Such is the wearying schedule of nu-metal masters Korn, ‘Black Labyrinth’ has been in the making for a full decade. The debut solo album from iconic, boob-clad-mic wielding frontman Jonathan Davis was started way back in 2007, with the return of Korn dragging him away from the studio and leaving the songs that would become ‘Black Labyrinth’ on the shelf. Digging them back out late last year, he dusted them off for release ten years after those initial studio sessions. It’s a bizarre recording schedule for an equally bizarre record.
Bafflingly, ‘Black Labyrinth’ finds the metal man diving into the deep waters of world music. Instruments from Africa, Japan, India and the Middle East join the sonic caterwauling of the Davis we know, bolstering the pull-the-rug dynamic twists Davis’ day job group are known for. It makes for an interesting listen, at points – ‘Final Days’ is a rich, tabla-infused epic, and a surefire highlight of Davis’ attempts at experimentation.
Some of those attempts are downright cringeworthy, though. ‘Gender’ is a surefire contender for the year’s most teeth-grindingly awful song, as Davis screams about how he wants to wear your skin over a bongo beat that sounds lifted straight from the bedroom of a white dude with dreadlocks, flanked by weed posters. ‘Basic Needs’ is equally grim, a crowbarred in mid-section coming off like a desperate, last ditch attempt at innovation.
Despite all his attempts to diversify, however, ‘Black Labyrinth’’s best moments come when the singer veers closest to his day-job – and therein lies the problem. Davis’ voice is so unmistakable that even the album’s high-points – the Nine Inch Nails-esque industrial clatter of ‘Please Tell Me’; the thundering dent of ‘Everyone’ – sound like highlights of a Korn best-of, rather than the sonic revolution that was promised. Oftentimes, Davis dips his toes into this new realm of instrumentation, only to return to his heavy comfort blanket, twisted riffs drowning out any tentative experiments. You can’t help but wonder just how interesting ‘Black Labyrinth’ could have been if he only dove a little deeper.
Ten years in the making, Davis’ efforts to leave his baggy-trousered, dreadlocked past behind have fallen a little flat. Given a second shot, he might fare a little better – let’s just hope it doesn’t take another decade.