Released: 2014, Peaceville Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
After two stints with Cradle of Filth, the last one lasting some 15 years, guitarist Paul Allender is starting over – literally from scratch – with his new project White Empress, a band that came together in his new home of Minneapolis over the last two years. After a self-titled EP, the band – which includes vocalist Mary Zimmer from Luna Mortis and bassist Chela Harper from Coal Chamber, among others – went the crowd-funding route to record their debut full-length, which was just released through Peaceville Records.
No one can accuse Allender of resting on his Cradle of Filth laurels here. If anything, White Empress are more challenging and extreme than Cradle have been for quite some time, and Rise of the Empress will likely prove to be an acquired taste for many who opt to give it a try – even those who might have chipped in to help get it on tape, as it were.
I'm not really sure how to even describe White Empress. They are as much a concept as a band, at least according to the band themselves, with all six of the members forming “the essence of The Empress,” or something to that effect, and the album details the rise and fall of said “Empress.” The music only resembles Allender's former band in its thematic aspirations, orchestral drapery and tumultuous arrangements. It certainly isn't black metal. It's more of a frantic, crazy-quilt mix of thrash, death, industrial and electronic metal with some of most freakish, schizophrenic vocals you're likely to hear.
Think ex-Arch Enemy frontwoman Angela Gossow's voice is extreme? They are nothing compared to what Zimmer delivers here. Holy shit! Her clean vocals soar like an angel, occasionally taking on an operatic warble. But her gut-ripping growls and shrieks are so feral, deep and, well, masculine, I swore it was the work of one of the dudes in the band until discovering otherwise.
When things really get chaotic here, as in the blast-furnace frenzy “The Ecstatic and The Sorrow” or “Ours To Burn,” Zimmer's vocals attack like a pack of wolves. And they make for a rather uncomfortable contrast to the choral accompaniment on “Sven's Tower” to be sure.
Rise of the Empress is a relentless, almost exhausting album that maintains its furious pace throughout and offers a continuous assault of electronics, industrial clangor and sound effects, piercing strings and, of course, Zimmer's scorched-earth vocals. Allender and Kohnmann's raw, bracing riffs tend to get lost in the mix, what with so much else happening around them, and Rise ultimately loses some of “toothiness” as a result.
Still, it's a pretty daring and audacious debut, and it's good to see Allender didn't leave his piss and vinegar behind when he departed Cradle.