The ice maiden cometh. It is a cold wind that blows in from Wisconsin as Zola Jesus arrives in Leeds and produces a forbidding performance, one that carefully balances brutal intensity and cool emotional detachment with stark austere beauty. Such is the creative potency of the show, its piercing chill can still be felt the morning after.
Nika Roza Danilova, in the guise of her supreme alter-ego Zola Jesus, is over here in the UK to promote her fifth studio album Okovi. It is a record whose genesis was immersed in a period of great tragedy and personal upheaval for Danilova. The significant impact of her own experiences with depression and anxiety coupled to the suicide, attempted suicides and terminal illness of some of those closest to her course through the veins of this living, breathing body of work. Danilova says that Okovi is a record she just had to write and it is this overwhelming sense of necessity, a deep moral obligation on her part, which translates so readily into the urgency and exigency of this live setting.
Where once there should have been three – an empty space is all that is now left of a viola player who was earlier posted missing in action due to her unresolved visa issues – now there are only two musicians on the Belgrave Music Hall stage. Tonight Nika Roza Danilova and her long-time collaborator Alex DeGroot are Zola Jesus. And together they breathe even greater life into a series of magnificent gothic explorations into the darker recesses of pop.
Over the virtually incessant industrial clatter of an existential electronic soundtrack – only ‘Witness’ (about her uncle’s suicide) and ‘Wiseblood’ provide relative relief – and pierced by the fluctuating aggression and interminable power of DeGroot’s guitar, Danilova’s majestic voice ebbs and flows as she acts out the drama of her unquestionable trauma. ‘Remains’ exists at a point where a thunderous wall of sound breaks down the barriers between performance and art. And the concluding ‘Exhumed’ – during which Danilova leaps from the stage and proceeds to ricochet amongst the crowd like some human pinball – manifests itself as the moment when Zola Jesus finally completes the exorcism of her demons.
Photo Credit: Simon Godley
More photos from this show can be found HERE