Korn isn’t at a stage where it’s trying to win anyone over.
Korn is an acquired taste for most who remember metal before it had that confounded nu affixed to it, before detuned guitars reigned and guitar solos were considered relics of the Mesozoic. Little of that changes with The Serenity of Suffering. There are plenty of nice moments here, some vocal hooks that will make you set down your Mountain Dew Code Red, hitch up your saggy pants and raise your studded wristband-clad arms and yell. Though Korn fans will undoubtedly take issue with this assertion, it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish one track from another as much of the material sounds like a mashup of files inside the group’s collective computer.
There are collisions of perfectly good guitar lines, vocal parts that see into your soul and rhythm tracks that make you sentimental for the days when White Zombie’s “Thunderkiss ‘65” was the wackiest, craziest, heaviest mainstream thing you ever heard. None of that makes for songs, though, and it doesn’t take long before “Insane” becomes perfectly indistinguishable from “Die Yet Another Night.”
Yes, yes, you canostensibly tell the difference. One has a riff that moves this way, the other has a riff that moves the other and Jonathan Davis screams this way in such-and-such and growls another way in this-and-that. Even when you can tell the difference and track the changes between “Next in Line” and “Rotting in Vain,” it doesn’t seem worth the effort. It’s mostly background noise that you could/should let drift into the background while you play Doom or go on an excellent D&D campaign.
If one were to take the most melodic passages of “Insane” and chop them together there would be about 40 percent of a memorable Trans-Siberian Orchestra cut or maybe 70 percent of an early Nine Inch Nails B-side. Even the syntax of some of the titles is goofy: Who, besides a budding poet writes “Black Is the Soul”?
Korn isn’t at a stage where it’s trying to win anyone over. The faithful have been at this group’s side for quite a while and they’re the greatest billboard the band could hope for. Reviews and analysis of these chopped up bits of ones and zeros and their inability to connect with geezers such as this writer are, let’s face it, irrelevant. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take a moment and consider the possibility that these guys could try to squeeze out something a little more focused, song-oriented and less bent on noise. Really, The Serenity of Suffering is not all that dynamic and often sounds messier than necessary. These tendencies aren’t awful at the beginning of the record, but once one has reached, say, track six or track seven, it wears thin, making the case that maybe one could live more comfortably with Korn EPs or singles than with all these full-blown albums.
What is there, specifically, to recommend? Ray Luzier’s drumming, for one. Kids who are learning that instrument could do worse than take note of his abilities. Davis’s singing, when it’s at its most comprehensible and pure (“Black Is the Soul,” for instance) is pretty awesome and Head and Munky both have the kind of rhythm guitar chops most would kill for. It’s a shame that Korn can’t manage to put them together in a way that doesn’t sound like a blender with a broken blade.