John Milton’s epic poem from 1667 the lost paradise has a legendary status in the literary world. It not only repeats the biblical story of the fall of man, but gives extra focus to Satan – his descent into hell and rebellion against God. For centuries, the lost paradise has been a work that has been researched and rethought, researchers and artists are in love with its theme of idolatry – a theme that Kris Esfandiari of King Woman explores in his latest album, Celestial Blues (Relapse Records).
King Woman’s debut record in 2017, Created in the image of suffering, is a remarkable doomsday work. Unlike bands like Primitive Man or Candlemass, King Woman’s approach to doom is more ethereal. With a thunderous bass and overwhelming distortion, the band uses droning – with a touch of powerful distortion – to create an atmosphere that feels a little lighter in the technical presence, but heavy in emotional delivery. Along with the instrumentation, Esfandiari’s voice plays a significant factor in creating atmosphere. Whether it’s how her vocals intertwine into the gentle drone, or how her screams lift the bombast of throbbing instruments, her voice is a remarkable tool. On Celestial Blues, King Woman surpasses their former LP’s brilliance and offers a journey where the protagonist is cast in the dark – only for them to ascend with majesty.
The self-labeled opening track of the record begins with these lines: “Sky blues / A mile in my shoes / The devil left a bruise / But God left a light on for his perverted … ”Esfandiari speaks softly these words and verse to come under the bright and sparse twang of guitar notes. This twang plays against a tone-white space; the level of minimalism that takes place – around the trickle of guitar notes and vocals – establishes this setting of emptiness. The tone of this sequence even exudes a sense of loneliness.
This is a small level of technicality that goes so far as to demonstrate the great theatrical presence that King Woman can create. When the first verse ends, the performance of the guitar intensifies; not in tempo – the song maintains a smooth drone-like pacing – but offers distortion in every guitar beat. Towards the base and the drum, Esfandiari’s vocals also roll, and her previous performance is transformed into an elevated, haunting calm. No track is straightforward in its compositional flow, for a given song has the means to demonstrate sonic duality.
The gentle stream of guitar notation returns “Boghz”; yet there is something more sinister here. Over time, the drum beat begins to pick up and matches the ever-constructive restless direction of the song. As the guitar performance begins to shift to something more wild, Esfandiari’s voice takes its own turn. In the beginning, a mutated form of softness comes, only to eventually split the course and dip into a short passage of muffled, eerie-sounding speech. Then comes the surging roar of vocals and instrumentation, the performance taking the form of something demonic. Esfandiari’s scream bash at clashes between drums, distortion and bass that pile up on this section of the track – the performance draws from the more abrasive qualities of doom.
Guitarist / bassist Peter Arensdorf and drummer Joseph Raygoza are valuable components to the emotional and sound effect that Celestial Blues lays out in maturity. As a genre, doom depends on providing a consistent, yet engaging pace; one where performance sometimes has to balance carefully between bombastic play and meditative presence. The elements of drone and distortion, along with a technical skill that keeps compositions engaging, are key elements Arensdorf and Raygoza use to emphasize the gloomy tone of Esfandiari’s lyrics and vocals. Arensdorf’s use of melody and rock-driven guitar rhythms adds another nineteen kick to each song.
But the instrumental performances are only a part that serves to create Celestial Blues amazing. At the heart of this record is Esfandiari’s narrative journey; to come from an overwhelming Catholic upbringing and to have a near-death experience as a child. Lyrically, Esfandiari invites the listener along as she confronts her past and creates her own path forward. In the texts are everywhere Celestial Blues, she offers the duality of tragedy and progress – to fall, only to rise. Esfandiari’s words have a great means of creeping over the listener. On average as “Calvary”, her words radiate a gloomy aura of catch; as if they play into the genre itself, these words are unhappy. “And it never ends / And it never ends / The snake eats its tail / We return again / To / This hell / This hell / I will see you again / With the skulls my friend. ”
The following song, “Coil”, hits with an equal supply of instrumental, lyrical and vocal aggression. Out of the gate, the instrumentation comes at a faster pace, with the guitar swinging with bursts of distortion against a bass-heavy backdrop. Esfandiari shouts over the stream, her lyrics giving a different sense of emotion this time. “They want me gone / Good luck / I have already passed / I have risen / They want me gone / Good luck / I have already passed / I have risen. “
The album’s final number, appropriate title “The Lost Paradise”, leaves things on a gloomy, yet insightful note. The instruments here are minimal, light sipples of guitar notation and drum beats that maintain a presence all the time. The lyrics show Esfandiari a defeat – though not without hope. “We’ve been thrown out of Eden / I have to find the producer / You owe it to me / It’s just the saddest story. ” This grief and the need to find its creator comes with a nervous, haunting cold – the conviction in Esfandiari’s voice all the more powerful for it. Esfandiari’s words strike them with both serenity and rawness and cast an enchanting aura that brings listeners deeper into her world.
As King Woman, Esfandiari and the band deliver a record filled with extraordinary emotional power. With lyrics that seep into the soul, to instrumentals that present captivating soundscapes, Celestial Blues is crushing. By taking her difficulties and pains, Esfandiari has made a record showing her willingness to climb up through the darkness and become stronger. And in her rebellion, when she finds her own way, she comes out as a master.
Celestial Blues released July 30thth. You can pre-order the item at the link below.
King Woman’s Bandcamp