WHITE EMPRESS "Off With Their Heads!"

By Dr. Abner Mality

"Aluminum coils, laced through her skin, held her form together here and there, the sacrifice she had coldly made to achieve majesty. All color had left her except for the dried clots of blood, which clung insistently to the holes left by the stoic stitching, begging her to remember a humanity she had marshaled, a mortality... she’d eschewed" 

Hail The White Empress!!

On your knees, dogs! No mere mortal filth such as yourselves are allowed to stand before the Empress without bending knee! Must I separate your head from your lowly body?! That's better! You have travelled a long way to see Her and her faithful Knights...across the Blasted Lands haunted by ghost, machines and the ghosts of machines and much else besides. But why not? What else is there in this ruined world worth bowing before? The White Empress rules all!

...or at least, that's what they're shooting for. This unique new band does indeed have ambitions to conquer the world of music with their mixture of raw blasting metal, extreme symphonic grandeur and twisted electronics. The Empress herself was known as Mary Zimmer in her former life...talented singer of Madison, WI based metal band Luna Mortis. Her voice was one for the ages. But it wasn't until she met Paul Allender formerly from Cradle of Filth that she blossomed into the icy queen of the extreme that she is now. White Empress is a combination of five diverse talents that also includes former members of Coal Chamber and Damnation Angels. Not only is their music singular, but their vision is as well. Their debut album "Rise of the Empress" tells the story of a future age dominated by the spectral force known as the White Empress.

Now the Empress might now grant an interview to a lowly worm such as Dr. Mality, but Mary Zimmer is a different story. It took some doing, but I was able to separate Mary from her alter ego for a while and ask some questions. And she had plenty to say! Enjoy these royal proclamations from the bloodless lips of the Empress herself...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES  I’m interested in how such a diverse collection of musicians came together.  Were you “recruited” or did things just kind of fall together without a plan?

MARY ZIMMER: Basically, things just fell together without a plan, haha...Paul and Will Graney (keys, synths, strings) and also drummer Martin Skaroupka had been working on writing the White Empress material for some time before they had contacted me.  Paul and Will knew they'd have to fill out the lineup to make it an actual band, Martin was just helping with the writing, however, because he has his other duties to fulfill in a few other bands.  So, I originally got in touch with Paul because he invited me to play keys and sing for a Cradle of Filth tour.  I actually declined the offer due to personal commitments with school I was just about to finish and couldn't do the tour.  However, I told him if you have any other music you'd like to work on hit me up in the future as Paul lives only a few hours from me in the Twin Cities.  Almost immediately he sent me the basic White Empress stuff to check out.  I was totally blown away by the music and really didn't know what to make of it at first  - it was almost overwhelming.  It was just so different and amazing....I asked Paul what kind of vocal styles they were looking for, opera, harsh vocals etc and he told me just to do whatever kind I thought fit best.  He didn't want to influence me in any particular direction.  So, I just went nuts and did all the styles I can do, but where I thought they fit.  Will and Paul ended up really liking it and all the different things I did and one day we decided to become a band.  Then shortly afterward, we began rounding out the lineup I contacted Chela shortly after she left Coal Chamber - she was the kind of player we were looking for - she's a really talented bassist who knows her instrument and how to create really heavy yet groovy sound.  She loved the  music and was ready to jump on board right away.  Then, on drums we recruited Zac Morris through a mutual friend of mine and Zac is from LA he's toured a great deal with professional bands.  Also, Jeremy the second guitarist is a long time friend of mine from Madison, Wisc. who's been playing in the scene with a lot of gothic and industrial bands like The Awakening from South Africa.  For this last tour run, Zac was unable to make it out due to a family emergency and we had an amazing guy fill in for him named Jon Siren who has toured also extensively in the goth/industrial and metal scenes.  I think our diverse lineup allows us to be more creative and pull from our collective experiences when it comes to writing the music.

