The first note of Zola Jesus' new album 'Okovi' (which translates to 'shackles' in most Slavik languages) is ambiguous. It's filled with a breath of life, and the last breath into death. Indeed, this is the tug that Zola finds herself between, as she's shackled in a purgatory between the pull of life, and the push of death.
First track 'Doma' gives minimal indication to the environment that's about to take form. Zola's electro-inflected Gregorian chant is almost singular in its insistence. It is of itself, with nothing but stinging synths that dart out horizontally to suggest the mood.
Then: 'Exhumed' demands our attention. It rattles our anxieties as drums beat at the pace of a heart under attack, and strings palpitate furiously. The track invites a horror film to flicker behind the lids of our eyes: someone is behind that door, someone is coming to get me...
Resisting the push, 'Okovi' engenders life (that filmiest of screens); rather than invoking any sense of the 'beyond'. Life is invigorated and charged through the blood stream, particularly on track 'Wiseblood', which sees Zola droning: "If it doesn't make you wiser, doesn't make you stronger, doesn't make you live a little bit/what are you doing?" The listener remains rooted in life, since Zola's voice never floats alongside the heaven of the strings, but allows the song to plummet somewhere just north of hell. The industrial beats prevent the feeling of boundlessness, as it glitches with imperfection and incompleteness.
The closest we should get to a feeling of limitlessness is on 'Half Life', where a puritan voice flies somewhere over or under an organ. But it is submerged – tackled down by the sound itself, as it flaps feverishly while in its tether. The production is absolutely masterful. The conviction is assured; the weightiest of subjects: that of 'life' and 'death' are tackled and shackled by Zola expertly.
Words: Emma Madden
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