King Woman – Created in the Image of Suffering Review

Band: King Woman
Album: Created in the Image of Suffering
Label: Relapse Records
Genre: Doom Metal
Country: United States
Release Date: February 24th, 2017

San Francisco has brought the world a lot of great music and many different scenes, from the beat poets to the hippies to the golden era of thrash. Numerous new metal bands have been emerging from the tech boom take-over of the Bay Area in the last few years, with King Woman being one of the newest. They bring with them heft and stomp, something moody and heavy and deep. Think the murky waters of the Bay, the churning, cold tides, and you get some idea of where the band is going.

“Created…” is their first proper album, with previous ep “Doubt” coming out in 2014. Led by the evocative vocals of Kristina Esfandiari, the band opens the record with the slight, instrumental bit called “Citios” before folding into the proper crunch of what follows. And what follows is at first frustrating and then opens up and becomes interesting.

The next three tracks, “Utopia,” “Deny,” and “Shame,” all sort of float together, moving and heaving, the earth shifting with each riff and pummel of the drums, Esfandiari’s vocals gluing the songs together, somehow front and center and yet hanging in the background, distant and echoey. The sound that comes to mind is Windhand and at first, the band feels like a clone, with the same rumbling, the same power, the same melancholic atmosphere. This is not a bad thing or something to be ashamed of, but it also isn’t original or especially compelling.

But then “Hierophant” begins, a track sitting right smack-dab in the middle of the record, and things change. The sound remains the same, the tortured vocals and lyrics continue along the same path, but there is a subtle shift. The dynamics grow a bit lighter, less dense and dark. Just slightly, like a crack of sunlight through shuttered windows. This lifts things up, giving the weight of the proceeding songs a bit of distance, the listener able to step back and feel just how heavy that first movement was, washed now in the light of “Hierophant,” and ready to take the plunge into the second half of the album. This is the juggernaut on the record, eight minutes long, melodic, winding, full of heavy riffs as well as dust motes dancing on the light, a little something called dynamics. This song breathes and expands, all mood and lilt, until about six minutes in and the crunch and crash comes, leading the song out in a furious storm. This is their triumph, the centerpiece of this record.

From there the rest of the album unfolds, revealing more complexity and depth.

“Worn” plays out like the earlier tracks, heft and rumble and terrible portents, but it feels different now in the aftermath of “Hierophant.” This isn’t simply a band copying another or being inspired, this is a band doing their own thing, adding layers to an already existing sound and making it their own.

“Manna” is next and it is moody, moving all over the place, making the listener feel (like much of the album does) like a passenger on a ship tossed about in a storm at sea. There are tranquil moments and then the rolling waves tilt the boat, lifting and turning you until you’re not sure where you’re at.

Album closer is “Hem,” another epic, eight minute piece. Three minutes of mood and melody and then the riffs crush down, the drumming heavy and mid-paced and lurching, steering you into the middle of the song, the heart of the song, a summation of all that has come before it. It all opens up at the six minute mark or so, wandering even more, as if the ship has finally been shattered on the rocks and you’re in the ocean, watching the pieces drift away on the tide. And there, on the shore, flickers a firelight, with singers calling you to safety. The song fades and the album is over, leaving you at once exhausted and haunted, cleansed but still bearing the mark of your passage.

The lyrics, reflective and introspective, are full of anguish, both personal and religious. They weave a story within the framework of the music, the two working together to paint a dark, delirious, smeared, hazy narrative that rolls over the listener at first like billowing waves of smoke and then settles into the skin, prickling the flesh with their pain and release. This is gospel of its own sort, the songs of a tortured soul finally being given release through the expression of their pain.

The music falls onto the fuzzier side of doom, less biting crunch and more buzz and drone. The guitars are heavy, though, full of weight and threat. The bass hums beneath, providing a solid ground for the rest of the band to tread upon, and the drumming both propels and accentuates the songs, often both at the same time. Good, good stuff.

If you’re into moody doom, this is for you. Think the fuzziest parts of Sabbath smeared around and blurred, think of the pain and isolation and anguish of a song like “Megalomania” spread out over an entire release. It moves the heart as much as it moves the body. There’s more sway here than headbang, and that’s alright. Repeated listens reveal depth and complexity most music doesn’t have these days. So drop the needle, close your eyes, and drift away…

Rating: 8/10

1. Citios
2. Utopia
3. Deny
4. Shame
5. Hierophant
6. Worn
7. Manna
8. Hem

Total Playing Time: 39:00

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