King Woman first came to prominence last summer when they jettisoned a lucrative support slot for Pentagram following allegedly sexually abusive behavior by that band's frontman, Bobby Liebling. Liebling's ostensible reason for hiring two female-led bands (the other being Wax Idols) for the tour was so that he would "have a lot of options with women", which led both bands to drop off the tour due to unacceptable, actionable misogyny. Since then, King Woman has been laying low recording their debut album, and now that it's here it's clear that this is a band that can stand on its own merits without being overshadowed by the empathetic controversy.
Created in the Image of Suffering is not the band's first foray into the studio: singer Kristina Esfandiari started off in a shoegaze throwback band, Whirr, and King Woman's first couple of singles continued in that vein without much of a metallic influence. It was with the 2015 EP, Doubt, that the group began taking on heavier, more ominous overtones, Esfandiari still crooning wistfully in a semi-narcotic haze, but this time over a backdrop of doom-laden guitar soliloquies and cavernous percussion. The band were on their way to post-metal glory, but still sticking to their shoegaze roots in the process. It wasn't an unprecedented admixture of forms, but it was about as arrestingly executed as such things get.
Two years later, King Woman really cement themselves as a top notch band with their first full length, though at a fairly succinct 38 minutes. Created in the Image of Suffering further amps up the band's sound from the start, with "Utopia" taking the band into stoner doom territory with a monstrous riff underwriting double-tracked vocals, now more discernible yet no less ethereal and haunting (the press release accurately describes the new sound as a "Black Sabbath fronted by Mazzy Star"). "Deny" dials back the visceral intensity for a funereal take on doom rock, while on "Hierophant" Esfandiari drops the catatonic, mumbled vocals for a more expressively exhortative lament. The band's finest hour thus far.
The remainder of the album never gets as brazenly metallica as "Utopia", but is all the more well-rounded for the moodily consistent sense of musical variation. "Worn" and "Hem" both build to heavy climaxes, but from the starting points of woozy folk and spacey psychedelia, respectively. In spite of the expansive breadth of influences abounding on Created in the Image of Suffering, the overall tone is enough of a piece that the album's brevity actually works heavily in its favor, even as one gets the sense that this is a band that you can't get enough of hearing. More "metal adjacent" than straight up metal, King Woman will appeal to fans of True Widow, 40 Watt Sun and some of Kylesa's more experimental moments, while hardly being beholden to any of them. An impressive debut by a group that has admirably hewn their own path to get here.