What does Zola Jesus sound like?
Gothic-tinged pop to bring you to a primal state of being once again.
The review of Zola Jesus – Arkhon
Whilst many listeners may find the dark dooming vocals, foreboding drum work and heavy synth quicksand of Zola Jesus to be gloomy, I’d argue with “Arkhon”, there is a lot of light to be found. With each Zola Jesus album there comes a different twist to the music and this time around, there is a dynamism and eerie glory to the music. It is a primal merry-go-round that flips from slow motion to aggressive urgency but the light is almost always there in the darkest of places.
There is a lot going on across an album some will just pigeon easily as goth-pop. In actuality, its probably Zola Jesus’ most expansive album to date. We have symphonic string and brass led tracks like “Dead and Gone” that feel cathartic, expressive and full of love in a way that Bjork has possessed the sound waves. A good drench of reverb and billowing notes can create a huge weight but the vocals carry the emotion perfectly. Then we have the piano and vocal power ballad of “Desire” where Zola Jesus (Nika Roza Danilova) bravely leaves her voice as the main instrument. The wise use of empty space as Danilova powerhouses the choruses leaves you utterly captivated. It isn’t often Nika moves into her higher register but here is a beautiful display of her range.
Whilst there are some beautiful moments in “Arkhon”, the grizzly but expansive synth-driven gothic heaven is still front and centre. Adding a human dynamic and collaborative edge to things, drummer Matt Chamberlain joins to add plenty of flair to the percussion. Whether it is in the ritualistic explosive marches of stunning opener “Lost” or the poppier grooves (but very much not poppier sounds) of “The Fall”, the added flair brings the haunted and echoing synths and vocals extra bounce. One of the best examples of this is in the shape-shifting track “Fault”. It starts out as a drone vocal piece that ramps up into a purging hypnotic chant of “it’s not your fault” as both synth and percussion ramp up like a fighter jet into an explosive finale. Elsewhere, “Undertow” is a sparkling anthemic track where the vocals and drums rhythmically trickle down notes like chasing waterfalls. “Into The Wild” has a dusty and smokey outro like a smashed-up blues bar.
Meanwhile, if you want to veer into chaotic post-rock dirges, the visceral “Sewn” is a cataclysm of noise. I didn’t expect razor screams of guitars and white noise over crazy metal percussion loops and distorted bellows of voices to be such a primal experience. Yes, pretty exists here but this track shows the unhinged exists too. Indeed, closer “Do That Anymore” is a full-on post-punk-styled track and ends the album on a slightly sombre note, as if rallying against change is wearing us all out. I felt (and feel) that deeply. I didn’t expect to be rocking out, but again this album continues to surprise and delight in equal measure.
All these little touches add so much colour and flair to an artist who has seemingly found a new way of integrating new ideas and concepts into their world. Put simply, this is the most immediate Zola Jesus album to date whilst also feeling like a true representation of everything that makes a Zola Jesus album so unique and great. This feels like it should be a breakthrough by accident album because it isn’t chasing a mainstream channel. Many artists, when taking on other ideas, lose what made them unique in the first place. “Arkhon” keeps all integrity whilst enjoying the benefits of diversity too. This will be in my top albums of 2022 without question too. I keep discovering new elements in the mix or nuances to songs upon each listen. I hope this brings more fans to the dark side. There’s plenty of light here really.
Recommended track: Lost
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