Album Review: Arkhon | Zola Jesus
Zola Jesus departs from the tension of Okovi, the pop nerve of TAIGA, and steps into a world where all pain is soothed and exorcised through renegade, heavenly pieces that feel less gilded and constructed than ever. Zola Jesus is letting go of everything.
'Lost' is where it all starts and it makes sense, for only the lost are completely free of all that bind into the state of 'knowing'. 'Everyone I know is lost, flare gone missing turning dark'. We are called to forsake all that we've got over huge, primal percussion and distorted echoing chants, a travel to a time when humanity was closer to the wilderness. 'And sometimes, don't you bite like a wolf? Bit out of spite but mostly just because you could'. The dramatic keys and bass of ‘The Fall’ combine with a powerful beat into a dance anthem for modern witches. A transcending, pop trip to enjoy under the pitch black sky and the almighty moon. The concept of surrender is exalted in the redemptive 'Undertow' where the message is clear, echoing to eternity 'Take all you know into the undertow, if you let it go it will give you all you want'. For everyone who's learnt that giving over to the flow of life is the only way, Undertow is a Bible. For nothing good comes out of trying to control the parameters outside of us. Even though Danilova's vocal power is crushing as always, her performance feels less commanding than one would expect, making her sound like a prophet, a soft power. 'Into The Wild' explores self-doubt under the veil of a velvet-smooth, delicate expression and a fitting, enchanting instrumental that resembles a night in the woods. Mystical yet human, the track feels like punching our walls of fear as we try to embrace what's truly right for us, regardless of what we've learnt to bare since forever.
Bright, hopeful and cinematic strings and horns announce the dawn of a new day as we are witnessing the artist's inner dialogue before she leaves love behind. 'Dead and Gone' holds the last drops of doubt, the uncertainty before the inevitable course of time is let to do its job, leading us to the next chapter. ‘Dead and Gone’ feels like the sky-high gates of heaven opening before us, illuminating everything with a thick white light, bathing us with our unknown future. On the contrary, the devilish, galloping ‘Sewn’ breeds Ladytron’s nerve in Velocifero with Khan’s otherworldly vocals in her Sexwitch project. Maybe the darkest, most fiery moment in Arkhon, similar to Okovi’s Veka or even Exhumed. This indisputable gem goes among the Sanctum’s top3 together with Undertow. ‘Desire’ comes as fragile and uncovered as open wounds begging for passing time to heal. Shining in its minimalism, this one manages to offer abundant emotion through keys and raw vocals only. Even though, in the case of Danilova, putting the words ‘vocals’ and ‘only’ in the same sentence sounds like a crime. A moment of silence before we move on…
Now, a moment of truth. As a fan since Conatus, I need to admit that I’ve never cried listening to Zola Jesus until…‘Fault’, which single handedly justifies the stage name ‘Jesus’. Zola Jesus is absolving us of our guilt and faulty human nature with her godly sermon piercing through every cell of our bodies as she sings ‘It’s not your fault’. Through her healing, divine tone we are offered the altruistic love, care and forgiveness that only god or a parent can give. If a Day of Reckoning would ever happen, ‘Fault’ would be the soundtrack to the ascension of our souls. Little before the end, the tingling ‘Efemra’ or Εφήμερα in Greek (meaning ephemeral/passing), leaves me with mixed feelings, somewhere between happiness, wonder and confusion while the melancholic ‘Can’t Do That Anymore’ sounds like the most fitting closure for this LP: ‘Chalk it up, we can’t change anything in this damn place’. It’s about accepting that life is life and the world will keep on spinning with or without us. The latest photos by the James Webb telescope, showing creation little after the big bang, come to seal Zola’s statements and all we can do is bow to this random mystery called life and of course to Arkhon which is fighting against Okovi for the throne in Danilova’s discography.
As the owner of the Sanctum I grab my privilege to speak not as the music blogger but as the fan Spyros and the artist, Korfian. Witnessing the art of Zola Jesus for many years, I feel lucky and blessed to have come across her music, proud of her journey and accomplishments. Arkhon is a brave next step that expands her signature sound and reflects her emotional maturity both as a human and an artist. Dear Nika, I can’t thank you enough for being there for me, for awakening Korfian in me, for showing me that it’s ok to create in my own terms. Always remember that your listeners could not be more thankful for living in the era when Zola Jesus is active and blooming. Forever an icon. All the best <3
Enjoy Arkhon here: