“I want to ascend until we collide / I want to crash my heart into the divine,” sings Kristian Esfandiari in “Celestial Blues,” the title track of King Woman’s latest release. On their second album, the Los Angeles-based band further develops their distinctive blend of doom metal and shoegaze. Esfandiari’s vocals continue to amaze, while drummer Joseph Raygoza keeps time with the album’s powerfully beating heart.
Esfandiari’s lyrics explore the intersection of religion and relationships through repression and redemption as she adopts different personas. On “Morning Star,” the musician is Lucifer. Both the video for the song and the album’s cover art reveal bloody wounds on the protagonist’s shoulder blades where lightning struck their back, ripping the wings away as they fell from the heavens. Despite a brief lyrical reference to The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” it’s a less cheeky, more critical point of view: “You know it could have been you / so don’t you dare judge the things that I do.”
“Coil,” however, is a tale told by Jesus Christ, referencing his five holy wounds and resurrection, as he laughs in the faces of his persecutors: “They want me gone / well best of luck / I’ve already passed / I’ve been raised up.” By humanizing both Christ and the Devil, Esfandiari makes them both seem more real and relatable, and ironically renders them as more powerful figures.
True to its name, Celestial Blues is not cheerful stuff. From the unending torment of “Golgotha,” in which the narrator is not released from hell but trapped in it like a snake eating its own tail, to the shrieking intensity of “Ruse,” these are songs that can be as oppressive as their lyrics would indicate. The Gothic touches found in “Psychic Wound” and the gorgeous melodies of “Entwined” help prevent the album from being completely overbearing.
“Boghz” is named for an untranslatable Farsi word (Esfandiari has both Iranian and Serbian heritage) meaning “the physical building of sorrow and pain in the throat or chest before crying.” It could also be a metaphor for Esfandiari’s vocals, which shift from a dusky murmur to an unearthly wail that sounds inhuman at times. And while that style serves the music and her subject matter well, the production on the album can make it difficult to discern what she’s singing. This seems to undercut the power of her incredible writing.
For this reason, the spare and poignant “Paradise Lost” is Celestial Blues’ most accessible and accomplished song. In the Bible, it is Eve’s seduction by the Devil which causes her and Adam’s expulsion from God’s paradise and the subsequent fall of man. Esfandiari’s lyrics are written from Eve’s point of view and demonstrate just how skillfully she transforms empathy into songcraft. “He stole the life from my eyes,” she whispers over a delicate acoustic guitar. “I need a place I can grieve.”
The world has experienced enormous upheaval over the last 16 months; as soon as we recover from one loss, another one comes crashing down. This constant cycling between anxiety, terror and optimism has decimated our ability to hold on to hope. Finding solace in music is perhaps one of the few truly safe spaces in which we can find a place to grieve. Celestial Blues is an important reminder that there is always room for faith.
Leslie Hatton (@popshifter) is a Fannibal, an animal lover, a music maven and a horror movie junkie. She created and managed Popshifter from 2007 – 2017, and also contributes to Biff Bam Pop, Diabolique Magazine, Everything Is Scary, Modern Horrors, Rue Morgue and more.