Album Review: Jonathan Davis – Black Labyrinth – May 2018

You can boil down most of the songs on the album into two main themes. One is the struggle of dealing with mental illness, and the journey to find growth and peace through it. The other is Davis-Typical cynicism towards organized religion. ‘Final Days’ uses Middle Eastern instruments to evoke the feeling of ancient civilization and reminds us that we’re bombing some of the spots that were the birthplaces of humanity, inspired by the invasion of Iraq. But then it leads into ‘Everyone’, a bit heavier/angrier about not fitting in the with the church.

It comes up again in both ‘Your God’ and ‘What You Believe’, which really strike that vibe I love of being catchy and thumpy and pissed off in this excellent blend that JD’s always been good at. ‘Your God’ starts off chaotic and leads into Jonathan just belting it the fuck out in the chorus, and it’s exactly what I want to hear from him. (Give us all a few days to learn the lyrics so we can scream along.)  Korn sometimes feels like a mixed bag where you don’t know if you’re gonna get a catchy fun jam or an emotional tribute to JD’s mental illness, and they balance each other quite well, as they do on Black Labyrinth. ‘Your God’ is definitely one of those fun songs that you want to crank out of your car or jump up and down to.

We’re all too happy, too excited. The love and support for JD is an undercurrent that we’re all sharing, so ‘Basic Needs’ feels like a time for chillout grooving, and it won’t be until I listen to it closer again at home, by myself, that it will really destroy me.

It’s so different from a run-of-the-mill love song–not just that it’s about more than romantic love, inclusive of those close to you, but also that it’s built with the context of his sons and family being a balm for this thing he’s suffering from.

I may not act like I’m torn apart, but blood don’t look deep red when the dark surrounds me, he croons.  Softly, tenderly. I maybe frozen numb from the fight, the pain belongs to me but your love surrounds me.

‘Basic Needs’ is another moment that bridges this feeling of familiarity for having JD in my life for the past nineteen years. Korn felt relevant to me as a teenager because I was a weird kid, and I was bullied in school, and I constantly felt alienated. But then this new album feels just as relevant to me as a thirty-year-old, struggling with my own mental illness, learning what’s important, the lesson of surrounding myself with supportive people who really matter. JD has aged well as a musician because he stays real with us, and these feelings are authentic.

On a less emotionally eviscerating note, this is another moment of prominent QOTD noise, with more Shenkar and Mike Dillon on the tabla. It’s the longest song on the album (yaaaass! Long songs, my fav!) and it has a few different pieces and parts that blend together. It starts quiet, building into the heavy chorus, dropping into the trippy Indian interlude, then finally bringing it all together for the climactic ending. It’s one of my favorite moments on the album.

The frenetic Shenkar strings crash and calm down into ‘Medicate’, with soft, synthy music, perhaps tapping into the sleepy, relaxed feeling of being drugged. It would be easy and edgy and trendy to make it a condemnation of that feeling, as media so often does, and the song on its own merits might be neutral on the issue. He doesn’t necessarily say point blank that medication is good, though he does talk about it in a context of making the pain stop, but as a larger picture with the rest of the album and JD’s very vocal stance on being pro-treatment, I think it serves more as an ode to self care and destigmatizing mental illness.

I’m not crying! You’re crying!

Of course, the larger picture is also set by the closing track, ‘What It Is’.  Now, there are some other outliers on the album, and I’ve skipped around the track order to talk about it in terms of themes. Like ‘The Secret’, featuring Prince-Inspired Linn drums, or ‘Gender’, a weird juxtaposition of the lightest sound with the darkest lyrics! Still strong tracks that maybe don’t fit into the main themes I’ve decided to talk about, and you’ll have to forgive me. Because honestly we’ll be here all damn day if I talk about EVERY track. So let’s skip to the end.

We’ve spent the last forty-six minutes listening to songs that are some mix of raw confessions of anxiety and depression with anger for the status quo of society at large and how shitty it can feel to be othered. So closing on this note, not just as a standalone but as a finale to everything he’s just put us through, makes it such a better song and really nails in the message:

Growth is possible. You will be okay. It will get better.

But I will embrace who I really am, if it’s a son of a bitch or a terrified kid, then that’s what it is.

Jonathan, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t murder me like this, thanks.

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