Korn
Sebastien Paquet

"We didn't calm down; it's only the destructive part we stopped," says guitarist Brian "Head" Welch, who returned to the fold last year

Brian "Head" Welch says it feels good to be back in Korn. But his return didn't come easy. The guitarist left the group in 2005, after 12 years and seven albums, and still calls his departure a matter of personal survival.

"Ever since I've known these guys we have been just getting into trouble, and then we got successful and got into trouble while we were making a great living and becoming rich and famous," Head tells Billboard. "I couldn't be around people killing themselves anymore. As far as people doing cocaine or just drinking themselves into a crazy alcoholic and watching people's lives slip away, I can't be around that. It was really dysfunctional and unhealthy, so I just needed to get away from that."

Head reconciled with the other members of Korn during a guest appearance onstage in May of 2012, and the response -- from fans, family and even other bands, he says -- "was so strong that it as like, 'This has got to be meant to be' and they asked me to do an album with them and that was it. It's cool to see these guys were working on their lives while I was away from the band, getting their stuff straight, too."

Head says the resulting album, "The Paradigm Shift" -- which debuts atop the Hard Rock Albums chart and at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 with 46,000 (the band's 12th top 10) -- was the result of a different kind of head-butting, a creative collision of sensibilities that he found enjoyable as well as challenging. 

"We wanted it to sound familiar but like the future at the same time," he explains. "I wanted to do a full-on rock record, 'cause I'm a metalhead. But then Jonathan (Davis) and the producer (Don Gilmore) and the guys wanted to have a really fresh sound, so we were talking about doing it a little bit sprinkled with electronic and some really cool new sounds to make it sound 2013. We didn't want to just go backwards and do an old Korn album. We wanted it to be fresh, and I think we accomplished exactly what our hearts wanted to do."

A case in point, he adds, is the set's charged first single "Never Never," which hit the Top 5 on the Active Rock, Mainstream Rock and Heritage Rock charts -- although it wasn't initially a slam-dunk to make the final cut. 

"When I heard it we were like,'Oh, that's pretty cool, but I don't know if it's something we're going for on this thing," Head says. "Even (Gilmore) was like, 'Yeah, I don't know if it's gonna be a contender, but let's see.' Then, as we were packing up and getting ready to leave, Ray (Luzier) was like, 'Shouldn't we lay drums on that one song Jonathan did, just in case?' and the producer's like, 'I don't think we need to, but if you want to just to have it, we could.' So they threw the drums down and Jonathan and Don Gilmore went to work on the vocals and, boom, when the vocals were there it was like, 'Oh, wow, this could be a really cool song,' and now it's the first single." 

Korn is in the midst of a North American tour -- with Head's Love and Death opening some shows -- and will spend November on the road with Rob Zombie. The group also plays the Monsters of Rock festival Oct. 19 in Brazil and will be part of Australia's Soundwave Festival tour during late February and early March. And Head says that despite all the talk of sobriety Korn has not become "these boring, old, 12-step program, 'Hi, I'm this guy and I'm an alcoholic,' 'I'm a drug addict. We're still crazy. We still are just funny, crazy, goofy dudes. We didn't calm down; it's only the destructive part we stopped. It seems like we've been given another chance to live and breathe and really appreciate and be so thankful for what we do. And we feel like we can deliver to the rock world what people are waiting to hear from Korn, finally. We're so pumped up about this record, and the songs (in concert) are just blowing up. It's a totally new fire."