Whilst they were never ranked among my absolute favorite bands—the ones that spoke directly to my teenage depression—Korn were nonetheless part of the soundtrack to my youth, played incessantly on the radio, or on a boombox in the senior lounge. There was something about the dark, suppressed rage (the same rage that would explode later with bands like Slipknot) that spoke to my soul, and told me that I wasn’t alone.
Now, twenty years later, Jonathan Davis has released his first solo album, and there’s still so much to relate to. It’s hard to think that the man who sang Freak on a Leash and Got the Life is now in his late forties and still suffering from the fallout of the abuse and bullying he went through as as child, but it serves as a vivid reminder that there are some things that last a lifetime, and mental illness is one of those things. As he sings on The Secret:
As this life moves on, I can’t hold on
And I feel like I can’t ever get over it
Black Labyrinth is a modern, updated take on the ‘nu-goth’ sound of the nineties, with subtle references to the older bands of the decade before (the opening to Underneath My Skin sounds like something from The Cure’s epic goth outing Disintegration). It’s less heavy than what we’ve come to expect from Korn, although there’s still a good dose of bass and distortion on tracks like Walk On By and What You Believe; it feels, as a solo album should, closer and more intimate, a window into Davis’ soul and the thoughts and tortures of a lifetime.
The album isn’t perfect; its pacing feels a little off, with the slower song Final Days interrupting the opening energy, sandwiched between the catchy chorus of Underneath My Skin and the bouncy hooks of Everyone. Later in the album, the pacing slows again, the latter half lacking some of the high-octane energy of earlier tracks such as Happiness and Your God.
That being said, even at fifty-one minutes long, it doesn’t outstay its welcome. With the exception of Basic Needs, the tracks mostly fly by at under four minutes, and there is enough dynamic versatility to keep the listener’s interest throughout. Decades of compositional experience have helped Davis control the flow of each song, and despite frequently falling back to a similar harmonic pattern, no two songs sound quite alike.
Black Labyrinth is a strong solo debut for a seasoned musician, and has plenty to offer for both the grown-up goths of the nineties and today’s younger generation. If you like Korn, you’ll like Black Labyrinth; but if you’re just a fan of catchy goth rock, there’s plenty to appreciate here as well.