When original guitarist Brian “Head” Welch quit the band in 2005, Korn suddenly found themselves without one of the most powerful and important components of their unique style, one that, for better or worse, ushered in an entirely new genre of metal. James “Munky” Shaffer is an extremely talented guitarist in his own right, but the dynamics of the Korn sound were dramatically altered. The band carried on in the direction they had been heading in since the late 1990s, but after the departure of another original member (drummer David Silveria) and the diminishing returns yielded by their cleverly untitled 2007 album, Korn decided to shake things up. They went back to their roots on 'Korn III: Remember Who You Are,' but it just wasn’t the same without Head. Perhaps realizing this, they then recorded the very experimental nu metal-dubstep hybrid 'The Path to Totality' (read my review of the album here), a gutsy move that no doubt estranged a good portion of their fanbase.
Gradually over the past few years, however, Korn and Head ended their feud, and the guitarist was welcomed back to the fold with open arms by the band and the fans. Korn immediately hit the road, including a stop at Columbus’ Rock On The Range festival four months ago (read my review of their set here), and soon announced that Head would be in the studio when the band recorded a new album.
However, those expecting that Head’s reinstatement would herald a return to Korn’s funky yet aggressive downtuned sound will be sorely disappointed. In a statement to the press, Munky said, "The new music is inspired by our 'Issues' album, or even 'Untouchables.'" The band’s also evidently not done with their dubstep experimentation because there is still a heavy electronic presence on Korn’s eleventh studio album, 'The Paradigm Shift.' Indeed, like the previous album, 'The Paradigm Shift' features guest appearances by several big names in the dubstep genre, from Sluggo to Noisia, the latter of whom also worked on 'The Path to Totality.' The first single, “Never Never,” is so laden with electronics that it sounds like an unused track from 'Totality.' The song is also surprisingly lacking in the rocking department: this is definitely the most mainstream single Korn has ever released.
Still, as heavy as the dubstep presence is on 'The Paradigm Shift,' it’s not as upfront and in your face as it was on 'The Path to Totality.' The electronics, for the most part, take a back seat to the restored dual guitar attack of Head and Munky. “Prey for Me” kicks off the album with a textbook heavy Korn riff from the old days, followed by one of Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu’s signature rumbling, clicky bass lines. It’s a monster of a song and a powerful introduction to the “new” Korn. “Love & Meth” follows, and it’s another heavy number, albeit very melodic in parts. This is one of Head’s contributions to the album, and a reminder that his presence has indeed been missed.
But for every time the album gets heavy, like the monster “Paranoid and Aroused,” it also gets bogged down in mainstream radio conventions. Almost every song on 'The Paradigm Shift' utilizes a standard verse-bridge-chorus structure. While almost every individual song has its unique charms, the album taken as a whole has a rather predictable, formulaic feel. Much of the blame must go to producer Don Gilmore, who has given other bands such as Linkin Park a similar pop-friendly sound. This mainstream sheen applied to 'The Paradigm Shift' does make it a little difficult to appreciate Head’s return to the fold.
The worst song here is one that most Korn fans hoped they’d never record: a power ballad. Of all the failings of nu metal – and there are legion – at least it’s not teeming with power ballads. The track “Lullaby for a Sadist” is pretty damn close to one though. Even worse, while listening to the lullaby-styled chorus, one can’t help but think of the track “Shoots and Ladders” from Korn’s phenomenal debut album. This new track pales so badly in comparison that calling it a shadow of “Shoots and Ladders” is too kind a compliment. The bizarre noises vocalist Jonathan Davis makes at the end of the song don’t help either: it sounds like someone broke into the studio while he was recording vocals and tried to strangle him.
Overall, however, 'The Paradigm Shift' is a pretty solid release, and should placate most Korn fans, although I suspect the vast majority of them were hoping for a return to the raw, aggressive style of metal the band played before Head quit. There are moments of brilliance here, and Head’s return is definitely appreciated, but let’s hope that this album ultimately becomes a successful transition from the band’s foray into dubstep back to the big swinging metallic grooves they perfected during Head’s first tenure.