Five years on from the release of Okovi and afflicted with devastating creative block, Nika Roza Danilova made the novel decision to invite outside influence to Zola Jesus, inviting Sunn O))) producer Randall Dunn and Fiona Apple collaborator Matt Chamberlain expand her sound across 2022’s Arkhon.
You can taste Danilova’s frustration; Arkhon tells you this in its broad, straightforward lyrics dressed in broad, straightforward gothic imagery (sandwich simple couplets like “When it’s done, do we move on, find someone?”, “Am I wrong to want something more? Am I worthless to block me from care?” between imagistic descriptors you could apply pretty broadly, to wolves/wounds/the nighttime, etc), but that stagnation is mechanically extant, too. ‘The Fall’, the album’s centrepiece, is a beautiful anthem, wide and majestic in its scope – listen to the compelling desperation with which Danilova rushes through the line “When you feel like you, when you feel like you” – but its titular descent runs formulaic, like a taste too rich in the mouth.
There’s pretty much something compellingly beautiful and new on every Arkhon song, in the near-trap of its post-punk beats or the post-industrial sheen that coats everything like a copper patina, but that perpetuity almost feels like treading water. Danilova’s voice is almost there, her ideas are almost there, her sound is almost there. ‘Desire’ is a pretty ballad, and ‘Fault’ is a beautiful piece of art-pop, but these could all be Christina Perri hits if you just reskinned them with an echo-laden, darkwave coating.
Arkhon is not an unenjoyable listen; it’s just expectedly complacent, in opposition to the suggestion of boundary-breaking that the work of Zola Jesus evokes. No other artist is occupying this pop niche, but she hasn’t fully moved in herself.
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