Jonathan Davis – ‘Black Labyrinth’ (Album Review)
Korn were the first band to get me into heavy music. After blowing up in the ‘90s, they paved the way for the djent-embracing pioneers who now represent metal’s cutting edge. While much has been made of Korn’s use of extended-range guitars, it’s important to remember that they’re successful because of their songwriting – and, of course, the idiosyncratic vocal belonging to one Jonathan Davis.
Black Labyrinth has been a long time coming. Davis’ solo creative process kicked into life back in 2007 – and now, eleven years later, the rest of us get to hear what he’s been up to. Early single What It Is – with its core chorus line “I will embrace who I really am” – has backed up its creator’s stated aim to lift listeners into more spiritual and positive states, and Everyone is an epic anti-religion anthem for disenchanted seekers everywhere.
So far, so good.
Those accustomed to Korn’s predilection for balls-to-the-wall heaviness (and unaware of Davis’ affection for post-punk styles such as goth, synthpop, new wave, and New Romantic) may feel uncertain during the opening moments of Underneath My Skin, and will definitely find Final Days a real curveball. The former starts off with some heavily effected clean guitars before switching into filthy, swampy rock backed up by distant synth chords – but Final Days is where Black Labyrinth really gets interesting. It’s an absolutely immense piece of art-pop, combining tribal percussion, what sounds like a didgeridoo or something similar, and multiple layers of additional synths into a lush tapestry over which Jonathan Davis sings…and it just works.
Even the woodwind solo is sick.
Davis’ increasingly trademark swamp-dwelling guitars return for the super-thick Happiness; Your God takes on a moderately funky feel; and Walk On By introduces a syncopated Korn-esque riff before leading the listener through a series of loud and soft sections in now-classic rock style. Although The Secret feels like a musical weak spot, its lyrics are no less heartbreaking for it; Basic Needs sees Jonathan Davis return to form, throwing more exotic instruments into the bridge of an up-to-that-point standard rock structure; and Medicate gets back into post-punk territory, its title speaking for itself. Over and over again, Black Labyrinth just keeps delivering.
This album’s second below-par point (Please Tell Me) comes and goes before What You Believe becomes an obvious highlight. Its chorus is fucking awesome, and although the verses may be an acquired taste at first, once you get into it you’ll be happy pressing repeat more than a few times. Serious NIN vibes there too.
This brings us to penultimate track Gender (a disturbing song that may or may not reflect Davis’ interest in serial killers) and What It Is, which ends Black Labyrinth on a high. This is a damn near perfect album, and What It Is is Jonathan Davis’s solo crown jewel. It’s on repeat as I sign off, and it’s going to remain there for a long time to come.
LTK RATING: 98% (Essential Listening!)
Black Labyrinth drops May 25, and can be pre-ordered on iTunes.
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