Let’s get one point out of the way: “The Serenity of Suffering,” Korn’s 12th album is the band’s strongest and most confident release in years.
From the one-two-three KO of the album’s opening tracks — “Insane,””Rotting in Vain” and “Black is the Soul” — it’s clear the band has rediscovered its stride, an assurance that makes 2013’s “The Paradigm Shift” sound almost tentative.
Despite the title, the results are far from somber. Each track is powerful with detuned-through-the-floor guitar riffs and arena-ready choruses that are almost pretty at times.
Even though every band member is in his forties, the guys maneuver through each track with the boldness and ferocity of younger musicians with something to prove, especially to the new generations they themselves inspired.
Drummer Ray Luzier’s drum parts, especially his insane 16th-note triplet drum work on “Next in Line,” and the ludicrous fills in “Out of You” — good Lord, the last one! — dive headlong into fusion territory. Scary.
The whole album is a treat for drummers who want a primer on how to play solid and fearlessly. With his splash cymbal work and unpredictability, Luzier is the closest thing metal has to Stewart Copeland of the Police.
Some other standouts are the spooky “The Hating,” “Die Yet Another Night,” whose main guitar riff is reminiscent of Goblin’s score for the horror movie “Suspiria,” and “Baby,” a throwback to the effect-driven chirp and squeak guitar work that Korn pioneered on the band’s first three albums. Heck, there’s even some turntable work in the song “Next in Line,” courtesy of Bakersfield’s own C-Minus.
But the most unique song, thematically and sonically, is “Take Me,” sung from the point of view of the drug to its user. It’s an inspired, stylistic move that proves this band isn’t finished innovating.
Producer Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Ghost) works with all the sludge and fury of each song, miraculously balancing each element and wisely emphasizing the basics — vocals, guitars, drums. He leaves the ear candy just under the surface and provides the framework for the album’s aural cohesion.
Korn follows a formula perfected on “The Paradigm Shift” — riff/verse/huge chorus/repeat — but the new material is augmented with crazy breakdowns and unpredictable, experimental endings that incorporate wacky changes in tempo, key and feel.
Davis’ voice is the strongest it’s ever been, especially on “Rotting in Vain,” and the album is a return to the double-headed guitar juggernaut of Brian “Head” Welch and James “Munky” Shaffer. Even Reggie “Fieldy” Arvizu’s bass-playing is on full display.
The most powerful takeaway: This band has turned into a band again.
With “The Paradigm Shift,” the hometown heroes were finding their way after the return of Welch. But following three solid years of playing together, the band members are back in sync.
At 14 songs, “Serenity” could have used some whittling down, but fans might quibble, especially considering the band’s return to form
Nearly 20 years after the breakthrough “Follow the Leader,” Korn isn’t likely to make the same impact. But who cares?
Right now, there is no band in the world that does what Korn does.