Always Up For Some Kilts in My Music, Me.
Yo, this be Reuben. Sadly, I’ve been afflicted by a curse of pretty much exclusively listening to Korn the past couple of months. Milo has been grieving over me like a widowed wife because he flippin’ hates the band, and I’ve just about managed to pull through these difficult times.
In all seriousness, though, Korn are really good. I mean, some of the stuff they do can be cringey, and I can see why a lot of people wouldn’t like ’em, but, dude, do I like ’em. You know about them (yeah, not “em” anymore) right? If not, they were probably the centerpiece of the nu metal movement in the 1990’s, putting people off and drawing people in simultaneously with their creepy, drop-tuned sound and horrific lyrics.
The Serenity of Suffering is their new album, and whilst it still has that inconsistent quality that Korn fans have had to come to terms with, it has a few fully-fledged gems and a new level of heaviness. The record should come as a nice surprise to people who’ve split up with the band, in a sense, because it’s a lot better than The Paradigm Shift, and LOADS better than The Path of Totality. Not to say those two albums had a couple of gems themselves, like Love & Meth and Get Up, but neither of those tracks live up to the best this new-un has to offer. The weaker tracks on this record are a lot better than the weaker stuff on the last two, to boot, and there’s less of it.
Now, since Head was reintroduced into the band for The Paradigm Shift, they tried to make the most of it by making a louder and larger sound than ever before. They sorta kinda achieved that, but not to the benefit of the music. The Serenity of Suffering, however, builds upon the heavy foundations set about by its predecessor to make a hard-hitting and melodically strong album. Never before have Korn been so heavy, I reckon. I guess Take a Look in the Mirror and all those were very heavy, but this record uses the tropes used in those, and develops upon them with a more powerful mix and more emphasis on the unified power chords of Munky and Head, whilst still having that unique drop-tuned bass.
The instrumentals, although maybe not quite so impressive as on Follow the Leader, as there are less effects and all that sinister shizzle, are heavier than ever before, and remain as well played as they ever were. Fieldy’s slap bass is as full-throttle and groovy as always (and remains one of the better bassists in the world right now), Munky and Head create a great unison with those cool-lookin’ guitars, and the drums are perhaps more skilled than ever (from Ray Luzier, who is still relatively new-ish to the band). Jonathan Davis may even deliver the most consistent vocal performance he ever has, as it’s not husky like in Take a Look in the Mirror, cringey/creepy like in any of the others, or bland like in The Paradigm Shift.
If you were to compare the sound with any previous Korn, I’d go for Issues and Untouchables, because it’s got similarly light choruses and the same sort of sinister edge, unlike the downright suicidal and weird edge of Follow the Leader, or anything else for that matter.
One thing is though, I don’t think The Serenity of Suffering gets its choruses quite right, even though there is a definite emphasis on melodies and getting dem catchy hooks in. The problem the album has, is that it’s all a little formulaic. Sure, it’s got that sinister veil and that unique mark of the band, but most songs on the record share the same song structure, and there is little deviating. There’s a solid verse, a catchy chorus, a heavy bit, a bridge, a catchy chorus. It doesn’t hurt the music, but if there were more interesting song structures I think it would have helped the overall record, because by the time you get to track seven or whatever, you’re a little bit bored – unless you’re absolutely in love with the music. It’s just slightly lazy songwriting.
There’s also the problem of the soft choruses, which can easily be a bit too soft. In songs like Die Yet Another Night, Insane, and Everything Falls Apart, the hooks just don’t have much groove or bite, unlike the rest of the song – because the verses and bridge sections are usually fantastic. It’s just a shame that when a song is so good, there is a wimpy chorus slapped into it for the sake of it.
There are some cringey moments here and there, too. But this is Korn, and there are a lot less then there previously have been. Let’s get over it.
Don’t get me wrong, the choruses don’t totally ruin the songs at all. Sometimes it can be a bit frustrating that there’s a weak chorus as the track’s centerpiece, but it doesn’t take away from the rest of the song too much, which is usually very strong in this case. There are some strong choruses here, like in Rotting in Vain, Black is the Soul and The Hating, and that forces me to get into the gems of the record. Firstly, we’ve got Insane. It’s a very strong intro, and although it has a fairly weak hook, it has the most interesting song structure and has some insanely strong moments. Rotting in Vain is your perfect Korn song past the year 2002, really. It’s got the power, catchiness and the constant pace and energy that you’d want (even some ska, which is pretty cool). Black is the Soul is my personal favourite, with a great vocal performance from ol’ Jonny D and a good progression. Next is A Different World, dat one with Corey Taylor. Corey Taylor gets in the way at a couple of points, but it’s a similar case here with Black is the Soul. Last up’s Please Come For Me. It’s a solid closer as well as being a very hard-hitting and real deep song.
The Serenity of Suffering, although it still suffers from it a bit, is one of Korn’s most consistent albums. There are no downright bad songs, as there are but a couple weaker ones, and overall, I’d say it’s slightly stronger than both Issues and Untouchables. Rotting in Vain and Black is the Soul stick out, I’d say, among some of the band’s best, like Here to Stay and Did my Time, as although they don’t quite live up to Freak on a Leash and Falling Away From Me, they possess all that is great about Korn, but with a 2016 twist. There is such an old school feel about the album, because I think the band wanted to go back to their roots some more, and remind people after a couple of dud albums that they’re what it’s about in the nu metal world, and are still one of the best metal bands around.
In conclusion, The Serenity of Suffering is an accomplished album, with the quality of musicianship that you’d expect from a band 23 years old, probably Jonathan Davis’ best vocal performance to date and with a new layer of heaviness – topped off with a few fantastic tracks. I suppose it has its inconsistencies and can be a tad predictable, with its often overly soft choruses and a couple of cringey moments, but, as Korn albums go, it is solid and is their best since Take a Look in the Mirror. If every song was as good as the four I’ve linked to, it would be album of the year, but, for now, it’s pretty darn good – an addictive listen at least.
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