No strangers to criticism for straying off their original musical course, Korn have filled a critical void: Founding guitarist Brian “Head” Welch returned to the band after a five-year hiatus. The band’s 11th studio release, and the first since Welch’s return, The Paradigm Shift is birthed from reconciliation.
While this band of Bako brothers has weathered just about every rock and roll cliché since they started playing together in 1993, this record is, in many ways, a full circle moment. Singer Jonathan Davis delivers on his outstanding commitment to vexing vocals with perfect prose-like choruses and hearty hooks. Welch and fellow guitarist James “Munky” Shaffer have said, “It was like no time had passed” in between records, a phrase well illuminated by their riff-raff on tracks like “Paranoid And Aroused” and “Love And Meth.”
Bassist Reggie “Fieldy” Arvizu has, dare I say it, lost a little bit of luster on this record. Perhaps because his slaphappy playing style is simply not as pronounced as it has been on prior albums, but there’s more bass left to be desired on The Paradigm Shift. That said, the track “Punishment Time” is well orchestrated under the dizzy Korn mantra, and Fieldy’s basslines hit hard and hearty. Even more so, the bassline on “Lullaby For A Sadist” is the perfect cradle for the baby that is Davis’ gutsy lyrics: “You wanted to play the coldness follows/This isn’t a game your life full swallow/And I can’t/Help to smile at your pain/You wanted to play but I already won.”
While Korn have clearly committed to bringing back elements of their earlier, pioneering sound, they do keeps their industrial experiments close in studio. “Victimized” and “It’s All Wrong” call on supportive synthesizers that weave in and out of heavy guitar strings. Drummer Ray Luzier demonstrates his technical talent and flexibility as he transforms drum lines to complement and accentuate the other instruments. He hits heavy on the opening track, “Prey For Me,” which reaps a little like “Beg For Me” off 1999’s Issues. The track is yet another exposé of Davis’ own trials and tribulations: “Prey for me/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.”
The track “What We Do” is an all-encompassing homage to Korn’s “old-school” style that infuses elements of the “new school” industrialism and awkward instrumental manipulation.
The overarching themes that have helped build Korn’s cult-like following are still alive and well, 11 albums later. Somehow Davis manages to take chaos and corruption to an even keel he can croon on. It’s not clear where Davis keeps this treasure trove of lyrics, or how this band keeps rocking 20-plus years later, but Korn’s commitment to innovation, reinvention and maximizing the value of metal music is an accomplishment in itself.