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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.
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.
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.
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 f**ked 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.