King Woman
King Woman Credit: Nedda Afsari

When you can’t outrun your past, one option is to face it with your own poetics. That’s the approach King Woman front woman Kris Esfandiari takes when confronting the Biblical archetypes branded on her psyche while coming of age in a Charismatic Christian family that practiced speaking in tongues and at-home exorcisms. On Celestial Blues, the follow-up to King Woman’s 2017 debut album, Created in the Image of Suffering, Esfandiari and her bandmates weave tales of doom, woe, and resurrection with gilded threads of metal and shoegaze. But Celestial Blues is far less vehement and dirgelike than its predecessor, in keeping with Esfandiari’s established knack for reinventing herself. The prolific vocalist has spent the past few years cycling through artistic identities, including the breakcore endeavor NGHTCRWLR, the doomgaze solo project Miserable, and the bleak R&B duo Sugar High. Celestial Blues documents Esfandiari’s final severing of her religious ties, but its theme of redefinition and reckoning doesn’t always extend to the music—that is, King Woman don’t completely abandon the formula that made them one of heavy music’s most celebrated newcomers half a decade ago. Joseph Raygoza’s drumming is still brick thick and brutish; Peter Arendorf’s riffs still fill each track like a flood of godly proportions; and Esfandiari’s vocals still carry an air of melodrama. The band’s creative renewal is most apparent on lead single “Morning Star,” which backtracks Lucifer’s fall from grace through the lens of Esfandiari’s own incredulity (“The next thing I knew / I was falling fast / Lightning hit my wings / Heard thunder crack”). “Boghz” showcases the range of Esfandiari’s elastic voice, which oscillates among syncopated sprechgesang, thunderous barks, and breathy lulls. Themes of resurrection weave throughout “Coil” (“Five wounds you rape me / But I resurrect”) and “Golgotha” (“The snake eats its tail / We return again / To this hell”), foreshadowing Esfandiari’s personal metamorphosis. Celestial Blues closes with “Paradise Lost,” a feather-light canticle based on John Milton’s epic poem, which Esfandiari received as a gift while plotting the album’s creative direction. Her vocals are so mumbled they’re nearly indecipherable, a siren song almost buried beneath plucky guitar and cymbal thrums. The mythologies retold by Celestial Blues have roots in trauma, but King Woman still startle with moments of nonplussed beauty, leaving you somewhere between exorcism and ecstasy.  v