Review Summary: Lost.
Here's some quick trivia to preface what will likely be a painful critique: a labyrinth, unlike some other puzzling formations, features a distinct unicursal pathway slowly winding to the pattern’s centre point. In other words, a labyrinth is not a maze, and this album is, likewise, not amazing. Since I'm personally a long-time fan of Jonathan Davis and his career as the frontman of nu-metal pioneers Korn, I will be forthright with my positive bias here. I went into this album wanting to like it; overestimated what the singles promised; remained optimistic in blissful denial as the increasingly middling snippets piled up prior to release. Unfortunately, it's time to literally face the music and publicly admit that Black Labyrinth
just...isn't very good.
Things certainly kick off innocently enough, all things considered. While the inoffensive opener ‘Underneath My Skin’ isn't anything to write home about, ‘Final Days’ takes some obvious inspiration from Jonathan’s time working on the soundtrack for 2002’s movie adaptation of the Anne Rice novel Queen of the Damned. In particular, the track heavily resembles session B-Side ‘Slept So Long’ with its understated vocal delivery and eerie string presence (talk about a fanboy level deep-cut huh). Following from this pair, ‘Everyone’ introduces a blast of energy to the fold with a vibe not too
dissimilar from something Korn might have produced during a lull in creativity; characteristics which aren't really surprising given that this piece was offered forth as a single. More on that subterfuge later. The remainder of this album, aside from a couple notable standouts, more closely resembles a simple downward spiral than it does an intricate structure of irregular passageways. Everything from this point onwards, up until ‘Basic Needs’, comes across as severely dated and incredibly boring. There's something indescribably fake about the production throughout Black Labyrinth
, and whatever it is screams “early 2000s radio rock” like nothing else can. Everything sounds terribly compressed and cheap, so when JD reports that most of the work presented here has been incubating for over a decade, I can believe it. Studio borne illnesses are far from the only maladies afflicting this release, however. Stale songwriting and (mercifully) brief track durations birth forth mind-numbing verses and uninteresting choruses that repeat all too often, in all too predictable configurations. With such uninspired material to work with, it's difficult to conjure an emotion either side of ambivalent, neither to exalt nor to condemn.
Thankfully, Black Labyrinth
does have its sparse saving graces, and you'll never guess what clues indicate whether or not a track is worthy of attention. “Could it be that, in an attempt to convince audiences early on that Jonathan’s solo material might follow the impressive trajectory of the recently successful Korn albums, the decision was made to releases all Korn-esque tracks as singles, and these happen to broadly correspond as the only worthwhile tracks while also badly representing the remaining material？”, you may inquire, rather accurately, as though providing a rhetorical device designed to make a point. Well the answer is yes, actually. That's about the shape of it. In fact eliminating the singles from the equation leaves almost nothing to be desired, save the likes of ‘What You Believe’ and some moderately interesting exotic instrumentation elsewhere. On the other hand, promotional tool ‘Basic Needs’ offers a healthy use of dynamics and layering, with the potential to illicit something verging on an emotional response, and that's even before addressing the second half which involves a killer Egyptian-sounding instrumental stretch. Lead single ‘What It Is’ could be a spruced-up leftover from Korn’s Untitled
album for all I can tell, and it's by far the best of the bunch here, particularly due to the downright catchy chorus and its willingness to forgo the bland formula seemingly repeated on 3/4ths of this album. Certainly it closes Black Labyrinth
on a much needed high, but it hardly redeems the experience. In the end, I won't pretend to be hurt at having my expectations shattered, and I'm not mad this turned out so underwhelming. I'm just disappointed.