is out now on Roadrunner Records.