The title The Paradigm Shift betrays a kind of irony. The album is less a radical change and more a welcome throwback to classic Korn. Furthermore, this new album not only sees the return of prodigal son Brian ‘Head’ Welch to the fold but had the band trekking back to Bakersfield where they plotted their first salvo of creepy harmonics and detuned bass chords all those years ago.
The return of Welch is a welcome event for a band who’ve spent the time since his departure wallowing in the mire of mostly failed electronica experiments and laughable forays into dubstep. The aggression and sheer beefiness of the songs on The Paradigm Shift demonstrate perfectly, that not only was Welch imperative to Korn’s writing and recording process, but without him, the band lose all sight of true North.
A decade removed from the peak of the nu-metal they themselves helped forge, Korn now have an opportunity to give their own take on the sound they were too busy constructing to bother copying. All the tropes of their first five albums – each of them near-flawless permutations of the hard rock that floated around in that listless slice of the ’90s wedged between grunge and Napster – can be found here.
Watch: Korn reunite with Head (Reconciliation documentary clip)
What We Do recalls the energy and cocksureness of the band’s self-titled debut, while Punishment Time bears the almost orchestral, sky-is-falling walls of guitar noise that pervaded sophomore effort Life Is Peachy. Tracks like Prey For Me and Love & Meth, meanwhile, marry the sophisticated, atmospheric, loud-quiet-loud song-smithing of the band’s Follow The Leader and Issues era, with the over-produced sheen of Take a Look in the Mirror and the following, Head-less output.
Unfortunately, the band didn’t learn their lesson the first time and persist in furnishing perfectly good songs with needless electronic boom-bap. Though credit where credit’s due, they’ve managed to restrain themselves enough that echoes of “nu-metal gets drunk and meets drum and bass at a party” a.k.a. 2011’s The Path of Totality don’t compromise the quality of the album as a whole.
Yes, the drum loop on Spike In My Veins will make you cringe and to hear lead single Never Never (arguably the weakest but, of course, most radio-friendly song on the album) you could be forgiven for anticipating 11 more tracks worth of synth noise that sucks even for dubstep. But the boys have kept their penchant for experimentation – a double-edged sword for a band like Korn – mostly sequestered to their pedalboards. And on opener Prey For Me, washboard-like bass synths actually provide a little extra oomph.
Watch: Korn – In The Studio (Reconciliation documentary clip)
The band have also spared fans any Welch proselytising (the guitarist left the band in 2005 to walk the path of eternal light) and frontman Jonathan Davis’ introspective examinations of his own shortcomings remain at the forefront, as in Prey For Me‘s “I think I owe you an apology / Somehow you bring the violence out in me / I’m just a shell of what I used to be / Passion is sometimes a fucked up thing for me”.
Meanwhile Lullaby For A Sadist plays host to more regression, “One, I love hurting you / Two, I love your pain / Three, let’s get together and/ Play the sinner’s game” recalls the band’s twisted but honest take on childhood nursery rhymes found on Shoots and Ladders from their 1994 debut.
The Paradigm Shift is far from a radical change in the basic assumptions that fans make of their beloved nu-metal progenitors. Instead, on their eleventh studio album, Korn have managed to tap into what created those assumptions in the first place and dutifully deliver on every single one. If one were to listen to Follow The Leader before The Paradigm Shift, you’d scarcely notice a difference, and that’s a good thing. Too much change is what messed them up in the first place.
The Paradigm Shift is available now.
Watch: Korn – Writing Sessions (Reconciliation documentary clip)