It seems weird that KORN now carries senior status in the metal scene, but here we are on album eleven, nearly two decades following their crusty and tense self-titled debut. In that time, KORN has partaken quite a journey that has seen them cast as heroes and rogues, depending on whether you carry a metaller-than-thou point-of-view. Say what you will about this band; "Korn" 1994 and their second album, "Life is Peachy" have their place in propagating the return of metal music to America. To certain degrees, the mainstream muscle of "Follow the Leader" and "Issues" helped legitimize heavy music in this country once again, at least from a marketability standpoint.
"The Paradigm Shift" comes on the heels of the dubstep-licked "The Path of Totality" from two years back and with the new album marks the return of estranged guitarist Brian "Head" Welch. If you're expecting KORN to come out with all guns blazing accordingly on "The Paradigm Shift", then you're in for a rude awakening.
Hardly the most urgent album KORN's laid down, "The Paradigm Shift" settles for groove and a direct attack that dips its ladle back into the "Untouchables" and "Take a Look in the Mirror" period of the band, along with a skein tap here and there into "Issues". One might say "The Paradigm Shift" is reflective of the band's tenure in the industry. At least until the seventh track, "Never Never", the album tames down KORN's unhinged animal that's given them primal attraction, so much they flip through their midline playbooks and opt for safe, almost conservative formations halfway through the ride. The brittle opening number "Prey for Me" is as beastly as KORN gets for a while and even that carries a tempered slide instead of the blunt clubbing effect that's been their m.o.
With Head bringing his reborn chi into the band, KORN dumps much of their ferocity and menace, to the point the "Issues" sloppy-kissing cousin "Mass Hysteria" shambles instead of shakes, even with a return of nervous guitar shivers lurking throughout it. The drag to "The Paradigm Shift" is that it carries so much ripeness for a while, many of KORN's fans are wont to go "WTF?" as they likely did an album prior.
There's no fault to KORN tooling with their sound, even to mixed results. "See You on the Other Side" was to the good, while the 2007 self-titled was its bipolar bastard. Yet, "The Paradigm Shift" keeps largely to the cautious side while re-assimilating Head back into their graces. The electronics remain a part of the KORN-scape, but not to the overt measures of "The Path of Totality". "Fieldy" Arvizu's humping bass licks continue to be the dogged backbone of KORN's music and Ray Luzier drives the band as slow or fast as they want, even if "The Paradigm Shift" stays largely at a skulk.
Jonathan Davis has emerged over the years as a legitimate singer after his earlier efforts were more on the agitated and undisciplined side. By now, Davis sounds perfectly controlled, which is good for KORN's future, albeit the band's purists might be pleading for a return of his crunky scats and tortured howls from yesteryear. On "The Paradigm Shift", Davis utilizes hard growls at a premium. Only when he elevates his vocals into a couple of ralphing yelps on "Paranoid and Aroused" does KORN sound like their old selves in full and frankly, "The Paradigm Shift" thus becomes more engaging (if continuously experimental) from this point forward.
The electro vacuum huffing behind the slinking and often uplifting "Never Never" changes "The Paradigm Shift"'s tone dramatically and for the better. If KORN is going to continue exploring new horizons in their future, here's a damned good way to go about it. Utilizing Jonathan Davis' willingness to stay in crooning mode helps them greatly. Supplemented by dreamy backing vocals, "Never Never" only gets ugly on a digitized bridge that checks down the song's primary lilt.
Afterwards, "Punishment Time" lights a gnashing buzz germinated from "Issues" and the first album, only to turn the song's ominous slither on its skull with a gutsy soaring chorus that sounds appositely cheerful. Jonathan Davis waits for the final bars to wreak havoc with his throat, but that brackish verve is undermined by the time the disarming "Lullaby for a Sadist" slips into its deceivingly sedate verses. True to the band's lyrical themes of angst and self-torment, "Lullaby for a Sadist" plays a soothing loft that's brought to cinders with a slow roast as Davis raises the tension level and momentarily peppers a psychosomatic malady into the mix.
"Victimized" employs a digital simulation of conga rolls overtop Ray Luzier's humanized thrusts and Munky, Head and Fieldy's whumping crux. As the murmuring keys flail behind the song's fisting throb, we find KORN not so much at a crossroads in their career, but at a new-is-old rekindling point. The first half of "The Paradigm Shift" putters about through their staple sounds, but all of it seems engineered as a focal point from which to blossom into their new dawn, capitalized by the second half of the album. KORN's haters will hardly be impressed, but if there were any lingering doubts cast by the incredulously-nowhere 2007 self-titled album and their boundary-pushing "The Path of Totality", at least "The Paradigm Shift" answers where the band's looking to go.