Review Summary: My name is Lucifer, pleased to meet you.
Imagine being at a party minding your own business, mingling, chilling, or getting helplessly hammered when, out of nowhere, a stranger hands you a copy of John Milton's Paradise Lost
. The average human being would tear apart the pages and smoke half of the book right there to make a statement but not Kris Esfandiari. For the voice and brains behind NGHTCRWLR, Miserable, Dalmatian, Sugar High and who knows how many more projects, the timing was impeccable.
Because, you know, it turns out there was already a gruesome battle raging inside of Kris, an eternal carnage carried out by the forces of heaven and hell since the moment she was born. Growing up in a heavily Christian environment only served to feed the flames of war throughout her youth, seeding doubt, hatred and spiritual conflict themes that would become the driving force of her art, shared among the different personifications created by the New York based Iranian musician and producer.
King Woman's second full length for Relapse Records might as well be, not only her best work up to date, but also the ultimate reunification of her distinct incarnations in one big, explosive package. Embodying the figure of Lucifer, Kris has created a stunning musical piece that transcends the music and spills into the visual presentation of the primordial fallen angel's tale of demise. Celestial Blues
is an album of biblical proportions, in every sense of the word, with a series of very well-chosen collaborators that have contributed immensely to make this one of the best albums of the year so far.
We all have heard what Jack Shirley is capable to do with bands like Amenra, Deafheaven and Oathbreaker, just to name a few, but he has outdone himself designing the sound for King Woman's sophomore release along with Esfandiari herself. The project's debut, Created In The Image Of Suffering
, was already a colossal slab of doom with brushes of shoegaze, mesmerizing and wonderfully destructive, but this second album expands even further on the same formula with a superb performance on vocals by Kris, who has amped her register greatly, and an overall improved production work, especially on the drumkit, firmly handled by Joseph Raygoza. Standing ovation also for Peter Arensdorf, who has handled both bass and guitars for this recording covering for former and absent King Woman’s axe man Colin Gallagher.
opens up with Kris whispering around a monologue, an awakening that kicks off the title track with the singer's landmark harmonized but solemn singing being hit by the first volley of drums following a crushing riff that sends Kris howling and mourning the "celestial night". "Morning Star" follows through but the tone is quite different from the harrowing lament of the awakened and once divine of the title track. Here, Kris radiates with confidence, an image enhanced by the striking visuals created by photographer Nedda Afsari and designers Jamie Parkhurst and Collin Fletcher for the cover and its music video. The captivating and strangely alluring Lucifer of "Morning Star" vanishes, leaving the stage for third single "Boghz", which mixes Kris Esfandiari's different personalities, ranging from the sweet melodies of Miserable to the sickening wrath of NGHTCRWLR surfacing and taking hold of the song with staggering precision.
The core of Celestial Blues
hides the heart-breaking "Golgotha", which allows for Kris' most fragile singing to play around with arhythmical bars eluding Raygoza's steady snare beat. Once the track finally explodes, Kris' savage screams burn the back of the song while the front vocals veil them with the melancholy that guides the song, now with the cello of Jackie Perez Gratz (Graceyon, Amber Asylum) drawing the few traces of color of the album. "Coil" is easily one of the most flammable cuts of the record, short and fierce, touching on grunge and Life of Agony's River Runs Red
era’s blazing sorrow, while "Entwined" is the secret gem of Celestial Blues
, a retelling (I believe) of the fusion between Kris and the celestial being that here sings and lives through her to bring vengeance and joy in equal measure, as the track escalates into an increasing euphoria that flows into the twisted lust of "Psychic Wound", which as you may have seen already, illustrates this unholy communion with shivering detail through its music video,
The ending section of the album features two very different tracks. "Ruse", which could have been perfectly fit into the band's debut, as it evokes the old sound combined with a forlorn vocal melody in between the heavy-hitting parts, and of course, the angelic "Paradise Lost", which I guess we have the party stranger to thank for, as it sends off the album into ascending to (or descending) to a realm far beyond our reach.
With these two songs, Celestial Blues
comes to an end and disappears in the ether leaving only its otherworldly taste to linger. Kris Esfandiari and her team have created something truly special with this album, a musical piece where the divine is given voice and flesh to envision what is Kris' most honest and enrapturing work of her prolific career, and be sure it won't be the last one.