Zola Jesus – ARKHON

The world may have caught up with the darkness of Zola Jesus, but there's a lot more beyond the gothy surface here

Album Review by Lewis Wade | 20 Jun 2022
  • Zola Jesus - Arkhon
Album title: ARKHON
Artist: Zola Jesus
Label: Sacred Bones
Release date: 24 Jun

Named for the Gnostic concept that Gods can be corrupting influences on humanity, and the power of such influences, the latest album from Zola Jesus is a welcome return to the histrionic darkness that Nika Roza Danilova has been mining for over a decade now. Lost is a fantastic opener, with eerie vocals and a beat constructed from feverish breathing. When the actual percussion comes in it's suitably tribal, replete with shakers and background chanting courtesy of a Slovenian folk choir. It's basically the Zola Jesus oeuvre in one song.

Elsewhere, Sewn and Fault have propulsive, heavy drums that bring an industrial edge that Danilova has mostly shed since her early albums. This is probably due to the influence of Randall Dunn, best known for producing drone-doomsters like Sunn O))) and Earth. He helps to provide a more urgent palette that can either frame Danilova's voice, or drown it out, depending on the needs of the moment. Sandwiched between these two songs is Desire, the most unadorned track, held together with just keys and voice, that provides an emotional counterpart to the brute force, showcasing a different way to convey power.

Many songs, like Efemra and Undertow, follow the standard Zola Jesus pattern of atmospheric, reverbed vocals and big, flat drums which keeps the album grounded amid experimental cuts like The Fall – an excellent excursion that starts foreboding, then takes a surprise turn into the club, similar to the best of Darkside. But even a "standard" Zola Jesus song comes with brilliant details that are sometimes missed during a casual listen. For example, the shimmering synths of Into the Wild or the luxuriant strings (courtesy of Louise Woodward) on Dead and Gone that seem a hopeful caveat to the song's overwhelming grief.

Danilova believes that "we are living in arkhonic times", but rather than wallowing in the negative aspects of the world she's taken a musical leap forward, using sonic force to rail against the inertia that can sometimes grip so many of us. An album of just Danilova's entrancing voice would be sufficiently good, but ARKHON shows a restless creativity that warrants all of your attention. Darkness may suffocate on all sides, but there's a sense that there just might be light at the end of the tunnel.

Listen to: Lost, The Fall, Dead and Gone