Nu-metal has been much maligned in recent years, more than any other genre it seems to be defined by its worst offenders rather than its shining lights. When viewed through this prism it’s easy to forget how seismic Korn were when they arrived on the scene. Thrash had lost its edge, the ‘hair’ bands were ditching the make up and going grunge, and - Pantera aside - very few heavy bands were making any waves commercially.
Korn changed the entire landscape and ushered in the last great era of metal as a genre with mass mainstream appeal. Without them there would be no System of a Down, no Linkin Park, and yes also none of the slew of dreadful nu-metal bands that followed, chasing the almighty dollar.
And therein lies the reason that Jonathan Davis’ first solo effort is released not to a great fanfare but to a disappointing level of ambivalence - see his relatively low status on the Download second stage as proof of this. It is a great shame though because this is a startlingly good album, and deserves to be heard by as broad a spectrum of people as possible.
While his voice is unmistakable throughout - that blend of anger and tortured vulnerability that created a cluster of imitators - he rarely breaks out into full-blooded screams, however it is the music, all written and recorded by Davis himself, that truly sets this apart from his day job. There is shimmer to the production that gives the whole thing a pop sheen, delicate keyboards often cutting through the guitars. On ‘Basic Needs’ he adds some eastern mysticism halfway through, and while that sounds like it should be awful, somehow he blends it seamlessly into the song. Such eclecticism shouldn’t come as a surprise though - Davis is a man who played bagpipes all over the first Korn album after all.
Much of Korn’s low-end crunch is gone but Black Labyrinth remains a heavy record, albeit with a more gothic electro vibe than his previous work. Often the power comes from his voice and the inherent darkness within his lyrics. Davis is still a man fighting his demons as evidenced by tracks such as the sumptuous ‘Medicate’ and forceful opener ‘Underneath My Skin’. There are elements of industrial too, most notably on ‘What You Believe’, although he combines it with some tribal drumming that wouldn’t sound out of place on a System of a Down album and a chorus that hints at Depeche Mode’s dark wave sound. There are so many elements at play throughout and yet the whole thing remains coherent and cohesive.
Davis describes this as his “masterpiece, so far” and while that’s debatable - the album has a couple too many tracks and ‘Gender’ in particular sounds like a crass re-working of Silence of the Lambs - it is undeniable that this is a very worthy addition to Davis’ canon. It is enough of a step away from Korn to make it stand out but not so far removed as to alienate his fan base. It will also hopefully draw in a few people who may have dismissed his previous work or have drifted away as Korn have fallen out of favour.
He may not be able to rewrite nu-metal’s standing in the heavy metal history books but Black Labyrinth hints that the future for Jonathan Davis is very bright indeed, and hopefully secures his legacy as one of metal’s true originals.
Underneath My Skin
Walk On By
Please Tell Me
What You Believe
What It Is
Black Labyrinth is released on the 25th May, Pre-order it here: http://shop.artistarena.com/artists-1/jonathan-davis.html?cat=77535
Find out more from Jonathan Davis at https://www.facebook.com/TheRealJonathanDavis/