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The metal soundtrack to “Frozen”? - 54%

Hellish_Torture, February 18th, 2015

So... really? Did Paul Allender leave Cradle of Filth for... this? I admit I was quite disappointed with “The Manticore and Other Horrors”, but the announcement of Paul’s abandonment still shocked me a bit. And when few months ago I discovered Paul’s new project, White Empress, I didn’t hesitate to give it a listen in order to understand which kind of “musical vision” he was pursuing at the cost of leaving his main band. Let’s be clear: modern Cradle of Filth is black metal as much as Peppa Pig is, and Dani’s current side project, Devilment, is maybe the most awful thing he’s ever been involved in, overcoming “Thornography” by far (and this says a lot). It would be easy to think that Paul just wanted more freedom and more independence from Dani’s tyrannies; after all, he could even have more valid ideas to offer in comparison to those of his egocentric vampire-dwarf leader. However, listening to “Rise of the Empress”, I can’t help but wonder: what’s the point of this? Was it worth it?

This album is rather pointless. It’s basically “Manticore” plus some elements that never belonged in Cradle of Filth’s sound, and none of them really play a relevant role on here. The blend of extreme metal riffs and beautiful gothic keyboards on many Cradle of Filth albums (especially the older ones) is a unique mixture that countless bands tried in vain to replicate: each component is essential to the band’s sound and the balance is handled flawlessly, so that no specific elements prevail upon the rest (an error that Dimmu Borgir and tons of other symphonic bands often commit); here, on the contrary, the “external influences” seem to have been put on the table just for the sake of it, without any real vision to fulfill.

This is some kind of weird “fantasy-themed” album that tries to mix a certain kind of “fairy epicness” with cheesy modern electronic elements of the worst kind. I think you will puke when you’ll hear the intro of “Darkness Encroaching” and “Obsession with the Empress”, or the closure of “Erased and Rewritten”, because this kind of “electronic music” could have been taken from the worst kind of Disney Channel electro-pop music for little 10/11 years old girlies. And you know what’s the funniest thing? These elements bring absolutely nothing relevant to the table, they’ve just been thrown there randomly without a precise purpose, and result to be just as useful and appropriate as marshmallows on a plate of steaks and potatoes. Of course, if sporadically the electronic elements interact with the music, they just ruin it: on “Ours to Burn”, for example, a decent up-tempo at 1:36 is totally raped by a random annoying electronic insertion.

And then, we have the “epic component”, which is at least a bit more useful. The vocals are handled by a very hot chick called Mary Zimmer, which alternates a dull raspy voice with “epic” clean choruses (where she shows to be way more capable), but her performance is supported by a lot of other external choirs and massive symphonic parts that attempt to enforce the “solemn” atmosphere of the album (sometimes taking too much space, like on “Sven’s Tower”). Honestly, this attempt at epicness comes off as rather childish and pompous, sounding more akin to Dimmu Borgir rather than Cradle of Filth: more specifically, it sounds like if Shagrath & co. were attempting to write an alternative soundtrack for the Disney movie “Frozen”, with a female vocalist providing for both Elsa and Anna’s voices. I can almost hear ”Let it goooo, let it goooo” in my head, while listening to White Empress, and even the album’s artwork and some of the lyrics inspire me this kind of feeling. Is it a coincidence?

Well... at least, we still have the metal component. But, as I expected, this stuff isn’t too far removed from Cradle of Filth’s most recent material. Basically, pretty much like “Manticore”, the riffs are a quite dull and lethargic mix of heavy metal and punk, with some rare hints of thrash and “black” metal (hahahahahaha, NO); sometimes, the riffing almost steps up dangerously into the “Thornography” territory. However, the strangest thing is that, when I listen to certain riffs of this record, I can’t even tell if I like them or not: there are a lot of martial mid-tempos (always as an attempt to epicness, like on the opening track) and punk up-tempos that sometimes sound quite lazy (this is particularly noticeable on “Dethroned”) and sometimes a bit more refined; you can also find some hints of inconsistent chugging riffage (like on “A Prison Unleashed”), occasional fast pseudo-black metal parts (“The Congregation”) and some quite enjoyable melodic parts in the vein of “Nymphetamine” or even the few savable episodes of “Thornography”. The problem is that, most of the time, even when the music is actually pretty good, it still stands just on a “decent” level, and rarely gets really “great”. Paul seems just to capitalize on later Cradle of Filth’s formula as much as he can, sometimes even inserting explicit citations/deja-vu moments that remind explicitly of his former main band: the stop-’n’-go riffage of “Sven’s Tower”, with the addition of epic choirs and a precise drumming pace, is deliberately borrowed from the “Shat Out of Hell” archetype.

Highlights? Well... “Darkness Encroaching” and “Erased and Rewritten”, despite the awful electronic insertions, are pretty decent songs, thanks to a good use of metal/punk riffs, nice melodies and even some brutal fast parts. “The Ecstatic and the Sorrow” starts promisingly, with nice up-tempos and grooves, but gets fucked up by a rhythmically unstable part with a banal riff, and then it just gets worse (despite possessing a great solo). However, the most enjoyable track is surely “Ours to Burn”: it’s mostly driven by an awful, awful dance beat (and I already mentioned the presence of other horrible electronic parts in the song), but it contains some damn great and catchy riffs, probably the best ones of the whole album. There are still some inconsistent moments, but this song is for the most part a very fun listen.

What can I say in defense of “Rise of the Empress”? Well, it shows some occasional hints of potential, at least it’s surely way better than Devilment and maybe it even possesses the benefit of being slightly more “diverse” than “Manticore”, but in the end it’s still pretty unsatisfying. Paul, dammit, kick out those shitty electronic parts from your music and write some more kickass riffs for the next album, because if White Empress is gonna be like this for the rest of their career, you can already call it quits and rejoin Cradle of Filth. On the other hand... Dani, stop fucking around with Devilment, performing laughable pieces of goth trash such as “Even Your Blood Group Rejects Me”, and give us a new Cradle of Filth album that could at least be comparable to “Godspeed” and “Darkly”!