Like MEGADETH, MOTÖRHEAD and AC/DC, KORN have their own unique sound. You know it's KORN by the band's lurching rhythms, its deep, deep chord chunks and the vibrating plucks off the neck of "Fieldy" Arvizu's bass, all before Jonathan Davis squeals or ralphs a single word. Like a star major-league pitcher, KORN has a few reliable modes album-to-album that get the job done. Proverbially speaking the band's sliders, change-ups and sinkers have kept it in the ace position of the contemporary metal band rotation. To its credit, KORN has done an admirable job trying new progressions or tweaking its familiar patterns on albums like "Take a Look in the Mirror", "See You On the Other Side", "Korn III: Know Who You Are" and even the band's last round, "The Paradigm Shift".
Which stands to question why KORN blatantly riffled through the core riffs, guitar peals and mash rhythms housed inside of 1999's "Issues" and 2002's "Untouchables" for its latest record, "The Serenity of Suffering". While even the band itself seemingly refuses to own its 2007 self-titled nutjob of an album, the grimy feel of "Korn III: Know Who You Are" was refreshing. So much so it felt like a rebirthing effect gestating in the bipolar gloss of "The Paradigm Shift". "Lullaby for a Sadist" from the latter was one of KORN's best-written, off-the-path songs ever, while the electro shakes that fizzled on "Korn" 2007 gave "Victimized" from "The Paradigm Shift" a fresh and deadly spark. The raunchy rap wriggles on the hilarious "Y'all Want a Single" from "Take a Look in the Mirror", the gut-wrenching curls on "Thoughtless" from "Untouchables" and the groove-banged "Twisted Transistor" from "See You On the Other Side" are a few examples of KORN successfully testing its own limitations, which is why "The Serenity of Suffering" feels like a cheat: even with a guest cameo from SLIPKNOT/STONE SOUR's Corey Taylor.
With packaging images falling somewhere between the alternating covers for "Issues", Five Nights at Freddy's and the world's grodiest carny games, "The Serenity of Suffering" doesn't aim nearly as high as its predecessors. Yes, there are some cool change-ups and variations (i.e. "Black Is the Soul", "Please Come for Me", "When You're Not There", "Die Yet Another Night" and the scratch-happy "Next in Line"), but at large, KORN opts for the sure thing on this album. It's all the usual pounding chords dropped in precise formation, and all of Jonathan Davis's manic melancholia set to the primer of "Falling Away from Me" and "Here to Stay", not merely for usage but for its sole sustenance to get this album in the can.
"Insane" and "Rotting in Vain" are "Issues"- and "Untouchables"-era KORN with their tried-and-true grueling riffs railing over the ears alongside the band's trademark, persnickety guitar plinks on the verses. Both songs will readily become fan favorites, since they serve up every KORN standard inside of them — including Jonathan Davis's mongrel-like scats on "Rotting in Vain". "The Hating" is stuffed with every crunch chord in KORN's arsenal, and though it's one of the heaviest songs on the album, it's sadly pedestrian — for them, anyway. "Take Me", the same thing. Here, the exact chords are merely rearranged, the songwriting scheme thrown back in the wrong fashion. It's a stale moment for a veteran band that has showed in recent years that it is invested in evolving.
Positively, the slogging pace of the terrific "Black is the Soul" is smartly plotted as the album's third track, yielding "The Serenity of Suffering"'s most emotive melody. Davis's clean swills here are tantalizing as is his grizzled gnashing, and "Black is the Soul" is a big-time winner, even with its rackety breakdown. The hip-hop subtleties on the verses of "Die Yet Another Night" is a slick maneuver setting up the well-dropped distortion on the choruses and pulverizing breakdown. The jive-funk shuffles on the verses of "When You're Not There" lift the song past its own conventions threatening toward run-of-the-mill. The crescendo is brief but exhilarating, nearly as much as the rousing finale on "Next in Line".
"A Different World" is naturally the focal track of the album, aside from the opening two, since Corey Taylor's bellowing takes it to a nastier place. KORN nicks the dive-bombing chord dips of "Beat it Upright" from "Untouchables" with more of their haunted guitar wallowing on the verses. The groove would be full-on sick if it wasn't such a replica of the band's past efforts. Taylor drops clean patters when he emerges, woofing rowdily through the track's blaring breakdown.
KORN is still a great band casting out a pummeling, despondent vibe that continues to hook people — gauging "The Serenity of Suffering"'s rapid ascension up the Billboard charts. Jonathan Davis's chronic moping and kvetching will be as much a part of KORN's legacy as Robert Smith and Siouxsie Sioux are to their own bands. "The Serenity of Suffering" serves its fans first, no question, but it is a step down and queries how much is left the band's creative tanks.