With their 12th album coming out next week — and guitarist Brian "Head" Welch fully reintegrated into the band — life is better for Korn than it's been for some time.
Which is not to say they've turned into rock's sunshine boys. The Serenity of Suffering continues frontman Jonathan Davis' two-decade tradition of exploring his darker, more agitated emotions.
"It's just, human beings are dark, brother," says Davis.
"There are just things that go on in my life that I need to talk about or I need to purge or get out."
Davis doesn't involve himself in writing the band's music — he never has. That part is left to guitarists Welch and James "Munky" Shaffer, who come up with the basic songs and record the instrumental tracks with bassist Reginald "Fieldy" Arvizu and drummer Ray Luzier. Davis then writes his lyrics and vocal melody around them.
This time out, though, Davis found his part of the bargain tougher to fulfill, more so than on any album since 2002's Untouchables. "There are songs I just wasn't feeling," he says. "I had to fight through the writer's block. It was like, are you really not feeling this? Or are you just being lazy? I had to question myself on all of this shit."
But with an assist from producer Nick Raskulinecz, Davis came through and Korn emerged from the studio with some of the heaviest music of their career.
Opening song "Insane" sets the tone with a vocal roar from Davis, thundering guitar riffs, cackling backing vocals, and enough melody to keep chaos at bay. Rockers "The Hating," "Rotting in Vain," "When You're Not There" and "Everything Falls Apart" also deliver aggression and melody in equal parts. "Black Is the Soul" is more deliberate, even a bit sludgy, but still works.
As pleased as he is with The Serenity of Suffering, Davis is no less happy about life in Korn itself. "The key is everybody's clean," he says. "Honestly, it helps immensely."
To hear Davis tell it, Korn could have easily crashed while the group was still riding the crest of the so-called Nu-Metal trend. Beginning with 1994's platinum-plus self-titled debut album, the band from Bakersfield's first four albums sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. But the mix of sudden success and heavy substance abuse made for a volatile cocktail.
"We were kids when we got signed and we did it up big," says Davis. "We were out of control, and I did it up so big that I only lasted four years before I had to quit — I had to — or die."
Once Davis cleaned up his act, Shaffer began putting his life in order. Welch, when he left the band in 2005, turned to Christianity to help him conquer his addictions, while Arvizu also found a way out of his habits through his faith.
Today, everyone in Korn is far more considerate of one another and the early chemistry of the band has been restored. And for that, Davis is grateful. "When people are fucked up, it gets all weird and crazy and emotional and stupid," he says. "I've seen it happen to tons of bands. We're lucky."