Sound — 8
The past several albums for Korn have shown a post-apex journey oscillating between continuing to wield the nu metal sound they helped shepherd into mainstream success back in the late nineties/early noughties, and trying to find the next innovative direction for their brand of metal. With creative complications during the making of 2007's "Korn II" resulted in an experimental album tumbling down from the success of the previous "See You on the Other Side," frontman Jonathan Davis sought to recapture the back-to-basics vibe of their early material in the minimally-produced nu metal output of 2010's "Korn III: Remember Who You Are." While the reception for that return was mixed, Korn promptly jumped back into the deep end of changing up their sound with 2011's "The Path of Totality," which attempted to be the definitive album to bridge the gap between rock music and the prevalent dubstep craze at the time, but given how much more presence the handful of dubstep producers (Skrillex, Excision, Kill The Noise, etc.) had compared to Korn itself, it felt more like the band piggybacking on current trends.
In the last few years, however, Korn have been swinging back to familiar territory with better momentum. After reuniting with founding guitarist Brian Welch, who had left the band after 2003's "Take a Look in the Mirror," 2013's "The Paradigm Shift" showed Korn once again bringing back their nu metal sound and combining it with hints of dubstep and pop characteristics they had dabbled with in the past few albums, making for a good hybrid of traits old and new.
Now on their twelfth album, "The Serenity of Suffering," Korn fully and confidently return to the nu metal sound of their prime. Primarily, the low tunings, thick distortion and ample guitar layering easily make it one of the heaviest sounding Korn records in a while, heard in the whomping bounce of "Take Me," the shrill-to-heavy swapping riff in "Everything Falls Apart," or the beefy breakdown in "Please Come for Me," though Welch and James Shaffer also show reservation in the contained but teeming tremolo strumming in "Next in Line," and the melodic riffing in the measurement-morphing "Die Yet Another Night."
With that heavier guitar foundation and the riffs it wields calling back to the sound of "Untouchables," "The Serenity of Suffering" also makes a clear callback to the hip-hop influences that Korn weaved into their sound back in "Follow the Leader." Turntable scratching appears in "Insane," hip-hop beats carry "A Different World," and Davis brings back both a bit of rapping in "Next in Line" and the "Freak on a Leash"-style scat vocals in "Rotting in Vain." Reginald Arvizu's bass work unfortunately doesn't get to dazzle as imperatively as it did in those older records, though he still flexes his skills in "The Hating" and "Please Come for Me."
Lyrics — 8
Continuing to draw inspiration from past trials and tribulations, Davis's lyrics in "The Serenity of Suffering" specifically revolve around the theme of taking refuge in the familiarity of certain pain and despair (as the album title encapsulates). Davis's revelry in his own dysfunctional anger towards others in "Rotting in Vain" ("I wouldn't be angry if you just fucking cried / Your tears would arouse me, refreshing my supply") and the sadomasochistic "When You're Not There" ("I love the way you hurt me / I love that you don't care") is one he's invoked plenty times over in classic Korn material, but what resonates more are his moments that refer to his struggles with depression and addiction, given what Davis had been through in the last few years. First outlining the agony of dealing with such ("This cancer finds everything I hide / Living my life horrified" in "Insane"; "The terror grips me closely / And hope I get to die yet another night" in "Die Yet Another Night"), Davis details the dangerously seductive dependency that prescription drugs impose in order to ease that pain in "Take Me" ("I feel it dulling, I feel it helping / It's taking everything all up away from me"), but on the other hand, points out the solace that can be taken in a chaos he's grown comfortable to in his depression in "Black Is the Soul" ("Happiness is found in the darkest ways") and "Please Come for Me" ("The depression's ecstasy").
Overall Impression — 8
In Korn's back-and-forth between chasing sounds in new directions and going back to old glory, their re-appeal to their emblematic nu metal sound in "The Serenity of Suffering" does a better job in its throwback effort to the golden era of Korn, both sonically and symbolically, due to Welch being back in the group. And though the band merging back onto a path they've already mastered doesn't have them showing new tricks, the repaving of their classic style does better compared to their last nu metal refresh effort of "Korn III..."