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White Empress - Rise of the Empress

White Empress - CD Review
Rise of the Empress

Rise of the Empress



CD Info
Peaceville Records
12 tracks
English lyrics


White Empress is drawn from a thousand wounds, the band has roots in more locations than an American oil company. Vocalist Mary Zimmer, who is the only one I’ve ever met, once called Madison, Wisconsin home. She worked with one of the premier Wisconsin Femme Metal outfits, Luna Mortis, something of a legend in the town I now call home. But these days, the band seems to call Minneapolis home, although I still seem to see Mary hanging regularly with the boys in LA, often the boys associated with From Light Rose the Angels. But the talk on the streets says the band is the brainchild of ex-Cradle Of Filth guitarist Paul Allender. Beyond that, we have contributions from others with solid creds, We get bass player Chela Harper (Coal Chamber), guitarist Jeremy Kohnmann (The Awakening), keyboardist Will Graney (Damnation Angels) and drummer Zac Morris (whom had recently been seen working the kit for Ugly Kid Joe). Lot of folks for a Minneapolis band, ain’a? And the band has gotten recognition. As would be expected with a lineup like that. More importantly, they don’t do polka.

I’ve seen Mary do Luna Mortis, seen her do MFVF as an Apple. Never saw her do anything like this. New territory, and I got no complaints. I was supposed to see the band this summer in Cudahy, they had problems and were AWOL. I got to spend time with VK Lynn and others so I was happy. But, once I got a chance to hear this release, and the vids associated with it, I rethought the situation and realized I’d missed something significant. You know, Blackthorn was somewhat melodic at first, so was Mary. Both seem to have moved on. This is new territory. White Empress doesn't have the choral ensemble of the Moscow Conservatory of Music behind them, but they have a lot of music that comes close.

It’s a little hard to classify the release. Be clear here, this is Paul Allender’s band. It started as a minor effort after Dani Filth moved to a new project and Allender decided to get something new started. However, Peaceville intervened and suggested moving things forward and this is what we got. The sound has been described as a marriage between thrash metal and, well, Luna Mortis maybe with a bit of symphonic and even some electronic and industrial. You get the trash, but you get a lot of background material as well, both symphonic instrumental and vocal / choral. Not sure how all that came to be, I never really got a lot of info back from the band although we do have Robin Stryker’s interview with Zimmer to provide relevant background. And, with that one you get pictures which certainly add to the entertainment value. This is a visual band, whether it was planned that way or not.

So, I guess, the question here is what is the music like. And that’s not an easy question to answer. There’s a number of qualifiers that could describe the music. Obviously, it seems that Thrash metal is the one the band might favor. However, there’s more to it than that. As Mary Zimmer stated in the interview, there is a bit of the “White Empress” theme to be considered, however, that’s just a couple tracks, the rest go in other directions. To my way of thinking, this is just a release you can listen to from start to finish without loosing too much interest anywhere. There’s lot of music here, and that appeals to me. Others might be put off by it. Some folks prefer a linear direction and that’s what we often get in contemporary music. Clearly, the guitar stuff seems to predominate. But, there’s enough keyboard material, enough background noise to make sure this isn’t strictly a guitar sound. And, with this release, you have to spend time with the vocal element. I mean a screaming blond from Wisconsin who wears a costume like the White Empress is hard to ignore. Let’s give this one a listen, it’s Darkness Encroaching. Yea, you get the guitar driving the train but, beyond the screaming vocals there’s still a lot to listen to. Drums pound, the keyboards do more than fill work and that bass ain’t all bad either, eh? And it’s appropriate to see what appears to be snow falling around the Empress, ever been to Minneapolis, makes Green Bay look like Miami Beach by comparison. I love the part at the end when we go from Mary to a “ya, ta ya ta ya ya. . . “ and then to some Latin sounding choral element. One of the finest conclusions to a metal track I’ve heard.

In case you’re thinking that previous video might have been a heavy handed editing job to make the band look good, check this live performance of The Ecstatic and The Sorrow. This was taken from some shows in November in the midwest; Madison and Minneapolis I think. Clearly, the visual is included in live performance at a very high level.

However, there are instances of beauty in this thundering mayhem. Obsession with the Empress provides some truly lovely segments, placed alongside the more traditional thrash black metal. And the lyrical work is equally interesting:

Here we are so close to the end / The last of an organic race
It’s the path that we know we’re on do we know where it leads?
Human to divine / We become what we were truly meant to be
Synthetic immortality / Evolution is our Destiny
As we approach the singularity
We are still humankind with our ancient minds

Everyone will have their likes and dislikes with this one, although, for Femme Metal fans, I suspect the likes will far exceed the dislikes. For me, one of the highlights is the use of choral elements. Tracks like The Congregation cleverly place them between lyrical components to augment those sounds. When you blend this in with Zimmer’s move from the melodic to the screeching it can become overpowering. It won’t work for all metal fans but then, nothing does. Sven’s Tower is another that makes full use of this technique. Again, I have no inside information regarding how this component was produced, bands use a variety of techniques ranging from layering the voice of the vocalist to utilizing software. And, beyond the more traditional choral work, we also get Zimmer’s vocal done as a duet, one vocal doing a clean reading of the lyric while at the same time the screaming deamon from hell is screeching in the background. Nice touch.

Another direction that is of note is presented with tracks like Erased and Rewritten. Here you get some electronic that moves over the choral elements as the track begins. The guitars and drums pound and Zimmer agains provides multiple vocal interpretation. Lyrically, you could argue the band is making a personal statement:

I don't know what you want from us / I don't know why we try so hard
Search until you find the patience / To learn from your mistakes
Though we're in this together / Trying to reach a common end
Can't stop until we're dying / And you would watch us fall…
We've got the best of intentions / We don't need your intervention
With each new presentation / We're met with hesitation

Well, the band may meet with some hesitation, but not from me. I can listen to this material for a long time, and I have. Can the sound be improved, probably. But, most of the concerns I’ve seen in reviews have been the kind of concerns we hear about Femme metal all the time, and I generally ignore. The Empress has made a statement, and we need to listen, a lot. Hopefully in Madison in the near future..