There isn’t a lot of middle ground between Bauhaus and Beethoven, but a former opera singer turned avant-goth goddess with a decidedly witchy sound is probably the closest thing that fits the bill.
Zola Jesus is this one-woman classical-meets-industrial outfit who makes absolutely mesmerizing music which showcases her spectacular voice and signature eerie sound, and who’s newest release is aptly titled Conatus after the philosophical idea of trying to continually enhance oneself.
With an aesthetic similar to darkwave darlings Austra, Zola Jesus, aka Nika Roza Danilova, returns with her third studio album, which somehow manages to remain breathtakingly light and lovely amidst drone-y electronics and heavy reverb.
A former French and Psychology double major at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Danilova also trained for years as an opera singer, but stopped due to the competitive nature of the opera world and performance anxiety issues.
Reformatting her style for the indie music world has allowed her to use her years of opera training to create an album showcasing her almost unreal singing ability. Soaring and extremely powerful, her ethereal voice possesses a quality that’s both spine-tingling and shiver-inducing.
And this is precisely why it isn’t music for the faint of heart. Danilova’s intimidating vocals are in stark contrast with the float-y synths, powerful pump organ and electrified strings that fill the background.
Interlaced with elements of the ethereal goth movement prevalent during the 90s, Zola Jesus takes cues from the likes of Dead Can Dance and Love Spirals Downwards in Conatus, keeping background noise minimal and letting her melodic singing act as the driving force behind the album.
Haunting and absolutely gorgeous, Zola Jesus’ 11 tracks wouldn’t be out of place in either a cavernous church or an industrial warehouse party, with the sort of moody, ambient sound that makes it the perfect witching hour listen. This can be attributed to the otherworldly atmosphere of Conatus, which, somewhat unfortunately, seems to takes precedence over the lyrical quality of the album.
Even Danilova admits that it’s difficult to tell what she’s saying in songs such as “Shivers,” as a lot of the album is more about creating a sort of ambient noise and feeling, putting more focus on the heavy, industrial-inspired beats and haunting synth riffs than the scratchy electronics so prevalent within her previous effort Stridulum II.
And while the opener “Swords” still contains remnants of that disorienting glitchiness, it soon transitions to songs like “Avalanche” and “Hikikomori,” which introduce the album’s very clean, minimalist aesthetic and will have your head bobbing and hips swaying in a very undecidedly dark fashion.
So for those nights when you can’t decide between Mahler or the Sisters of Mercy, make a compromise with Zola Jesus and rave on with her art-goth blend of classically-inspired industrial music.
Final Grade: B+