Nika Roza Danilova’s face stares down from the cover of her alter-ego Zola Jesus’ Okovi, her visage mutated by a blackened substance pulled from a nightmare.
It’s a perfect visual for Okovi, which is concerned with how trauma controls and alters us, how we fight against it, and how we reconcile with ourselves in its aftermath.
Okovi – a Slavic word for ‘shackles’ – was recorded in the wake of Danilova enduring “a number of people very close to me trying to die, and others trying desperately not to.” The resulting album of driving, gothic electronica places her in a trajectory of artists who translate trauma into sound: Her pleas of “take me to the water” on “Soak” are a fitting echo of PJ Harvey’s missives from the depths on 1995’s To Bring You My Love; while the electronics of album highlight “Exhumed” rattle with implanted strings, like the sonic anxiety attacks of Scott Walker’s soundtrack work.
Almost every track has a mutant component: The clubby beats of “Veka” feel familiar until a whooshing, apocalyptic electronic sound crashes into them. “Ash to Bone” is a dramatic torch song interrupted with atonal brass sounds. Each track comes with a reminder of how trauma makes monsters of us all, but in the centre of it all Danilova’s strong, clear voice is the will to keep going; the drive to – as she sings in “Witness” – “pull you from the wreckage of your mind.”