With the recent release of new album The Paradigm Shift, Korn is presently experiencing what might be the closest they’ll ever come to a smell-the-roses phase, essentially engendered by previous health scares. The high-octane record is a nervy glimpse into the gates-of-hell headspace uber-grim singer Jonathan Davis has been struggling to navigate his way out of in recent times (as distinct from all the other times) – namely thanks to Xanax addiction (which superseded a 12-year dalliance with Prozac), Xanax detox that indefinitely reassigned his consciousness to somewhere in the vicinity of The Twilight Zone and the stress of having a seriously sick child.
Its completion spells a brighter chapter for all of the band members however, adds Shaffer. “We were all so messed up before. We had to have our drink and our drugs and smoke and whatever it was before we would start even recording. We wasted a lot of time but we had a lot of fun and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
During the songwriting phase, the band collaborated in its Bakersfield studio to assemble some of the most brutal riffage this side of a metal festival curated by The Bandidos. Unlike 2011’s dubstep-happy The Path of Totality, the band toned down the electronic aspect to electro-lite this time around and peppered the record with the digital bells and whistles retrospectively. That approach was complementary, according to Shaffer.
“I definitely prefer interacting with the live drum and somebody actually performing to anything else,” he says. “It just feels like there’s two people and not one guy and a machine.” The live approach was further enhanced by guitarist Brian Welch’s return to studio recording for the first time since 2003’s Look in the Mirror. In the early stages of the songwriting process, Shaffer says the band essentially sat down together and began spawning riffs. It reached a point where they had 10 or 11 songs and more ideas than they knew what to do with. This was when they enlisted the services of producer, Don Gilmore, to help harness their ideas.
“We were just like, ‘This guy is full on into it. He gets it and he understands it. He understands where we are with Brian coming back to the band and where we see ourselves. We wanted to make a record that’s relevant and we wanted to make some songs that are good and that pertain to an album – not just a couple of singles. Because there are so many different personalities in the band, he was really good with delegating and getting people to show up and dealing with our adolescence.”
The band’s 11th album, The Paradigm Shift entered the Billboard 200 at number eight (selling 46,000 copies) , topped the US’s Hard Rock Charts and debuted at number seven on the ARIA charts. Whilst previous album The Path of Totality signalled the band’s much-deeper foray into artificial instrumentation, the latest record is largely meat-and-potatoes Korn, and critically regarded as a return to form.
The band continues to aspire to evolve, however. Shaffer says the metamorphosis they’ve been through over 11 albums has been intrinsic to their survival. “I think it’s part of who we are as creative people,” says Shaffer. “We always want to keep going with experimentation. I think the beauty of it is that you can still have that Korn sound, which is the bass, guitar and vocals (those are the three elements we’ll always retain) but I think as creative people we always need to push ourselves in different directions and step out of our comfort zones. If you don’t step out of your comfort zone and feel a bit squeamish, you’re not really going to make any growth.”
BY JOSHUA JENNINGS