Twelve albums into a 23-year career, alt-metal bludgeoneers Korn have had more phases than even some fans might remember: dissonance-funk weirdos, unlikely disco-metal boy band, gloom-crunge goths, Matrix-produced noise-dance group, experimental dubstep trailblazers and, at one point, the world’s worst Cameo cover band. With 2013’s The Paradigm Shift and this year’s follow-up The Serenity of Suffering, Korn in 2016 has settled into an uncomfortable comfort zone somewhere between their 1999 and their 2004, the era when “nu-metal” blew up and fizzled and Korn was making music as ugly and imposing as they wanted.
Serenity of Suffering is heavier than Paradigm Shift — and possibly their heaviest album ever thanks to ridiculously downtuned riffs like “A Different World” and “When You’re Not There,” not to mention frontman Jonathan Davis going through real vocal house of horrors that includes lots of manic scatting and death metal growls. But songwriting-wise, it’s mostly turn-of-the-millenium Korn-by-numbers: “Rotting in Vain” is basically 1999’s “Falling Away From Me” grittily rebooted with throat-shredding screams and some gutteral onomotopoeia; “Next In Line” is not to far from that year’s “Make Me Bad” with some frenzied turntable work from C-Minus. And the lyrics on Serenity of Suffering won’t surprise anyone who’s heard at least two Korn songs in the last two decades: “I feel it ripping, I feel it scarring me,” Davis sings in “Take Me.”
Where Suffering really shines is on some truly weird, inventive bridges and codas that switch moods like a DJ flipping the crossfader: “Black is the Soul” turns into a Helmet song for about 22 seconds; “The Hating” ends with Primus-style syncopation and vein popping screams; Corey Taylor from Slipknot breaks up the seasick carnival ride of “A Different World” with some impassioned croon. Branching out, but not too far, Suffering is heavy enough to stand proudly in the Korn kanon, but not daring enough to be much else.