Jonathan Davis

Black Labyrinth

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In 2007, following the release of Korn's untitled eighth album, frontman Jonathan Davis ventured outside the band to take his tentative first steps as a solo artist. Along with the SFA ("Simply Fucking Amazings"), Davis embarked on a tour that resulted in a pair of live recordings, which comprised mostly Korn covers and Davis' soundtrack compositions. A decade and four Korn albums later, Davis finally delivered on the initial promise of that solo outing with his official debut, Black Labyrinth. Resurrecting early SFA songs like "Final Days," "Happiness," "Basic Needs," "Medicate," and "Gender," Davis and original SFA players -- Miles Mosley (bass), Zac Baird (keyboards), Shenkar (violin/vocals), and Korn drummer Ray Luzier -- join guests like Wes Borland (guitar) and songwriters Lauren Christy and Gary Clark, creating a palpable collaborative energy that results in a fresh enough perspective to distance this project from Korn. Of course, with Davis' unmistakable voice and dramatic lyrics, comparisons may come easy, as if the songs from Black Labyrinth were rare B-side oddities from scrapped Korn sessions. However, after hearing the tablas, duduk, and sitar that pop up throughout the album, listeners will recognize that Davis is attempting something spawned from his own realm. Journeying into that titular maze where his darkest thoughts and predilections lurk, the only thing scary about Black Labyrinth is that it abandons the lurching and muscular creep of Korn in favor of catchy pop hooks and instrumental surprises, and dabbles in post-punk, new wave, and world music. Kicking off with unexpected brightness, "Underneath My Skin" breezes forth on a propulsive new wave groove as Davis fights against the decay and rot within. Just as quickly, the riffs fall away to reveal Djivar Gasparyan's floating duduk melody on "Final Days." It's bold and weird, but utterly hypnotic. Elsewhere, Mike Dillon employs a tabla on "Basic Needs" and "Gender," the latter of which also features Davis on the sitar. Of the more familiar moments, "Everyone" and "Happiness" ride straightforward riffs that are buffered by apocalyptic production, while "Walk on By" churns with squiggly funk bass noodling. Additional highlights include the addictive "Your God" and the cavernously creepy "Medicate," both of which sound like Davis fronting late-era Nine Inch Nails. The one misstep on this otherwise engaging surprise is the deranged serial killer fantasy "Gender," which was allegedly inspired by Silence of the Lambs madman Buffalo Bill. As Davis sings "Can I wear your skin?/Can I have it now?" over those tablas and sitar, his love of horror and the grotesque still can't save this song from being uncomfortable and unpleasant. "Gender" aside, Black Labyrinth remains oddly delightful for those who, like Davis, have matured beyond "Freak on a Leash" and engage in music outside of the nu-metal genre. Tapping into the un-Korn, Davis flexes his creativity with this often indulgent but nonetheless interesting exercise. Emotionally effective but quite different from anything he's done prior, it's an endearing, rewarding peek into Davis' interests outside of his day job.

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