I have a complicated relationship with metal. I started seriously listening to it when bands like Church of Misery, Dopefight, and Cough were still putting out amazing albums. Looking back, it seems like that was the golden age of metal. Since then, it’s felt like metal’s been lagging in quality, creativity, and originality. And if I have to hear about one more black metal band, I might explode.

But this isn’t the case for Bay Area’s King Woman.

Their music is a welcomed exception to the seeming lack of good metal bands. The band started as the project of Kristina Esfandiari and, with the addition of a full band, quickly bloomed into a powerhouse.

From her short stay in Whirr, to her solo project Miserable and into King Woman, Kristina Esfandiari brings magic to everything she touches. King Woman’s last release, Doubt, gave us a taste of what the band can do. Created in the Image of Suffering calls back to a lot of similar, dreary imagery, but it also steps things up in every way.

King Woman’s music is undeniably haunting.

KIng Woman 2017 New AlbumBut perhaps the most frightening thing about this album is that the things Esfandiari sings about are real, and they actually happened to her. Esfandiari had a dark past surrounded by deeply religious people. In an interview with Huff Post, she explained how she felt like the people who surrounded couldn’t fix what was wrong with them, so they put the blame on evil references in religion as a form of coping and pushed their beliefs on everyone else.

Forcing beliefs on others is a form of evil itself, and Esfandiari’s witnessed this horror firsthand. Her thoughts and feelings about the subject are clear in her lyrics. Lines like, “Is this my reality/is this really happening?” on “Utopia” or the creepy repetition of “Break the bread and drink the wine” on “Worn” are clear calls to Esfandiari’s feelings about her past. This has been a central theme on both of King Woman’s releases, and it has shaped their aesthetic.

As important as the lyrics are, the King Woman couldn’t survive on lyrics alone.

It’s the combination of airy vocals, pounding drums and brooding guitars that completes the sound. Guitars sustain ethereal, creepy notes one minute and rage like waves smashing against a shore the next. The drums roar with a thunderous vengeance but never overstep their bounds. There are no blast beats, nor is there the same dragging doom beat played the entire time. The vocals are not just inaudible growls or black metal screams; Esfandiari’s country-tinged voice acts as an instrument, flowing from loud, melodic chants to soft, delicate hums with flawless fluidity.

Their music is great example of how to take metal and add a little flavor without altering the overall vibe. They add a sinister, menacing element to doom, similar to Thou, but they still found their own sound.

Created in the Image of Suffering deals with uneasy issues, but it’s not at all hard to listen to. It’s a unique album and King Woman’s sound is refreshing. It will be interesting to see how their next release evloves and if the themes on it are as dark and real as those on Created in the Image of Suffering.