Korn The Serenity Of Suffering2016 Roadrunner Records
Amidst the lead-up to this twelfth studio album from Korn, much was said to the press of it being ‘aggressive’ and going ‘back to basics.’ Admittedly it’s a dialogue commonly shared by artists in the metal genre when discussing their next record. But for Korn fans, those words likely conjured up visions of the band’s early efforts with which they helped to pioneer the nü-metal movement and catapult themselves to a lengthy, successful career.
It wasn’t all lip service, “The Serenity Of Suffering” certainly features a number of ‘heavy’ moments. But let’s be clear, it doesn’t possess the same visceral nature that defined their glory days. To be blunt, the main focus of “The Serenity Of Suffering” is melody. The snarling squelch delivered by the band’s acclaimed guitar duo often feels more like scenery than foundation as the core of each song hinges on a powerful hook, verse or chorus.
Still, those hoping that Korn‘s 20th anniversary tour of their self-titled album reignited the spark of their younger years won’t leave disappointed. There are certainly some pronounced elements of their youthful pursuits featured here. No doubt you’ve heard “Rotting In Vain“, which unapologetically resurrects the improvised scat singing found on “Twist” from 1996’s “Life Is Peachy“. The numerous shouts of ‘go’ in “Take Me” also bring “Freak On A Leash” to mind.
Likewise the bridge in “Black Is The Soul” features a sparse breakdown with cagey drums, whirring riffs and exasperated vocals that has strong ties back to their first two albums. But more often than not, these moments are brief asides in much more elaborately constructed songs.
In fact, a lot of “The Serenity Of Suffering” feels tethered to the early 2000’s era of the band—particularly to 2002’s “Untouchables“. Look no further than the riff on their included collaboration with Slipknot/Stone Sour vocalist Corey Taylor, “A Different World“, for some proof of that. A chunk of it almost feels like a direct rip of the “Untouchables” track “Beat It Up Right“.
Still, this isn’t an overt throwback album. While we’re not talking “The Path Of Totality” levels of electronic immersion, the digital influence and layering here remains characteristically thick, easily making it prime headphone fodder. There’s countless subtleties, be it lingering effects or obscured vocal ovderubs and more lurking throughout the mix—much of which you probably won’t even notice without a decent pair of cans on your head.
There’s also a few interesting nods you may not pick up on unless you look for them. The Mike Patton-styled sneer featured on the groove-laden verses of “The Hating” feel like a nostalgic tip of the hat—though the song is ultimately a bit too shackled down by a larger than life chorus to truly capitalize on its feisty, early Faith No More-styled energy and ferocious outro.
If you’re not seeing the trend here, the inclusion of a shimmering melodic chorus or weighty melancholic slant becomes an issue as the album progresses. All too often they go back to that well and it’s not long before it loses impact.
Every time dynamic tension is generated by a gnarled riff or spooky noodling, a bloated harmony or empowering clean chorus/verse comes in and effectively wipes the slate clean. It’d be more refreshing to hear the band just tear through at least one song entirely rather than limit their aggression to abbreviated rough patches.
There are still a few memorable moments though. The dizzying “Take Me” is a catchy, if not glossy, display of the band’s more modern traits. The slow burning whir and back and forth vocal approach of “Die Yet Another Night” also serves as a particularly adventurous display of songwriting for the band.
Furthermore, the production and mixing also deserve praise for capturing a sweeping range as the album is sonically stuffed. Even with so much going on you can hear it all, from Fieldy‘s clacking bass to Head and Munky‘s peculiar squeals and effects.
That said, “The Serenity Of Suffering” is very much an on rails experience. It’s more ‘Korn‘ than they have been in recent years, a welcome return after various periods of forced sounding reinvention. But for all the outbursts and impassioned detours, each song pretty much takes a formulaically similar voyage.
In fact, the only real shocker featured on this album is the inclusion of the rather lackluster turntables on the penultimate track, “Next In Line“. Ultimately, diehard fans won’t be disappointed, as “The Serenity Of Suffering” hits most of the right beats. It’s just that it isn’t particularly a standout entry in their catalog, with only one or two songs up for candidacy as setlist staples.