“Okovi” is the sixth studio album for Zola Jesus which comes three years after “Taiga” (Mute Records), the record returns among the ranks of the Russian-US artist’s debut label Sacred Bones Records. Similar to the previous “Conatus” (2011) and the 2010 EP “Stridulum” (the covers are almost identical), the singer’s latest effort re-composes the sound of the debut records, mixed with the eloquent technique learned in the last few months of her career. The results are poetically brutal.
It begins with “Doma“, which opens to dense and choral Bulgarian echoes, a raw piece in its striking structure, a spiraliform exorcism to let the suffering lift up and rise out of the body, abandoning it and breaking the insidious chains that are right the title – and the cursed heart – of the album. The voice is obscure, embedded in a venerable echo that moves. But ethereal immateriality vanishes very soon: with “Exhumed” the atmosphere is acidic, embittering the sound and rendering it Gothic in the unintelligible and ambiguous nuances, similar to the most experimental Paramore and Evanescence with their best intentions.
The vanishing point is a magnificent absence of preeminence of one element over the other: music and lyrics are committed to the intention to unpaginate the theatricality of living, bringing to the surface all the cathartic debris that deteriorate and suffocate – like an implacable sieve. While enjoying and harnessing the soul of the listener, the melodies are certainly not a “sweetness for the soul and refreshment for the body“: it is about suicide, never veiled, never literal, in the wonderful “Soak” (Take me to the water /I am not free but I am sorry, I am stone /You should know I would never let you down/ I would never let you drown,) recalls Virginia Woolf, the epilogue that lifted the skin in the same way.
In” Ash to bone“, however, there is the separation and the resumption (almost synonyms of the ‘death -rebirth’ union), a mosaic of feelings that find a lyrical, tormenting expression in the current post-ambient, that harkens back to the airy “Witness“, a “monstrum” of patheticness, so intense, to move the knife away from the voracious and irreparable wounds of the soul. She nods to “Stonemilker” by Bjork and the “Aleppo” consolation by Kàryyn, but with immense personality. Her emancipation is eager, hovering between Grouper and Brian Eno (“NMO“). “Siphon” demonstrates this for the umpteenth time, in which the omnipresent theme of trauma returns, of inner demons (other than festive Lenny!) and “Veka“, impetuous to shatter the deformed and creepy covering of pain, which is explored boldly. At some point it seems that Grimes echoes in the air, but Kate Bush of “Leave it open,” or the most elusive Lydia Lunch can also be perceived. The scenery, passing from one art to another, is that of the crows of Maruyama Ōkyo: a perfectly asymmetrical desolation.
Listening to “Wiseblood,” we can safely say that Khalil Gibran was wrong, in asserting that the musician can only sing the melody without even giving us the ear that fixes the rhythm, nor the echo that refers to the sound: Zola Jesus gives all the uniqueness of the experience of a painful ecstasy, an emotional labour that, at the end of the race, has made the listener more complete.
During Attis’s celebrations, associated with the mysteries of Cybele, the priest, followed by the crowd, mutilated himself to sprinkle his own blood. Zola Jesus, centuries later, retraces the same solemn way by offering her Art as the main path for liberation. And we, shaken and perturbed by her talent, bow to her. Listen to us, or Zola.
1. Doma 02:14
2. Exhumed 03:45
3. Soak 03:57
4. Ash to Bone 02:07
5. Witness 04:01
6. Siphon 03:49
7. Veka 05:13
8. Wiseblood 04:38
9. NMO 00:56
10. Remains 04:26
11. Half Life 04:49