THE SERENITY OF SUFFERING by Korn
Genre: Nu Metal, Alternative Metal
Favorites: “A Different World” (featuring Corey Taylor)
Outside of the Iraq War, there is nothing people regret more about the turn of the century than the huge popularity of nu metal, a vitriol something no musical genre has been able to replicate since. When the biggest bands in the genre (System of a Down and Linkin Park), as well as those who influenced it most (Rage Against The Machine and Faith No More) try to distance themselves from it, no further proof should be needed of how badly nu metal has aged over the past 15 or so years. METEORA was the genre’s swan song, and nu metal bands have scrambled to try and find a new sound for themselves in the aftermath.
Despite being the first real nu metal band, Korn have always been remarkably easy to ignore. They have never been a fiery, can’t-avert-your-eyes trainwreck, and they have never had the fortitude to move beyond the numerous constraints of the nu metal label to create something that still holds up to this day. While Korn have had some sonic experimentation, namely the dubstep-influenced THE PATH OF TOTALITY, their style has remained more consistent than virtually any other nu metal post-2003. THE SERENITY OF SUFFERING is the band’s 12th album, but it’s staggering how much it feels like a debut, and not in the way a debut is an energized, powerful album with a lot to prove. Every aspect of the album’s sound feels stitched together from other, better bands, and all it does is bring to mind other alternative and nu metal acts you could be listening to instead of this homogenous, instantly forgettable mess.
The first order of business is justifying why “A Different World” is my favorite song on the record. Saying that I have a favorite song on THE SERENITY OF SUFFERING is like saying my preferred method of execution is death by firing squad; it may be less painful, but it still ends with my death. For one thing, it features a totally unnecessary Corey Taylor, which allows me to pretend I’m listening to Stone Sour, and not Korn’s lead singer doing a weak impersonation of him. It is also one of the only songs with any sense of eeriness or haunting melody in the verses or the chorus that aren’t nullified completely by laughable “attempting to be sinister and evil” vocals or piles of cliches. Don’t play a drinking game for every alt- and nu metal lyric about “suffering,” “hating,” or “insanity” on this album; you will have more alcohol than water in your body by the end of it.
Despite all the incredibly faint praise I can give “A Different World,” it is still culpable of all the other musical crimes THE SERENITY OF SUFFERING commits. Every song opens with a weak, interchangeable, rudimentary guitar riff and an overly thick, chunky, and prominent bassline that has the same tone through the entire album. The grooves are too slow and sludgy to justify the band’s claims that they are a “funk band,” and none of the instruments are given any time to shine, as the album never sits still and let’s a moment really sit with the audience; it seems like it wants to be done as much as I want it to be
There are some hilarious musical moments, though: The after-chorus of “When You’re Not There” features what sounds like a recording of someone cutting up wood with a handsaw, and turntables on “Next In Line” sound like the squeaking noise created by a squeegee. Not wanting the instrumentation to outdo him in terms of trying too hard to sound edgy, lead singer Jonathan Davis occasionally goes into what I can only call “death metal beat-boxing” that is just as ridiculous as you could imagine. The actual term for it is “scatting,” which only makes my job easier, since the band straight up admits what they are doing is crap.
One of nu metal’s many problems is that it often tries to mix sadness and anger in a toxic way that eliminates the impact either of those emotions can have; for example, Papa Roach’s “Last Resort,” which has suicidal lyrics ripped from a tear-stained diary delivered in a confrontational, aggressive, rap-rock cadence that doesn’t fit at all. THE SERENITY OF SUFFERING suffers from the same problem of mixing vulnerability with rage, ending up as cohesive as water and oil. “A Different World” is a great example; the pre-chorus talks about finding a different world and escaping from someone, but then the chorus butts in like an angry bull and starts yelling for someone to “Feel me, kill me” while Corey Taylor screams “Harder, Harder, Harder!” Rather than feeling like complementary emotions born out of the same tragedy, the sadness and anger end up feeling like polar opposites that Davis switches between at his whim. Some nu metal bands, especially System of a Down and some of Korn’s earliest material, convincingly pull off insanity and emotional chaos, but THE SERENITY OF SUFFERING is filled with so many tired and repetitive lines that it barely has any emotion or meaning to begin with.
There are so many bands that do what Korn does, except way better. If you want a nu metal band focused on groove and riffs, Chevelle is a good choice. If you want ambience and atmosphere, give Deftones a listen. If you want epic rants about insanity and the end of the world, Corey Taylor’s own Stone Sour should do you well. If you want chaos and off-the-wall, zany vocal antics, System of a Down still holds up to this day. Korn don’t sound like veterans; they sound like amateurs attempting to do what their favorite bands have done way better without any of the talent or vision, and SERENITY OF SUFFERING causes way more suffering than serenity as a result.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend