Zola Jesus


Obsessing over an album’s nomenclature is often a fruitless endeavour: these are names, lest we forget, often blindly pulled out of a popstar’s arse and shouldn’t be scrutinized for clues like ancient runes. Yet one would hope there’s something meatier than mere Latin window-dressing behind the title of Zola Jesus’s latest full-length. Nika Roza Danilova may have reluctantly made goth trendy once more with Stridilum II, buoyed by her prodigious set of pipes, but all that thunderous balladry became slightly… blustery, once the initial what-the-fuck factor faded away. Plumping for a name that’s borrowed from the age-old philosophical concern with our compulsion for self-evolution, then, births the prospect of Danilova departing from the crescendo-laden formula of lore to embrace fresher climes.

Alas, those anticipating wholesale transmogrification will be left wanting, for Conatus seldom reaches the same level of experimentation as Danilova’s collaborations with the likes of LA Vampires. But what she proffers instead is far tastier: a deft fine-tuning of the slick and stylish formula of Stridilum II, with the slightly schlockier moments of melodrama eschewed for something more sophisticated. Her typical flourishes remain, as witnessed by the marching drums, iconoclastic organs and walloping choruses of ‘Avalanche’ and ‘Lick The Palm Of The Burning Handshake’, but elsewhere there’s tweaking and tucking aplenty.

On ‘Vessel’, her splintered and spectral vocal is processed through sheets of twisted metal until it emerges, refused, as if possessed by mechanical demons, while ‘In Your Nature’ is similarly cold and eerie, coated with a cyber-sheen that, despite the "burning light" imagery and hounds-from-hell drumming , is light-years away from the medieval vamp aesthetic that was routinely plundered on Stridulum…. ‘Ixode’ is a slow-burning death-disco stomp, while the eerie, woozy chanting of ‘Seekir’ turns into blackened synthpop, blessed with a throbbing dancefloor pulse that transforms Danilova’s vocal into something remarkably, and macabrely, diva-like.

This newfound deftness is Danilova’s biggest Top Trump, and it bleeds into Conatus as a whole. Prior to the album’s release she revealed that she’d immersed herself so deeply in its (typically cheery) themes of alienation and isolation that she became "completely lost". But while the misery of Stridulum II was often delivered with the same subtlety as a Hammer Horror movie, Conatus is far more ambient and ethereal – and doubly eerie as a result. Opening track ‘Swords’ establishes the fractured blueprint of broken glitches and layered vocals; on ‘Shivers’, she sounds perilously close to malfunctioning, on the brink of insomnia-laden stupor and "just staring at the ceiling", while the harsh-but-vibrant buzz of ‘Collapse’, with its cry of "It hurts to let you in", is a brilliantly-befuddled swansong. "If it’s in your nature/ You never win," laments Danilova on ‘In Your Nature’ – but by endeavouring to vary her shtick without losing any of the characteristic ticks, the future is hers for the taking.

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