Album Review: Zola Jesus - 'Arkhon'

27 June 2022 | 11:59 am | Guido Farnell

"It is a wild ride."

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The end of a significant long-term relationship is a turning point in many people’s lives that signifies the beginning of a new chapter that can come with a whole lot of grief and emotional turmoil which is often super challenging to navigate. Nika Roza Danilova’s latest Zola Jesus album Arkhon is something of a breakup album that finds her using songwriting and music to work through her feelings and heartbreak. 

Lead single Into The Wild is all about that transition from the world she had built for herself into a largely unknown future that is different to the one she had anticipated. Much of this album is about taking a leap of faith to find what lies in store for her whilst the past tugs at the heartstrings.

Danilova’s introspective musings are set to arrangements that juggle between intense gothic, neoclassical, industrial and pop influences. These tunes tend towards epic anthemic vibes that sweep us up into this wild drama with ease. There are strong pop vibes on many of these tunes, especially evident on Lost and The Fall. This is an unsurprising development as Danilova always seemed to have pop star ambition but in true Zola Jesus style, she approaches the idiom on her own terms, which usually produces interesting results.

The power ballad Desire stands out as it just features Danilova accompanying herself on piano. Loss and anguish are evident but as Danilova sings she connects the concept of desire with the Buddhist notion that desire is the root cause of all evil. In doing this she finds the path forward.  Even so, Danilova proceeds with caution. The dreamy, angelic vocals and luxuriously sweeping synths of Do That Anymore, or more precisely ‘can’t do that anymore’, serve as a reminder to self that backwards parting glances are not allowed. Post-lockdown this is a reminder of all that we took for granted pre-COVID and no longer can. Danilova post-relationship emerges into a new world in much the same way that many are emerging from the chrysalis of lockdown.

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At her most experimental and intense, Sewn offers up a dramatic take on pressing the reset button and starting again. "Carry on / Get wrong / Set it all on fire / Carry on," she howls from within a wild storm of drums and distorted synths. Drummer and percussionist Matt Chamberlain, who was brought in to help Danilova sort out the writer's block she faced when making this album, sets a cracking pace on beats that sound like battling drummers fighting for beat supremacy. It is a wild ride and a personal favourite from this album. Danilova’s gothic imagination ensures Arkhon is a dramatic piece about a romantic breakup but it also works as a metaphor for embracing an uncertain future and dealing with the consequences.