WC: Was there a blueprint for the White Empress sound from the beginning or did you allow yourself to be surprised by what you wound up with?

MZ: There really wasn't a blueprint.  I suppose the "blueprint" was what Paul and Will had written at first, I wrote the vocals to fit what they had started, but the idea was always to keep a really open mind about subgenres and style.  We just decided not to be afraid of mixing the many metal subgenres because we didn't want to be like the other bands out there - just a copy of something that already exists.  The main goal was to do something different but we didn't know exactly how that would end up being at the beginning.

WC: A band that combines so many different sounds might have trouble reaching everybody…the real hardcore death metallers might be turned off by the melody and Gothic elements, the fans of the more melodic stuff could be put off by the real brutal parts. How do you find the happy medium?

MZ: I think the fans actually don't mind.  I think even fans of one particular subgenre of metal are willing to open their minds to Empress because they are bored with metal at the moment.  There's a lot of tours and shows that will revolve entirely around one subgenre of could literally go to the concert, close your eyes and not know which band is which because they are so stylistically similar.  At the end of the day, that's quite boring and creatively limiting.  I think we create better songs and write better when we don't try to force it to fit into a pre-concept like a specific subgenre.  It's resulted in a really diverse audience of fans but the comments we keep hearing are that it's refreshing to finally hear something different in the metal scene.  Being different is awkward at first, but in the long run it's the best way to go.

WC: There seems to be one big concept behind the band. What is that concept? Is it a story that will be told across many records?

MZ: The concept is really divided into two parts - the band and the members/live element and the fantasy/fictional concept of the "White Empress" character.  What we realized after awhile was that the audience know us personally who we are as musicians and follow us on Facebook, Instagram etc.  So in order for people to really get into the White Empress as a fictional character we gave her an image separate from ourselves.  Several artists have come up with paintings and renderings of The White Empress that are not me, they are drawings and art work.  We will be releasing a graphic novel/comic-style version of The White Empress which the artwork has been done by Eric Godeau and the fans adore it.  There's even been a couple of White Empress tattoos of the comic image.  Everyone is really excited about the concept because they can get into it and make The White Empress their own.  We visually represent her on stage but the audience knows it's me so with the paintings and drawings and stories like the bio by VK Lynne, they are able to get into her as a concept and create in their minds how they envision this character.  We will carry that overall concept into everything we do...

WC: Are there extra layers of meaning to the White Empress story? In other words, a linear narrative “on top” and more hidden meanings in the songs you have to dig for?

MZ:  There aren't really any secret or hidden meanings...the lyrics for all the songs are really separate from the overall concept.  We didn't want to create "concept albums" ala Mindcrime etc because we found it to be creatively stifling. So about two of the songs I wrote about the fictional/fantasy White Empress character - in places where I felt genuinely inspired to do so, and the rest of the lyrics on the record come from my real-life experiences and situations.  I feel you have to keep the music relatable so that people in your audience don't lose touch with your music.

WC: Mary, your “evil” voice is really beastly ! Is this kind of tone something that comes naturally to you or does it require a lot of work and discipline?

MZ: Haha well thank you!  I have been screaming since my time in Ottoman Empire/Luna Mortis, although admittedly I did a lot less of it on those records and a lot more of it on this record with White Empress.  It came relatively natural to me, but I did have to spend time in my very early years kind of "figuring it out"  - experimenting on how to do it without injuring my voice.  Now I have lots of experience with it and it comes quite easily...

WC: Women in extreme metal is no longer unique, but your approach to things seems different. Do you see yourself as blazing a trail?

MZ: Yes, the climate for women in metal has certainly changed since I started out with my previous band.  We see a lot more women in metal now than we used to.  However, I think American society in particular has seen a backward trend on the way women are treated in society and there is a huge amount of gender repression taking place suddenly. I feel as though it's more important than ever for women like myself and Chela to stand up and be professional, high quality musicians in extreme bands because other women need to see that.  Women need to see that they don't have to live by society's repressive standards and it's more important than ever for women in entertainment to be subversive and stand as examples in  a time when feminism is being quashed.

