Nika Roza Danilova has been musically gracing us for nearly ten years with her fascinating universe, the one she chose to call Zola Jesus. Under the wing of Sacred Bones, the American label she called home for a great portion of that decade, Zola Jesus became a successful project and is inevitably associated with a very particular quasi-gothic aesthetic. How she chooses to express herself artistically, through her downtempo beats, remarkable sung stories and dark atmospheres with profound emotional depth, allows her to transcend herself with every release she has put out to date while offering new perspectives with songs of devotion, loss, life and death.

In 2014, Danilova made a quick shift from Sacred Bones to British label Mute, through which she released Taiga. With the goal of going beyond her cult icon status and aiming for a broader audience and a potential mainstream breakthrough, Taiga felt impersonal, lacked the depth, soul and emotional virtue, which are some of the core essentials of a Zola Jesus release. As an artist who evolved from experimental and strong post-punk influences into a very consistent musical identity, her previous album made her future feel uncertain.

From that point in time to 2017, the singer experienced severe trauma: a friend tried to commit suicide, another was diagnosed with cancer and Danilova herself fell into the abyss of depression. She relocated from Seattle back to her hometown in rural Wisconsin to fully recover from the pain and darkness that suddenly took over her life. During that process, she was able to lay down ideas and find the creative strength for her stunning new album, Okovi.

Okovi is Zola Jesus’ fifth album and mirrors the pain that Nika endured over the last few years while she fought her inner demons in hope of finding wholesomeness again. By singing and analyzing the suffering surrounding her and her loved ones, Danilova achieved a cathartic state that allowed her to heal wounds through music.

Despite its harsh and dramatic sounding moments of despair, like those in ‘Exhumed’ or ‘Siphon’, there is beauty in the suffering. ‘Witness’, ‘Ash To Bone’, or the album opener ‘Doma’, expose Zola Jesus to her most vulnerable state yet. Beyond ‘Veka’ and through ‘Remain’, both clear highlights of Okovi, Danilova digresses from the string-focused songs and chooses synths and beats as a way of healing.

As we reach the closing ‘Half Life’, we also reach a point of numbness. It leaves the outcome open. Through Okovi, the slavic term for shackles, Danilova reaches out to those who listen and are in need of an anchor. Her new album should be perceived as an object of salvation, as it was written and produced during a time of necessity. It became a solution and a way for the singer to cope and by understanding her state, it helped her to process fear, despair and anguish but also turn her music into a soul-seeking and human comprehension instrument. In the end, our conclusion is that time is the ultimate healer, and Okovi is a brilliant ally to achieve clarity and closure.