White Empress - Rise of the EmpressTwenty-fourteen was a busy one for me, but that’s no excuse for me not covering White Empress‘s début record Rise of the Empress which came out in September from Peaceville Records. It’s hard to know whether or not to call White Empress a super group, per se, but the heart of the band is Paul Allender (ex-Cradle of Filth) and Will Graney (Damnation Angels). From the Empress’ mouth herself, Allen and Graney put together some demo tracks and started working with Mary Zimmer, formerly vocalist for Luna Mortis1. This developed slowly, spawning a Bandcamp site and some pretty wicked The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe imagery before the band finally got picked up by Peaceville. Next thing you know and Rise of the Empress was released and I completely biffed on it. Regardless of my schedule or whether or not White Empress qualifies as a “supergroup,” Rise of the Empress is a strong showing that shouldn’t be overlooked.

As we’ve learned in 2014, even ostensibly melodic bands are starting to discover that playing with dissonance, discomforting tones and horror are ways that make records feel heavy again. White Empress walks a blood-slicked balancing beam between the dissonant, the melodic and the haunting, which uses Mary’s vocal range to perfect effect. It’s probably best to call what White Empress does melodic black metal, but I’m not sure that entirely does justice to the sound. Rise of the Empress has a thrashy or melodeath drive, while backed up by symphonic soundscapes that do evoke a Cradle of Filth feel at times.

The Rise of the Empress succeeds by understanding that its success will not come from a good image or connections to previously successful bands. The heart of this record is as it should be: machine gun kicks and driven riffs with Mary’s tortured screams layered over them. The use of clean vocals and orchestrations are sides, not the main course. Nothing here is too slick or catchy, while it’s still entertaining and palatable (Dodecahedron this ain’t). This is best exemplified by Mary’s clean vocal lines, which are never pop melodies, but instead create a sense of atmosphere. Where a “poppy” chorus could break the mood in “The Congregation,” Zimmer’s alto (er, possibly baritone…) tones weave a more unsettling feeling. In “Erased and Rewritten,” she breaks in with moments of melody, majesty and power, but only briefly before reverting to her shredding screams. “The Ecstatic and the Sorrow” features the most lush of the melodic work, and even rocks out something that borders on a NWoBHM guitar harmony piece; but these don’t take subtract from a driven, blackened core.

White Empress 2014
All-in-all White Empress‘ début record is a cool disc that shouldn’t be given a miss. The production sounds good, with unique guitar tone, and beautifully layered and balanced keys and soundscapes that never drench the mix. I was particularly pleased to note that Rise of the Empress is DR 10 with absolutely no fanfare; it’s dynamic metal with an unusual—almost claustrophobic—tone. As a consequence of the dynamic mix, though, the drums of Zac Morris sound big, full and a little trashy, and Chela Harper’s bass is fat, anchoring down the rhythm section tastefully. The Rise of the Empress ends up sounding balanced and well-oiled and the music romps through in under 45 minutes, making it ready for a re-listen in no time.

Sorry we didn’t give the Empress her due when this dropped, but nothing is stopping you from checking it out now. Mea Culpa.

Songs to Check: “The Congregation,” “Sven’s Tower,” and “The Ecstatic and the Sorrow”

Show 1 footnote

  1. Full disclosure, I also knew Mary and guitarist Jeremy Kohnmann before they were cool from metal scene I cut my teeth in.
  • Rob M

    If I hadnt known before hand, theres no way I would have pegged that as Mary Zimmer in those pictures

    • Yeah, some of them I wasn’t sure it was her. I guess it is, though. Hard to tell, but I love it. They’re creepy as fuck.

    • Monsterth Goatom

      She’s got a kind of Xena the Warrior Princess thing going there.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    Streaming it now. Great to hear a band working hard to create a unique sound. I Like the use of synths. Mary’s voice is truly a force of nature.

    • Yeah, it really is. She’s got a thick and tough voice. It’s pretty fucking cool, frankly.

  • Disparil

    Paul Allen, one of the founders of Microsoft? Or Paul Allender, the ex-guitarist of Cradle of Filth…

    • Corrected.

      • Feeblejocks

        Still says ‘Allen and Graney’ in the sentence after that.

        • Our Fortress Is Burning

          It will be fixed with the release of version 1.2

          Stand by.

  • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

    The non-poppy cleans sold me on this project as soon as the chorus in “The Congregation” hit. For some reason “Sven’s Tower” makes me really want to play Dark Souls.

    • I agree. I think that poppy vocals would kill this record, but instead Mary’s vocals are almost atmospheric. I really dig what she’s doing here.

  • Vega Magnus

    I am usually leary of harsh female vocals for the sole reason that I always wonder how much they’ve been altered in production, but what little live footage there is on Youtube shows that Zimmer is very much legit. Very impressed.

  • Doomdeathrosh

    The minute you said Mary Zimmer you got my interest, not that the rest of the band is less good. I have to say this is quite a diiferent use of synth than normal, its quite awesome really! I would call this “Melodic Speed Metal”!

  • Whoa nice catch. Gonna grab this. Thanks AMG.

  • Wilhelm

    Sorry guys, I just don’t see the big deal; what I hear is over polished compressed pseudo gothic/symphonic/ “extreme” “black” power metal with gimmicky female vocals (ala arch enemy) but even if there was a dude growling, it would sound generic…and besides being like ten different genres of metal, it’s not unique or interesting at all. Just my opinion; I’ll be listening to Cradle of Filth, thank you.

    • Alexandre Barata

      Yep all I heard was cacophony, like when a band that tries too hard to play something unique by mixing a lot of different styles in one go, without the ability to do it. Sounds like CoF without catchiness, and where, although a DR 10, you can’t really hear all that’s going on.
      I won’t go listening to CoF though as I don’t like any of their records post Damnation and a Day.

  • Excentric_1307

    I’m glad the video is posted too; I had no idea that was who was singing the vocals; I thought it was two different people. I think I get it though, I may have to listen a few times.

  • Realkman666

    Oh wow, that finally came out. Love you, MARY!

  • Ben Mccullough

    I miss Luna Mortis