by Jonathan Bannister (@j_utah)
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.” This is what comes to mind when listening to the new album from King Woman. Far too often the betrayals that hurt the most are ones done by the people who claim it’s for our own good, that it’s all done out of love — those that take things that can be good and distort them into something bad for their own purpose. So much has already been said about the themes of the album that it can almost take away from the music. However, Created in the Image of Suffering is first and foremost a rock album and an album that invites you to get lost within its musical confines; to stop thinking, perhaps in order to release whatever demons have been shackled to your soul. Created in the Image of Suffering is a heavy album in every way, from the title and cover art, to the music, lyrical content, and feeling. There is a weight to the album that can leave one feeling exhausted and spent by the end, the way good music can. It’s not a passive listening experience. King Woman has invited you into their world, but there will be an admission fee.
Kristina Esfandiari isn’t a singer so much as a medium, channeling from deep within herself. Her voice goes from calm and controlled to moments of pure, unbridled release. Colin Gallagher, Joey Raygoza, and Peter Arensdorf provide the ritualistic soundscape, playing deceptively beautiful music that counterbalances the heaviness of the lyrics, while still accentuating the message, helping land the blows direct to your inner being.
“Utopia” kicks things off by setting the tone for the rest of the journey. In an interview with The Le Sigh, Esfandiari said the song is lyrically related to an ayahuasca ceremony — in a way Created in the Image of Suffering is its own ceremony. Esfandiari acts as shaman guide, “You are unearthed, I discover” she sings, leading you through the wilderness of your mind to discover your true self. The band lurches along behind her, like an ancient beast being awoken from a deep slumber. “And is this my reality? And is this really happening?” she sings at the end. Time will tell.
The centerpiece of the album is “Hierophant.” A hymn to unrequited love, the song makes one feel the need in Esfandiari’s words. It’s a desire that can’t be quelled. Given the subject matter it might seem out of place on the album, but within the oppressive environment where much of the songs dwell, what could be more rebellious than unchecked passion not directed at God? In finding meaning in the relationships one has with others? So much of Created in the Image of Suffering is Esfandiari letting others from a similar background know that it’s not them that’s wrong. It’s okay to feel, to be alive, to not be afraid. It’s also a gorgeous song and one that should be on repeat.
“Worn” is another standout track. “You break the bread/ You drink the wine/ You were a bad man” Esfandiari sings, a reversal of the Last Supper with the oppressor placing themselves in the Jesus role. While Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” Esfandiari sings: “I can’t remember anything” stripping the oppressor of their moment, breaking free from the past she can’t get back.
Created in the Image of Suffering is an album that demands you experience it. There is no passive listening. It invites you into its space, to take part in the cleansing sweep of the music. It gives you permission to feel, to exorcise yourself of the things that have kept you down, that cling to you from your past. Find your release.