This article originally appeared in The Skinny
Death, in all of its many guises, has stalked Nika Roza Danilova for over a year. She moved back to the woods in Wisconsin where she was raised, only to find that those closest to her were either trying to cling to life, or let it slip from their grasp. Her latest album as Zola Jesus therefore meditates on both the living and the dead; even its title, Okovi, is Slavic for “shackles,” referencing the idea of being unwillingly tied to life.
It’s entirely unsurprising then that this is probably also Danilova’s most musically crushing record. Quite far from the pop manoeuvres that characterised her last album Taiga, Okovi is laden with industrial beats, heart-pounding bass and doom-laden synths, all of which weave around Danilova’s already intense vocals. There’s some occasional breathing room, such as on the orchestral Witness, but the overall atmosphere is one of morbidity. This extends to Danilova’s words too, where she ponders loss, grief, reconciliation and more. Even Remains, with its pulsating, dance-driven beats, provides a meditation on the nature of legacy, and what we leave behind after we draw our last breath.
Dripping in catharsis that seems to pour straight from Danilova’s soul, Okovi is rarely an easy listen, even when it’s at its most accessible. But it’s also profound, and Zola Jesus’ most emotionally stirring record to date.