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Jonathan Davis - Black Labyrinth (Album Review)

Monday, 04 June 2018 Written by Alec Chillingworth

Photo: J Weiner Photography

Poor AC/DC. Poor Motörhead. Poor…Jason Statham. It’s easy to get typecast. Jonathan Davis has fought against that sort of pigeonholing during the latter half of his career, refusing to be known solely as the frontman of nu-metal legends Korn.

He’s done voice acting. Soundtrack work. Dubstep DJ-ing, with weird contact lenses and all. And now, 24 years since his cry of “Aaaaare yooou ready?” set off a firecracker under popular culture’s backside, Davis has a solo album out.

‘Black Labyrinth’ hides behind no pseudonym, no faceless new bandmates. This record is Davis expressing his love for the esoteric and the vintage, building on the gothic, lovelorn soundscapes Korn started to dip their toes in with ‘See You On The Other Side’ in 2005 and ‘Untitled’ two years later.

And that makes complete sense, seeing as the majority of these songs were completed around a decade ago, and have since been stuck in development hell.

But there’s no Korn template here. Nothing to fall back on. Sure, Davis’s voice is synonymous with the band. But that’s the same story as Mike Patton and Faith No More, Maynard James Keenan and Tool, and Chino Moreno with Deftones, who have all successfully branched out.

As soon as Underneath My Skin’s wistful, echoing guitars chime overhead, Davis pulls you into his Walkman. The cadence, the pacing, the chorus: “Something’s crawling underneath my skin, I fear.”  It's something Robert Smith could use for the Cure’s next album.

In a similar manner, the intro to Basic Needs explores glitchy, synth-driven terrain similar to early Wax Trax! industrial innovators like Front 242 and the adjacent Skinny Puppy. It soon slips into otherworldly, Peter Gabriel territory. But as soon as Davis starts singing – as soon as he unleashes that peculiar, individualistic warble that can only really be him – it leaves straight-up hero worship behind, building with fat keys, and unnerving, escalating violin. It journeys towards an atmosphere, a character – something for Davis to latch onto.

And this is more than just a love letter to the ‘80s. ‘Black Labyrinth’ has Davis slapping tabla all over Final Days, lending it a sense of occasion, of poignancy. Written a decade ago, the lyrics detail the futility of war and frustration at the United States’ consistent quest for military involvement: “We’re living in our final days, we’re bombing all the places left to hide.” Not much has changed in 10 years, eh? Bit depressing.

There’s not a whole lot for Korn fans to chomp into here, and that’s kind of the point. There’s flappy, slappy bass in Walk On By, and Please Tell Me’s squelching, electro stomp makes a mockery of Korn’s (winces) dubstep-flecked material. But to hear Davis conquer so many different territories, from goth to industrial to world music, is a joy. And the fact that it doesn’t sound like absolute shit is a bonus.

Maybe this won’t resonate with anyone outside Davis’s diehard fans. Maybe it’s too insular, too referential to days gone by. But that’s beside the point. ‘Black Labyrinth’ is really catchy. It’s full of musical oddities, and stretches of the imagination you just wouldn’t get from other musicians. It’s ample proof that Davis is capable of not just a career, but an interesting one, away from Korn.

Jonathan Davis Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed June 06 2018 - MANCHESTER Academy
Thu June 07 2018 - LONDON O2 Academy Islington

Click here to compare & buy Jonathan Davis Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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