It’s a question that is left unanswered by most new music lovers, and usually out of fear. What do you want to happen to the bands that you love? What’s the best that could happen to an act that you have nurtured, loved, spread word of? The fun for most is in the salad days, the enjoyment of an artist emerging and blossoming, the sad comfort taken from being one of the first people to have spoken of their genius, even if most have forgotten it.
There comes a turning point. There has to be a turning point, for better or worse. Your beloved act and the demos that you have some carefully collected can’t go on being up and coming for very long without it becoming dull and faded, an opportunity missed. But the thought of having to pay upwards of £20 to cram into a venue with a couple of thousand people to watch is just as crushing.
And so, the junction has come for Zola Jesus, with Stridulum II’s imminent release. The project of Nika Roza Danilova, there have been two hugely successful albums put out already, as well as an EP in Tsar Bomba, the scale of her output matched only by her talents. However, it was only with the production of Stridulum earlier this year that she was given access to professional equipment for recording, the record used as the base for this extended re-release.
That Danilova is a star is obvious from the first track – the breathtaking ‘Night’ opening proceedings with suitably extracting brilliance. Industrial and apocalyptic, the backing music has been done with the understanding that the main instrument on show here is Danilova’s voice. It doesn’t just haunt the tracks, it dominates them, her opera-trained caterwaul never flinching or failing, strong and resilient as the storm envelopes around her.
This is industrial pop music at its most stark and yet it’s most engaging – the sparse instrumentation that takes up much of the 34 minute playing time serves to emphasise the measured breakdowns that dot the tracks. Manifest Destiny, a track that closed the preceding release, is a master class in building up and breaking down, the song’s soaring choruses acting as a showcase for the power and poise that Zola Jesus represents.
The doubts about Nika’s potential before all pointed to the niche of her sound, the dark textures not exactly made for mainstream radio. Time, it seems, has softened her once fiercely obtuse noise, and the three new tracks on here are a testament to that. The difference between becoming accessible and selling out is more than mere semantics. Penultimate track Sea Talk is one of best contemporary examples of an artist maturing into her sound, adding pop sensibilities without losing an ounce of integrity. It’s an epic, building slowly with crashing waves of noise, whilst Danilova basks in the subtle, deeper orchestra that has greeted her rise to the cusp of prominence.
Of course, there are weaknesses. Though the vocals are amongst the strongest you’ll hear this year, much of the lyrical content is simple – perhaps the only part of the release that isn’t extravagantly and complexly layered. But then, it never needs to be, the depth of emotions that the sound itself invokes more than making up for platitudes like ‘it’s not easy to fall in love/but if you’re lucky you just might find someone/so don’t let it get you down’.
For a certain type of bedroom fan, this is a bittersweet listen. Having listened to Zola Jesus’ fledgling career grow with each successive release, there’s a genuine feeling that this is the end of the first phase of her life as a professional artist; prodigious, prolific and cult. Talent like this is not made for the few to hold onto, however, and this revised effort illustrates the pace at which Danilova is growing in skill and stature. Well rounded and perfectly paced, Stridulum II’s dark sonic tapestry proves that the future for Zola Jesus is as bright as Nika will allow.