Overall Score: 8/10 Songwriting: 9/10 Musicianship: 8/10 Production: 8/10 Pros: A genuine work of art. It feels like a proper album, with well thought out themes and a consistent mood. Cons: The quieter songs struggle to impose themselves in comparison to the heavier ones.
We’ve been asked in the past, famously, to have Sympathy For The Devil but on Celestial Blues, King Woman’s second album, and second on Relapse Records, lead singer Kris Estanduri has written a set of songs displaying empathy for him.
Across songs with titles such as Morning Star, Golgotha and Paradise Lost, Estanduri maps out a story of lost love and betrayal using the language and narrative of the casting out of heaven of Satan, and the banishment from Eden of Adam and Eve.
Whilst on paper that could sound melodramatic and narcissistic the lyrics are set to King Woman’s now trademarked, but ever more effective, ethereal doom rock and so fit in just fine. A friend and contemporary of Chelsea Wolfe, the pair share a Goth Queen of Metal type vibe and are consistently releasing some of the most interesting heavy music out there today.
My first exposure to King Woman was their punishing cover version of I Wanna Be Adored by The Stone Roses, with its key lyric “I don’t need to sell my soul, he’s already in me” it’s clear Estanduri is comfortable slipping on the horns and cloven hooves of the devil, but having had a religious upbringing there is also an element of her reclaiming these stories for her own ends.
The album begins with the title track, the Celestial Blues , those being the blues felt for being denied access to the heavens “I want to ascend into the divine, But I’m stuck, Right here”. It starts with whispered vocals and Pete Arensdorf’s sparse guitar chords before a huge fuzzed wall of riffs looms up and slow, simple but incredibly loud drums crash in. These two moods alternate for the duration, setting the stall out for the album – a mixture of gauzy, post-rock introspection and all out bleak, metal attack.
On the brooding and violent Boghz (the Arabic word for hatred) a toxic relationship is described, the protagonist “Shot down by the arrows of love”- a cruel and painful fate. Again a seemingly inescapable tragedy of the heart is played out on the pummelling Golgotha, the site of Christ’s crucifixion a place forever returned to “We return again to this hell”. The second half of the song drops the pace and breathless assault to build back up as a sort of droning Americana, atmospheric cellos by Jackie Perez Gratz wailing into a blackened squall.
The generally more restrained numbers from King Woman, such as Ruse and Paradise Lost can take more listens to inveigle themselves into your heart, but are necessary to add breathing space, less antagonistic moods and the opportunity to really enjoy Estanduri’s words. There are times when it seems like she doesn’t need to take a breath between lines and lyrics can pour out of her in a stream of invective, your ears struggling to take it all in – “You’re like an empty cup, You always need somebody to fill you up…I’m not that someone” from ‘Ruse’ being a particular favourite.
However, unlike some of the other female vocalists in the metal world, there is never a moment when Estanduri sounds coy, winsome or fragile whilst singing. Throughout ‘Celestial Blues’ the grain of her voice is harsh, set at a mid-range, almost conversational pitch she sounds occasionally wistful, but more often furious, vengeful, bitter yet always in control, very much how we’d imagine Old Nick himself. Or to put it another way –
“The lord saw what he made, Yeah it was good, Dripping from pearly gates, I was luminous, My name is Lucifer, Pleased to meet you”. (Morning Star)
The new King Woman album, Celestial Blues, is out now on Relapse Records.