From the first roaring exclamation of "LIIIIIFFFEEE!!!" bellowed out by Korn's frontman at the start of the opening track INSANE from their highly anticipated twelfth studio album The Serenity of Suffering, the addicted listener knows they will bang their head clean off and body slam their bones into dust by the album's end, and trust me, that's exactly what the band delivers this time around.
Funny how things end up this way. Another notch is carved away. Beaten down. Dominated by its sound. Growing deep within my head. No one can relate to me. Does nobody know I'm insane? It's not like I'm insane! HahaHahaHaha. This cancer finds everything I hide. Let me just say this opening track does its job well. It kicks off what is sure to become a legendary album from this California quintet. And it reassures the careful listener that Jon's lyrics remain as dark and twisted as ever.
See, INSANE's a good opener cuz it stands in for BLIND. Cuz when you remove the button-eye styled CD disc from the jewel case to play the album, you render the titular rag doll completely eyeless. That's how you get to crawl into his head, see. The rag doll is Jonathan, of course, a stitched-together hybrid cross between "Pinky" (which I've named the iSsuEs rag doll I have cuz it reminds me of the tossed-aside one from Pink Floyd's The Wall) and it also happens to eerily resemble everybody's favorite insane robot, Gir (from Johnen Vasquez's Invader Zim). So now we're Blind AND Insane.
But it's the second track, lead-in single ROTTING IN VAIN that explodes out of the arena full tilt then settles into a comfortable pace before erupting again into Jon's patented Boom-Chugga scatting and it really works to keep the song soaring along. When the third cut begins, all doubts have been erased. This is exactly what we've been begging for. It's not just their killer drummer and three top-notch guitar players. The singer is back in the saddle and leading us to places we can never follow.
That third track BLACK IS THE SOUL (pretty much my favorite) almost immediately tips the devoted listener off that we are along for an incredible ride. And then comes THE HATING pushing demented paranoia to new heights and slamming us down with heavier riffs into darker depths. Jon's vocal delivery and lyrics along with Munky and Head's revitalized lead & rhythm guitars all saturated in excellent production values, propelled by Fieldy and Ray's psychotic momentum, all coalesce to really break the band out of their cage in a way reminiscent of their Untouchables period, when Korn were on top of the world.
Now flip that glossier time over to reveal the crawling underbelly of the dark carnival landscape that remains the seething territory of Jonathan Davis's poetic mind. Virtually all the themes the band has explored over the long course of their career have been refined and driven to a new depth and clarity of articulation, here. As the audience is invited to see the world through the tortured singer's eyes we've already learned how we are blind--but now, on SOS, we are shown why we may have nearly been driven insane--as everything falls apart around us like a crumbling and toppled-over sandcastle of reconstructed nightmares laid to waste.
What really elevates The Serenity of Suffering are the relentlessly well placed instrumental effects coupled with the various new approaches toward playing the guitars and singing the verses and how they intertwine with the melodies and choruses. Jonathan's sense of urgency reaches a new plateau where I can feel his singing literally transform to another level before my ears. The terror grips us close and holds us tight. I hope we get to die another night.
Everything comes together on this album, the eleven songs building with intensity, exploring morbid and sardonic themes with a renewed freshness and vitality from all members. As it all falls down around our ears, the songs off SOS worm their way into our heads until they're embedded in our DNA like missing jigsaw puzzle pieces interlocking into place. When Jon screams out Just Give Me Back My Life and pleads Why Are We Going On This Way (nobody cares you're just a bad man) the echoes after the songs end repeatedly slam into us (nobody wants you you're a dead man) mocking and haunting and for all their torment, somehow soothing that hollow feeling we all carry around with us in this life that breaks our hearts.
Like anything else in this twisted existence, you either get it or you don't, there's no middle ground with a band like Korn. If you've heard one Korn song, you've heard em all, in the best way, and that goes for many of the greatest bands out there. And like few of those artists, their output just keeps getting better and better. The California quintet's twelfth album pushes the envelope of their signature sound past their former limits into some newly minted areas (such as the scratching guest DJ C-minus provides on three of the tracks; but that's negligible in contrast to Head and Munky's renewed twin guitar techniques) and while it may not be said that they've created anything completely new (as they certainly did with their debut) it's undeniable that they have managed to evolve their own unique brand of aggro rock music into its latest incarnation, which as far as I'm concerned continues to retain a freshly stropped razor's edge in both sonic and lyrical execution.
