San Francisco’s King Woman made a grand entrance in 2014 with their critically-lauded EP, Doubt. The record’s striking blend of sludgy weight, shoegaze textures, moody atmosphere and powerful sense of femininity presented something not often heard in the realm of doom. This previously untapped genre of ethereal doom rock needed to be explored and pushed further, and King Woman clearly recognized that. With their first proper full-length release, Created in the Image of Suffering, they unearth the full potential of their singular sound.
Everything begins on a somewhat dull note with the introductory track “Citios”. The 70-second prelude features hypnotic, drowsy vocals repeating the album’s title while a wave of noise rises and falls over them. The track doesn’t bleed into the next track, nor does it add anything to the theme and scope of the album. It seems like an afterthought more than anything.
But the intro is soon forgotten when “Utopia” comes out swinging. Direct, hard-hitting, sludgy riffs deal out a monstrous beating on this hammering tune, while thunderous drumming only adds to the sheer sonic weight of the song. Frontwoman Kristina Esfandiari is at the heart of this doom punishment with her striking, husky vocal style that is awash with effects and layered harmonies. With this track, Created in the Image of Suffering finds its momentum and doesn’t let up.
Following the all-out-war of “Utopia” is the more sprawling, slow-burning “Deny”. The track revolves around crawling, atmospheric melodies that lumber along at a ritualistic pace before transitioning effortlessly into leviathanic chord progressions that level everything in their path. Once again, Esfandiari adds a new element to this sludgy march with her reverberating, spectral mantras that lose the listener in the airy atmospheres they create.
Across this album, listeners will be hard-pressed to find moments that are not completely enveloping. Whether it be the more straightfoward, bludgeoning cuts, or the tension-building doomgaze exhibitions, each track has a particular characteristic that makes it memorable. But above all else, the album’s longer tracks “Hierophant” and “Hem” are arguably its shining stars.
The eight-minute “Hierophant” is an emotional, sonic roller coaster of sorts. The first four minutes of the track slowly builds from hypnotic melodicism into a climax of doom splendor, which subsequently dissolves rather quickly. Then the final four minutes of the track is comprised of quiet post-rock meditations that gradually rise into walls of metallic shoegaze sound. During this final section, Esfandiari delivers the most infectious refrain on the entire album and repeats it passionately until the song’s end. In other instances this would come across as excessively repetitive, but seems to work so well here.
Cavernous atmospheres, tense drumming and echoing, ethereal guitars open up the closing behemoth “Hem”, as Esfandiari’s eclectic vocal performance comes across like a choir of spirits luring the listener into the afterlife. After about three-minutes the song explodes into a deadly, apocalyptic procession of doom metal that trudges along until it fades away into a miasma of feedback.
Created in the Image of Suffering shows King Woman parading all of their strengths and pulling out all of the stops to deliver a memorable debut album. Their penchant for both pop sensibility and sludgy fury, paired with an enthralling vocal presence and tales of spiritual struggle, give King Woman a unique place within doom metal. Hopefully this will see the beginning of more doom and sludge acts taking more eclectic risks.
Release Date: February 24, 2017
Label: Relapse Records
Favorite Tracks: “Utopia”, “Shame”, “Hierophant” and “Hem”
For Fans Of: Subrosa, Pallbearer, True Widow, Jesu and Khemmis