by Kara Kokinos
[three_fourth]Zola Jesus is back to bring subtlety to her anguish, which she has in spades. Joy has no place on Okovi; it’s an open process of grief for others and the self. While there are more than the album’s fair share of beautiful moments – lush reverb is applied to every instrument in excess – the dwelling upon of darkness never feels gratuitous.
The album is a breeding ground for creepy, dripping sounds summoned from the void in conjunction with primal, sometimes frantic drumbeats, Danilova’s choral tone, and strings that act as weapons. The two opening tracks showcase this right off the bat: ‘Doma’ is a primordial church ballad sung delivered by a lost spirit while ‘Exhumed’ presents a frantic, scattered montage of a huntress.
The electronic elements of the album sometimes feel disjointed, either complementing the arrangement by drawing out the lifelessness instilled or, on occasion, falling flat à la the slightly infuriating drumkit on the penultimate track, ‘Remains’. The lyrically dense tracks on the album tend to veer towards the more pop and artificial end of the album’s spectrum, but still incorporate the elements that make the album such a consuming force. ‘Wiseblood’ is a standout track on the album if only as a testament to Danilova’s lyricism, and the song’s chorus takes on new, haunting meaning through the telling of the narrator’s planned demise.
In her description of the process behind Okovi, Nika Roza Danilova delivers a eulogy of sorts to a period of immense pain for herself and people close to her. It’s apt that the project is entitled with the Slavic word for “shackles,” as she explains that, “We’re all shackled to something—to life, to death, to bodies, to minds, to illness, to people, to birthright, to duty. Each of us born with a unique debt, and we have until we die to pay it back. Without this cost, what gives us the right to live? And moreover, what gives us the right to die? Are we really even free to choose?”
‘Siphon’ tells this story best, demanding the presence and continued existence of someone desperate for reprieve. The song itself refuses to fade out, summoning Danilova’s voice to prevent the end of the track.
Danilova is fully able to create the “timeless days” in which she claims to live. Listeners are treated to an immersive experience as well as an opening of the emotional floodgates, which feeds into a loop without cause for alarm or even second thought.