WC: You are not the only woman in the band. What’s it like having a “sister” in White Empress and how does that affect the group dynamic?

MZ: It's fantastic having Chela in the band.  Not only is she an amazingly talented and high-caliber musician, she's also a great person and there are a lot of issues in the music industry that are really specific to females - situations that unfortunately the men in the band can't relate to as easily.  It's great to have a shared camaraderie with Chela and she and I often band together with common understanding of women-specific issues.

WC:  I would imagine band members are scattered all over the place. Do you collaborate using the internet or do you actually get together face to face a lot?

MZ: We are all over the place - Paul, Jeremy and I live in Minnesota/Wisconsin, but Chela lives in Canada, Will is in the UK and Zac is in LA.  So, we did record the entire record remotely, with Paul functioning as the producer/arranger for this one.  We would write our own individual parts and work on the arrangements over the internet with each other.  Finally the songs were sent to Kit Woolven in the UK to mix the record.

WC: Is there any one track from “Rise of the Empress” that you are really drawn towards or that has special meaning for you?

MZ: I think lately, I really enjoy "The Ecstatic and The Sorrow"....a lot of times with this band it's the arrangements that make me really into the songs.  After playing a lot of the material live, I really like how this song hits all the parts at just the right times.  We shot a live video for this and  it's gone over really well!

WC:  Is it too early to ask about the next album from White Empress and what form that might take?

MZ: Well ,for the next record, we'd like to actually get together and record and work on the music and we've talked a lot about actually going to the UK and getting together with Kit the producer who mixed the record and we envision a more collaborative effort.

WC:  If you can, describe what the band is like live.

MZ: Live, the band is incredibly intense!  The music comes across with such power and energy - live is really where our strengths are shown.  A lot of people were wondering if the vocals would work, if we could do all of this complexity and pull it off live and we did.  It's heavy as hell, super enjoyable and full of energy and intensity.  We can't wait to continue touring!

WC: You recently played some Halloween shows in your old stomping ground of Madison, WI. What was that like? How did fans of your previous band Luna Mortis react to White Empress?

MZ: The reception was UNREAL the shows at The Frequency were completely sold out to venue capacity and the crowd was incredibly enthusiastic.  I think the Luna Mortis fans were really happy to see something new and were also really glad to have a heavy band to rally around again.  The songs were pumping hard and the crowd was SO into it!  I think Madison showed us that they have our back for sure and I'm so proud to be from Wisconsin and have such killer support from an amazing city.

WC: If you could ask any 3 people from history to dinner, who would they be?

MZ: Sun Tzu, Niccolo Machiavelli and Buddha - LOTS of questions for those guys :)

 WC: What was the last CD or release you picked up just because you wanted to hear the band?

MZ: Probably the new "Season of Ghosts" record by my dear friend Sophia's this crazy Japanese influenced pop-metal and she's an incredible vocalist...

WC: What was the last live gig you saw just because you wanted to see the band?

MZ: Arch Enemy, Kreator and Huntress - I'm going there tomorrow [November 18]!  No explanation needed there - just some of my favorite all-time bands...

WC: This can be from the White Empress era or any of your previous bands. Has there ever been a Spinal Tap moment where things went wrong that you could share with us?

MZ: There's been many a Spinal-Tap moment in my life, probably getting nailed with the headstock of the Luna Mortis bass player's instrument during the middle of a show stands out.  A girl in the audience kept yelling his name so he turned quick to see her and right in the back of my head I was slammed with the headstock of the 5-string bass guitar - I finished the show but man I had a mild concussion to go with it :)

WC: Any last words or comments?

MZ: Thank you so much for having me and for supporting White Empress.  We really appreciate it!!