PICK OF THE WEEK: King Woman’s emotional bloodletting pours on stirring ‘… Image of Suffering’

Photo by Rob Williamson

Photo by Rob Williamson

It always sounds a little dumb in the middle of February to take a piece of new music and call it one of the best records of the year. We’ve got 10 months to go, champ. Let’s pump the brakes. I acknowledge this, but I’m also pretty good at figuring out what music is going to make a lasting impact with me even if I haven’t heard 80 percent of the albums ready to come out this year.

The first time I heard King Woman’s stunning debut full-length record “Created in the Image of Suffering,” it was a couple of weeks before Christmas last year, as this heavily anticipated album finally landed in my inbox. Actually, rewind a little further, the first time I heard some of these songs is when King Woman played The Smiling Moose June 3 alongside Wax Idols when the band unloaded some of their new material. The massive difference from what was on their eye-opening 2014 EP “Doubt” was quaking right from the start, and the many added levels of heaviness and mud, along with vocalist Kristina Esfandiari’s breathy, expressive vocals hit even deeper into the chest than anything they did before. This was a band that was changing before our very eyes and ears, and the end result of the transformation is on this amazing seven-track (well, eight if you get it digitally) record that’s the year’s first absolute must-hear album. King Woman already was a formidable unit, but now they’ve taken massive, pounding steps toward becoming one of the most important bands in heavy music.

king-woman-cover“Citios” is a digital exclusive, a brief intro cut that’s built on low-humming noise and Esfandiari repeating the album’s title. From there, it’s on to “Utopia” and its surprisingly sludgy riffs, oppressive heaviness, and vocals that tear at your soul. “Is this really happening?” Esfandiari wails as the music crusts over in the muck. “Deny” starts with spoken lines, but then Esfandiari’s singing takes on huskier tones while the guitars burn underneath the surface. The band—also including Peter Arensdorf, Colin Gallagher, and Joseph Raygoza—unleashes its fury and begins pounding away, leaving noticeable welts, while unhinged shrieks mix in with the otherworldly singing, with a strong, cloudy storm hanging overhead. “Shame” purposely takes its time to get started, as the riffs jar and the tempo lurches ahead. Later, the song opens up and gets louder, with Esfandiari noting, “You can’t even look at me,” as the intensity builds, and the cut bleeds away.

“Hierophant” is the highlight of the record and arguably the emotional breaking point of the band’s catalog. The 8:01 track basically plays out in two parts, with the first finding a vulnerable, wanting Esfandiari admitting, “What I’m trying to say, I want to be the one you want,” as the song spirals like her heart, following her into desperation. As the second half unfolds, Esfandiari pays her devotion, vowing, “If you’re the sacred script, I am the hierophant,” a lovely, yet heart-crushing sentiment that’s repeated over and over again as the track spills into the dark. “Worn” gets back to grime, as the band unleashes more heaviness, and Esfandiari levels, “I wish somebody would have told me, because the past you can’t get back.” The mid-tempo path picks up volume and muscle as it goes along, ending by stinging your ears and leaving bruises. The scathing “Manna” starts with a capella calls before the song comes along in a calculated manner, with the track taking on dirt and weight, and Esfandiari again repeating the album’s sobering title. Closer “Hem” is the longest song at 8:07, and it begins ominously, with the song feeling its way through the shadows, and Esfandiari observes being “lost in the crowd.” The band keeps adding layers onto the song, revisiting sounds and melodies, causing a hypnotic effect. Esfandiari follows that up by looping her lines of, “I’m reaching for hem,” into a pool of sound, guitars simmering, and a clip of a chorus ending the record and taking with it your heart.

King Woman’s amazing display on “Created in the Image of Suffering” is an emotional tidal wave, one that can arrest your heart and imagination and have you feeling every moment of catharsis Esfandiari goes through with this music. This is a really special band, one that has grown in dramatic leaps from their formation seven years ago to its development and power they display now. This is a record you should go out of your way to hear, because it’s one where you’ll remember exactly where you were when you absorbed it for the first time.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/KNGWMN/

To buy the album, go here: http://store.relapse.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/RelapseRecords/