Band: King Woman
Album: Created in the Image of Suffering (2017)
Genre: doom, post-metal
Where to buy: Bandcamp
A weird, ethereal layer of delayed voices chant the title of the album over the rising moan of rushing water. The buzz of electricity flows through power cables, static and jumpy as if unsure of itself. Nothing could be farther from the truth, for the moment you begin to wonder if this is a recording error, King Woman strikes up, and the transition is both so quick and so effective you don’t even realize how seamlessly the electrical hum has fed into the album’s distorted sound. The entire band comes in at once, guitars, drums, and vocals, and indecisiveness is the last thing on the menu here. Created in the Image of Suffering is a deeply intentional album, a personal indictment of her past by bandleader Kristina Esfandiari, a post-metal exploration of doom, and a ticket to hazy and strange musical landscapes. It’s not for everyone, but it’s not trying to be. It’s unapologetic, prosecutorial, and cathartic, and it hits just the right notes for certain listeners.
Most divisive among the musical elements of Created in the Image of Suffering are the vocals. Esfandiari’s delivery is not encumbered by too many effects, but she does lean into delay and multiple layers with haunting results. Her tenor is low and wonderfully androgynous, breathy, and nasal. She has a sort of laziness in her enunciation that really works for this style of music. I am not sure if her Iranian heritage comes into play here, but I would not be surprised if her comfort in extended fricatives derives from familiarity with Arabic consonants. Esfandiari’s voice respires with desperation, pleading with her demons and consciousness for some manner of salvation. Her lyrics revel in repetition, as is common in shoegaze and shoegaze-adjacent music, but this is no bad thing on an album so immediately personal. Contrasting with frequently repeated lines are the song titles, all of which are single, perfunctory words: “Utopia,” “Shame,” “Hierophant,” “Manna,” and such. And though sometimes the lyrics can be difficult to understand, reading them along with the music reveals in shocking clarity that each song is addressed to a specific entity from Esfandiari’s past. She uses phrases from scripture and liturgy to great effect, subverting them for her purposes, and even on such a melancholy album there is a sense of wry knowing behind the lyrics. It’s a fine balance to strike, and Esfandiari pulls it off well.
Behind her is the rest of King Woman. Guitars are handled by Colin Gallagher, who moderates the sound with great caution. There are no solos on the whole of the album, only progressions that grow heavy and soft as required by the vocals. The same is true of Joey Raygoza’s drums, which beat much more lightly than in most doom. He refrains from excessive hits and only a few times are his fills noticeable. On the other hand, when things do get heavy he is right there with a strong and reliable rhythm for the band to grow into. Peter Arensdorf’s bass is extra low and his notes are extra long, giving drum hits the melodic intonation we wish they had and filling out the guitars appropriately. As an ensemble, this is fine doom. Certainly not the heaviest stuff around, but again that is not their purpose. King Woman gives their songs just the right amount of fuzz to complement the staid pulse of doom crossed with shoegaze. Created in the Image of Suffering is disconsolate but determined, doing its work with resolute sophistication, and it deserves undistracted listening.