May 21, 2018 Jonathan Davis – Black Labyrinth (Album Review)
You might know him as the rocking bagpiper who fronts some peachy band called KoRn, but Jonathan Davis is a proud freak defying the leash with his solo offering, Black Labyrinth, which is set to arrive May 25, 2018, via Sumerian Records.
If you do not know Jonathan Davis of KoRn, you are not a Rock-n-Roll fan! Recipient of two Grammy Awards and eight-time nominee, with 40-million-plus in worldwide record sales, this man is a pioneer of the Nu Metal sound and is absolutely no stranger to writing, recording, and touring. In fact, his name is emblazoned on a dozen records – ranging from 1994’s explosive, self-titled debut to 2016’s The Serenity of Suffering – with award-winning favorites such as 1998’s Follow the Leader. Having toured the world a zillion-times over with KoRn, Davis, who previously dabbled on the side with such projects as Jonathan Davis and the SFA and Killbot, is now focusing his sonic energies toward some solo endeavors.
A multi-instrumentalist, singer (duh!) and accomplished songwriter, composer, and producer, the Bakersfield, California native began compiling material for this album over a decade ago. Inspired by the Ganzfield Experiment (a parapsychological test for potential ESP capabilities), out-of-body experiences, and hallucinations, Davis wrote and recorded much of the trippy material while on the road, performing a multitude of the collection’s instrumentation for himself.
For long-time fans of the musician’s career, you can consider “System” and “Not Meant For Me” off the Queen of the Damned soundtrack to be a kind of early foreshadowing of what was to come, but Black Labyrinth goes far out into left-field. The thirteen-track collection begins with the rocking “Underneath My Skin,” which starts off with glittering guitars that build into a funky little Grunge-fest that leans more towards a radio-friendly Rock sound than anything we have previously seen from this beloved frontman.
There is a dream-a-daisacal feel to “Final Days,” fraught with World Music beats that weave an attempted seductive allure. Perhaps he will never collaborate with Deep Forest or Engima, but here he authors a spell that dips its little toes into purer mood territory. It is not flawless, but it is certainly inspired! Amping it back up, “Everyone” comes in at a frenetic pace as Davis explores a world that refuses to accept those that are different; the idea that we fear what we do not fully understand. Lyrically, it has been done ad nauseum, but here Davis offers a rocking middle-finger that provides him with sludgy, anthemic sing-along material.
Bluesy guitars start the parade into “Happiness,” a bluesy-Grunge sashay that points the finger at anyone who tears you down and tries to take away your rose-colored world. Next, there is a shift more toward a cleaner Arena Rock sound on “Your God,” a promise that Davis does not want you to worship him, questioning why anyone would want to be blindly idolized. The rocking continues with “Walk On By,” a meandering little stomp that you can feel free to dance to, while power ballad-esque “The Secret” sees Davis trying to soar in a downtempo, heavily atmospheric offering, searching for a word or a prayer to assuage life’s troubles; this is a glimpse into a more candid, more introspective side of the Rock-n-Roll titan.
At over six minutes in length, “Basic Needs” takes the cake for the most epic track of the collection. This downtempo rocker is a bizarre experimentation of Hard Rock that evolves into a Middle Eastern instrumentation jam session that, like the entirety of the collection, is oft anchored in electronic atmospherics. Ultimately, it builds back into multi-layered Rock that allows Davis’ vocals to soar, and, somehow, comes together to weave a perfect representation of what the vocalist is trying to do here on Black Labyrinth; defy logic and create extreme, cross-genre musical mayhem.
A multitude of layers of electronic atmospherics anchor the somber, personal confessions of “Medicate,” which weighs heavily in its catchy, unadulterated honesty. This flows beautifully into quasi-Depeche Mode subtlety on “Please Tell Me,” and it pays off – until the song breaks down into a bass-heavy groove that sounds like the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Flea was accidentally inserted with the push of a faulty button.
Davis snubs his nose at the blind conformity of religion in the dance-y, reverb-heavy “What You Believe,” a strange blend of experimental sounds that sways between muffling the vocals and then cranking them triumphantly. Continuing to explore, the cringe-worthy, sitar-infested “Gender” sees our main man playing with the idea of wearing the skin of another (but thankfully not in an Ed Gein/Leatherface kind of way).
Black Labyrinth comes to its conclusion with “What It Is” – Davis trying to make peace with who he is, learning to live with the “virus of the human race” – a kind of gritty, hard rocking “Let It Be,” if you will. Thus, we close out the collection with Davis admitting that even he, a true Rock-n-Roll icon, struggles to find himself in the madness of this crazy, crazy world.
Thus, this collection sees Jonathan Davis trying to (musically) break free of the confining, glass enclosure of his KoRn fame. Admittedly, that is an applause-worthy endeavor, one that sees the vocalist straying into entirely new territory, exploring Middle Eastern-influences and kinder, gentler sounds all steeped in heavy electronics. Of course, human nature is what it is, and fans will forever connect Davis’ signature growl with the band that they have known and loved for the past twenty-five years.
So, here is the honest truth: Black Labyrinth is a polarizing album that some fans will ‘get’ while others never will, but it definitely takes several listens to grasp what Davis is trying to do here. On the disc, he aims for extreme genre-bending creative mayhem that explodes without being necessarily explosive. He is candid, confessional, and he never rests on his laurels which, you have to admit, is something to admire. Whatever the case, there are both hits and misses on Black Labyrinth, but you have to appreciate the fact that Jonathan Davis, of all people, was willing to cast the net so wide. Appreciating this candid journey but still a little mind-boggled, CrypticRock gives Jonathan Davis’ Black Labyrinth 3 of 5 stars.