Twenty-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.
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”