One of the things I appreciate about this album is how it manages to synthesize more of Slipknot's DNA into the legacy of Korn. It makes sense for Ross Robinson's "other undertaking" to be reintegrated into the fold, here. Considering the strength of the collab with Corey Taylor A DIFFERENT WORLD, it feels good that both bands have survived this long with fanbases intact. Track six TAKE ME just hits all the right notes (thanks in part to Zac Baird--"Horse"--their touring keyboardist since 2005's See You On The Other Side; this song marks his bittersweet parting from the band). It's got a different vocal approach and a unique song structure, delivering some interesting sonic touches and before you know it, it's over (Go! Awaaaayyyy). On the seventh track EVERYTHING FALLS APART, the band begins digging in deeper. With a great chuggy backbeat guitar riff and some soulful singing, this one steps up as one of the best songs with Jon (whispering in your ear There's A Presence In My Head) screaming There Is Nothing In My Head repeatedly to a typically propulsive crescendo and catchy ending (There's A Presence In My Head). Track eight DIE YET ANOTHER NIGHT wallops out a one two sucker punch with a swift and tricky guitar riff and some interesting backing vocals before Jonathan explodes with Do What You Say Do What You Want To and then the song just jams out some of the best riffs played yet (another track competing for my favorite). We rip apart the flesh and live to see. Head and Munky have perfected their twin-axed attack so we can barely distinguish which is who.
I like how the songs fill themselves out without too much repetition, on this album. Ray's drumming really shifts into a new gear. Fieldy's bass upholds the complex sonic architecture and stands out starkly during the quieter moments to great effect, he's always thrumming away down there and all I can say is a huge Shout-Out to Reggie Arvizu, our beloved Fieldy, holding down this raving unleashed beast of an album!
So this is it, we have officially arrived at the long dreamed of "Other Side" referred to eleven years ago when they released their first album without Head. Since both he and Munky have had plenty of time to get reacquainted and practice each other's unique hybrid form of guitar playing, what we're hearing on The Serenity of Suffering are the glorious results of releasing that long lost but not forgotten pause button that was depressed after their sixth album with Brian--Take A Look In The Mirror--dropped thirteen years ago. (Note: Even though yes, Head came back with The Paradigm Shift, I don't think he and Munky fully re-established their chemistry until this album. TPS is more of a transitional album, and very good in its own way, I really like it. But its SOS that really brings the 2-Headed Monster home to roost at last.) With a thunderclap released from the force of the gap between all those years colliding with renewed fury into our ears, I'm all too delirious to say that what we have here is nothing less than a brand new start for this reforged band to continue exploring the strange sonic terrain they've been plowing since their 1994 debut.
The thing about these eleven songs that's so great is they each offer their own world of distinct sounds and unique effects. For instance, that super fast guitar riff from NEXT IN LINE, it doesn't prepare you for Jon's wack spit-delivery of a sudden quick verse midway through, but it all adds up to a song that can be listened to over and over without tiring of it. That's sort of how the entire album works. It's woven together by songs whose structures (despite their short lengths, 3 or 4 minutes, mostly) are complex enough to withstand many repeat listens.
The ninth track WHEN YOU'RE NOT THERE has some creepy atmosphere and wicked carnival clown laughs carved out of a synth or something, and it slows down to a scary mood with some hard hitting elements that turn it into a sinister sort of nightmare song all the kids are sure to lap up hungrily. It leads to another favorite, NEXT IN LINE, the penultimate track with the crazy fast riff underpinning it, and then that song (am I wasting time? or next in line) finally leads into the epic closer PLEASE COME FOR ME, which really kinda hearkens back to an old school vibe with Jonathan singing with feeling the chorus until by song's end it all unravels into a crazed vocal syncopation that slams the album to a satisfied and sudden ending with a lyrical double entendre.
The SOS theme kind of extends from the bridge of See You On The Other Side--where the song SOUVENIR was originally titled 'Souvenir Of Sadness.' I sort of see The Serenity of Suffering as the long awaited echoing response to that lonely call. The brothers are back in arms, and not without scars. Ray Luzier has performed his job of filling David's one-of-a-kind shoes with a solid and passionate foundation which successfully preserves the new groove and dynamic tension of the band. They're just so much further down the twisted road of their development, it's like they've left those old days behind in the dust. I've been a die hard fan since the very beginning, on that fateful late October day twenty-two years ago when I bought the official cassette version of their debut. Ever since then we've all been moving forward together along this strange and twisted road, never looking back (just a reality check every now and then--maybe a quick look in the rearview mirror every so often) and pinching ourselves every now and again to make sure we're not dreaming. If any of us had known Korn would have released such a strong and dynamic album this far into their career, well maybe we wouldn't have really been that surprised at all. This is what they've been doing pretty much from the get go. We're still here, and we're still going all the way. Scarred and darker, after all this time, it appears we're still here to stay.