Review Summary: Shoegaze is doomed.
Kristina Esfandiari has lived many lives. As the former singer of San Francisco shoegazers Whirr, she participated in the EP Around
, during the band's twilight period, dragging their sound into the darkness that she already knew so well. She then began to explore her most obscure and personal facet with her solo project, Miserable, releasing two albums in the spam of 2 years: the EP Halloween Dream
in 2015 and her first LP as Miserable, the enticing Uncontrollable
in 2016. And finally here we are, in 2017, witnessing her most evil reincarnation up to date, the accurately called King Woman, in which Kristina breaks free from her shackles and fully gives herself to the charms of doom metal and psychedelic occultism.
Created in the Face of Suffering
is King Woman's debut after the spare release of some singles and one EP and it constitutes the first work through Relapse Records, although it's a project that has been going for around 4 years, specifically since the release of the single Degrida/Sick Bed
. Onto the album, the first thing that stands out from CitIoS
is the magnificent artwork, courtesy of Brazilian artist Pedro Felipe, who has also worked with other Relapse Records bands like Dewolff and Christian Mistress. The Cthulhu familiar monstrosity that breaches through CitIoS
's cover could very well represent the absolute metamorphosis that Kristina's voice has suffered in this project, a transformation that has mutated her vocal chords to an abyssal low register. It's a conscious decision that fans of Whirr and Miserable may not be very happy with, since the change in her singing technique is pretty substantial and, to an extent, hard to swallow on a first listen. On the other hand, this comes not as a surprise as she had already began to explore this register with Miserable’s latest release, experimenting with her shoegaze roots and subjugating them, resulting in a voice that compliments perfectly the darker and oppressing soundscapes of King Woman's music.
The excellent production by Jack Shirley (Deafheaven, Oathbreaker) gives shape and soul to eight harrowing tracks that fluctuate between a "surrealistic Black Sabbath fronted by Mazzy Star" kind of sound, as described in their bandcamp page, and somber shoegaze extracts and droning psychedelic fuzz. Right from the opening of "Citios" and the following "Utopia", Kristina takes her shoegaze heirloom, smashes it against the floor and stomps it with heavy confidence, paving the way to "Hierophant", the undeniable peak of King Woman's debut, an 8 minute elegy to suffering split in two whose entrancing and melancholic second part is one of the most beautiful and moving passages of the album.
"Worn" and "Manna" prove that King Woman is far from being a Kristina Esfandiari solo project. Instead, the whole band works like a well-oiled machine to deliver massive riffs, steamrolling all the way to the outer "Hem", the longest and heaviest track of the album, and probably the song that has the most balanced mix of shoegaze and doom that King Woman is trying to convey.
Created in the Image of Suffering
is a solid and strong debut for a band that could be very well opening a rather inaccessible style like doom metal to a wider audience, same as Oathbreaker did in their fantastic Rheia, the latter being more focused on death and black metal endeavors, so it's no surprise both bands are touring together. Definitely a night I wouldn't allow myself to miss out.