Created in the Image of Suffering by King Woman

Release date: March 3, 2017
Label: Relapse Records

The imperiously named King Woman appear with their first full length, taking on board horror, depression and pain, conquering all with waves of crumpled fuzz and beautiful, fragile, monstrous wailing.

After an inconsequential ‘download only’ intro, which repeats the album title over some hissing or other, opening track proper ‘Utopia’ starts with a great plugging-in electricity crackle, setting out the heavy doom intentions with a bit of speaker/cable/pick-up kcrzrmmmm before bursting into amplified flames with a crankhandle riff burst, not dissimilar to 2014’s ‘King of Swords’. A flicker and wire crackle of distortion, before a sweeping, swooping curve of thickly distorted prickling fuzz, inside which a piercing voice wavers. The drums clump along slightly awkwardly, adding a disjointed sense to Kristina Esfandiari’s eyes-roll-back vocals, alternately pleading, keening, or just trying somehow to expel a mindless sorrow.

Continuing from previous releases, there are feeble, soporific movements, the anaesthetised fog memory of numbed emotions, the darkness of a confusion that knows bad memories and reactions are lurking, but can’t navigate around them or perceive them enough to escape them, painful like a hammer blow to a freezing cold thumb. But compared to 2014 EPs Doubt and Dove/Fond Affections, there are a wider range of sounds and effects from both the vocals and smirched guitar doom, keeping the same suffocating grey oppression, but with a more powerful dynamic range.

Second track ‘Deny’ similarly features a beautifully morose vocal which is half uncountable bitterness, half grief-stricken stumble, with the guitar treading a mechanical but rusted path. Until two-thirds of the way through, when the piercing wail activates something between rage and careless nihilism. Then the riff of ‘Shame’ in the next gruds along spitefully, before a disconsolate explosion in a landscape sheeted with distortion.

There’s a constant return to repetitive cycles that gather momentum, escaping something through spinning around and around, as if swinging desperately on a kid’s roundabout in a crap town in order only to lose your mind just for a few unbalanced seconds in disoriented abandon. Syllables stumbling slur, blurred, leaden by grief, struck numb by the dull shock of depressive submersion… the voice mumbles on, a curious combination of an imposed fog of shock, trailing a bewildered speaking that is reduced to monotone, a thick-brained but intense urgency of feeling and lack of feeling. A not knowing what to feel or do, coupled with a fitful snatch at certain glimpses of what’s needful… senselessness, the grotesque ordinariness of sadness…

‘Hierophant’ is spectacular in its operatic crumbling concrete dull smear of tragedy, cycling around shards of lines about sacred scripture and holy church… ‘but what I’m trying to say…’ is a drowned stagger through a bitter mumbled something… luminescent like a fresh scar and yet, just somehow inconsequential, brittle, it slips into forgetting despite its furious neon pain. Fragile melodies under thick blankets of snowy drudging noise…but where, say, in a similar vein, My Bloody Valentine used to have a demented propulsive motion, here there are lava sluggish treacle dragging tendrils, weighed down, wallowing, molasses reaching arms of  misery flecked with tiny sparks of hope. More than any other music, it reminds me of the early moments of the film Melancholia, where Kirsten Dunst is bedraggled with seaweed tendrils, the unaccountable cosmic inertia of sadness, the piercing headache power and impending gravity of a soon-welcomed apocalypse that may have gone stupidly unnoticed by the normal folk, but will soon obliterate the world in its staggering mournful cataclysm.

The guitar rhythms on ‘Worn’ continue like a hopeful friend, that might seem ignored but are a valued crutch, standing there to try and help amidst the wild impossible storms of a crippling emotional breakdown that is as desultory and drearily ordinary as it is lung-scratchingly and blue-blank-mindedly, stultifyingly awful: ‘I can’t remember everything… wish somebody would hold me… feels like somebody warned me…’

There’s a fat reverberation on ‘Manna’, where the album title is repeated in a melody that would fit the phrase, but trails and drags after the beat, lost, and so takes a few attempts to arrive at the final word suffering on time, which by then is highlighted and heightened by the swirling wait. The numbed cycling fumbling at the doors of dejection from earlier recordings are here, while the guitars are more pointed and punchy than the drifting panels of shade in the previous EP. But throughout final track ‘Hem’, still present is a saturation of sombre gloom that continues, the momentum of amplifier fuzz propelling a pessimistic, gravel-grounded but sky-turned voice beyond itself, the final moments of the record carelessly suggesting a few brief seconds of choir-practice hope.

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