Record #435: King Woman – Created in the Image of Suffering (2017)

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The last couple metal records I reviewed weren’t afraid to have a little fun.

But Created in the Image of Suffering by King Woman is loathe to the idea.

Which shouldn’t come as a surprise, judging by the artwork and title alone. This is an album about suffering, dammit. And boy, do they suffer.

This is textbook doomgaze, which means the riffs are heavy and the atmospheres are lush. Bandleader Kristina Esfandiari’s mournful croon hangs above the sludgy cacophony as she airs her laments. Her lyrics are unabashedly spiritual: “I’d wash your feet/with my dirty hair.” “I’m your garden of Eden /I’m your promise land / You deny me the freedom / Still / I’m innocent.” “You break the bread and you drink the wine.” Her melodies wouldn’t be out of place accompanied by an acoustic guitar.

But the plague-like storm created by the instruments is a fitting world for her sorrow. The guitars are low and slow and the drums hit like an earthquake. The record’s gloom is singularly focused, taking few moments for breath.

The deepest of these breaths is the seven minute “Hierophant,” a love song that treats the lover as the divine. “If you’re a holy church, I want to worship.” The record actually shifts into a major key here, borrowing a few tricks from post rock as it cycles around the same melody.

Record #434: King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)

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The sixties were a weird time. And it had the music to match.

Every band, from the Beatles to the Byrds to the Beach Boys, dabbled in making some of the weirdest music of their career. Every band had at least one psychedelic album—even perennial rock and roll heroes the Rolling Stones. But by 1969, most of them had moved on from the weirdness of psychedelia.

But nobody told King Crimson that.

Their debut, In the Court of the Crimson King, isn’t just a coattail-riding, trend-following copycat that happens to be late to the game. It is a magnum opus of psychedelia that is still rightly celebrated today. The opening track, “21st Century Schizoid Man” is a balls-to-the-wall freight train of horns and guitar noodling (that Kanye West sampled, strangely enough). It’s seven and a half minutes of frenzy.

But as it fades, the record never revisits that bombast again. Which it doesn’t need to. Most of the record is driven by subdued, exploring guitar lines and Mellotron. At times, it flirts pretty heavily with jazz fusion (high praise). “Epitaph” and “The Court of the Crimson King” are epic ballads that manage to capture a dramatic scope that most psychedelic acts were devoid of. And it does that through extended arrangements and experimental composition.

While many psychedelic bands would eventually evolve into progressive rock, In the Court of the Crimson King manages to ride the line between them. As a result, this record is an absolute gem.

Record #433: Bailey William and the Cherranes – Emerson (2015)

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Let me tell you a little bit about my friend Bailey Williams.

The first time we met, she was just 16. She was opening for a punk show, armed only with an acoustic guitar. She scraped the strings and wailed with the abandon that for a moment I felt like I took a trip to 1960s Greenwich Village.

She was a force of nature, and it was immediately apparent. It didn’t take long for her to enlist a band behind her. But there was some talk amongst the local scene that perhaps her storm would be tempered by the expansion in her soundscape—that it would tame her rawness to a more “palatable,” and lukewarm sound.

But then, they dropped Emerson.

Any worries that Bailey’s edges would be dulled by introducing more instruments are completely assuaged. This album is a storm of Moogs, electric guitars, and keyboards. And in the eye of the storm is Bailey and her acoustic guitar, playing with just as much grit and fire as she ever did.

Which isn’t to mean that this is an angry album. By no means. This is an album filled with great pop tunes and love songs. But there is a chaos to those songs that creates a consistently engaging and powerful listening experience.

Record #432: Elder – Reflections of a Floating World (2017)

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Metal is a strange beast. For all of its tropes and archetypes, there is as nearly as much diversity under the metal umbrella as there is in pop music.

And while many metal bands focus narrowly in on their niche, Elder sprawls out in all directions.

Reflections of a Floating World runs the gamut from Sabbath-y doom metal, ISIS-esque post metal, Pink Floydish progressive rock, and some straightforward Krautrock.—often in the same song. With the exception of the singularly focused “Sonntag,” every song here is a massive, shapeshifting epic of cosmic proportions.

But despite the scope of its massive sprawl, the record never seems unfocused. No moment feels out of place. Rather, Elder has created a sonic world that is wholly its own, exploring each unique region throughout the record. It’s a world I want to get lost in, and maybe even my favorite album from 2017.

Record #431: Dio – Holy Diver (1983)

Ronnie James Dio is a complete legend in the metal community. He is a completely ubiquitous voice in some of the genre’s most important pioneers.

This was made obvious to me the other day when I bought this record and Rainbow’s Rising, only to discover that he was the lead singer for both projects.

Note: I have already been properly shamed for not knowing this.

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Record #249: As Cities Burn – Come Now Sleep (2007)

The sophomore album is always a challenge. Especially when your debut was an instant classic like Son, I Loved You At Your Darkest. 

And especially when the lead singer leaves after the debut.

Most bands would look at all of this and call it quits. And that’s what As Cities Burn did. Until an outpouring of support from fans encouraged them to regroup.

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