REVIEW: "Black Labyrinth" By Jonathan Davis
Gothic Rock/Alternative Rock/Sumerian Records/Released May 25, 2018
There's been speculation on the release of a Jonathan Davis solo album for over a decade. And now we finally have it in Davis' debut solo LP Black Labyrinth. Thankfully, it follows rule one for a frontman's solo project: don't sound like your main band. The only similarities Black Labyrinth holds with Korn's work is Davis' voice, a dark vibe, a love of vocal hooks, and performances from Korn drummer Ray Luzier and longtime Korn collaborator Zac Baird on keys.
For fans familiar with Davis' influences, the style of the record won't be overly surprising. Separate from the heavy style of Korn, Davis is free to explore the gothic and new wave sounds he grew up on. Black Labyrinth holds strongly to a dark melodic atmosphere that at its heaviest would only be considered heavy alternative rock. It never goes to the level of aggression found in Korn outside of fourth track "Happiness". The only track that features Davis' growled vocals.
The album surprisingly kicks things off with one of the more mellow tracks in "Underneath My Skin". A track focused around clean, atmospheric guitars, distorted bass, synths, and great percussive work courtesy of Ray Luzier. Despite Davis' usual pained lyrics, the track has a more upbeat and "happy" feel than most of the singer's work. An even bigger surprise comes in the folllowing track "Final Days". Another mellow track, this one is focused around tribal percussion and Middle Eastern instruments such as sitar and the duduk woodwind instrument. It's very different and psychedelic sounding and has a world music vibe to it. These opening tracks swiftly establish that the album will be different from Jonathan Davis' usual output.
After getting those two tracks out of the way the middle of the album focuses on more rock-leaning songs that can appeal easier to Davis' longtime fan base. While these tracks do contain distorted guitar, it's more a subtle underpinning than the driving force. Rather it's Davis vocal melodies at the center with the keys and drumming being the memorable instrumentation on each song. Luzier's percussion is a big part of what makes the album great. With the more spacey nature of the other instruments Luzier has free reign on what he can do drum-wise. The result is a drum performance that surpasses a lot of his work with Korn and gives a lot of the album it's unique flavor.
The last section of the album has more ballad like tracks. Songs like "Basic Needs", "Medicate", and "Please Tell Me" drop the live rock percussion in exchange for electronic drums and more tribal sounding work. This percussive approach and Davis' unique voice and songwriting give these songs a more interesting feel than your usual ballad. Along with Zac Baird's keyboard work the experimentation keeps you hooked rather than alienating the listener.
Black Labyrinth is a highly entertaining album. Having had nearly a decade to write and perfect these songs, Jonathan Davis is able to showcase another side of his musical artistry with quality execution. Despite all the experimentation and ventures into new musical territory there is nary a weak track on the record. While it may be a bit soft for Korn fans, the familiarity of Davis' voice helps ease listeners into the new sound. And even if the psychedelic tracks aren't to taste, the more energetic rock section of the record has enough in common with Davis' Korn material to find fans. Hopefully Davis can find time to continue his solo efforts because Black Labyrinth has made for a strong first impression.