Countess: Old School Black Metal Staying True to Their Roots
Hailing from the city of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, Countess came about in 1992 when a group of friends with an appreciation for “old fashioned” black metal decided that the Norwegian sound was too popular and black metal needed go back to its roots.
“We were very much into old-fashioned black metal and around that time, all these new bands from Norway and other bands imitating that style were getting popular. We didn’t like that modern style at all and wanted to create real black metal; the way we felt it was supposed to be. Filthy, raw, primitive and with no commercial appeal whatsoever,” says multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, Orlok.
Combining the sounds of the first wave of black metal and traditional heavy metal, Countess’ sound has a truly old school black metal vibe. Don’t expect blast beats and an overuse of epic symphonics here. Instead, prepare yourself for some groovy and sinister metal topped by snarling vocals, satanic lyrics, and occasional atmospheric effects. If you’re still not sure what that translates to, then take it from Orlok himself.
“We sound like [what] Bathory might have sounded if that band had been formed in Newcastle in 1980.”
Taking their name from the infamous Countess Elizabeth Bathory, the band was looking for infamy in both style and name. Unfortunately, but expectedly, the band had a bit of trouble keeping their lineup steady for the first couple of years, but soon found a semi-solid lineup with the recruitment of Zagan (guitar) in 1995. The band’s lineup would be relatively unstable throughout the years, but have seems to have steadied with the recruitment of Mortüüm (drums) and Häxa (keyboards) in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
“I would say keeping a stable lineup for a longer period of time has proven to be quite a challenge. I guess that’s the same for most bands. You have to find people you can get along with, who want to go in the same musical direction, who are willing to prioritize the band, and so forth. We are confident, though, that our current line-up is the strongest the band has ever had,” remarks Orlok on the band’s lineup issues throughout the years.
Being the only constant members of the band for much of its existence, Orlok and Zagan handle most of the writing. While Orlok mainly handles the lyrics, Zagan has been known to contribute on occasion. And being that the band is very much influenced by the first wave of black metal bands such as Venom and Bathory, their lyrics are very much like what you’d expect from a band of that particular era. Of course, the band has evolved over the years.
“The early lyrics were very much inspired by first-wave black metal lyrics, you know, the typical subjects. Later on we began using different subjects too, partly because there’s only so many times you can write what are basically the same lyrics over and over again and partly because there simply were other subjects we wanted to write about as well. However, all lyrics have stayed within the boundaries of what we think are lyrical subjects that fit the music. Basically, that means subject matter dealing with the occult, mythology, history or metal itself.”
23 years into their career, Countess has become legendary in the black metal scene and has released 15 full length albums, three extended plays, and one split. Strangely enough, the band hasn’t done a whole lot of touring, save for a few tours with Mortuary Drape (1995), and Barathrum and Sabbat (1997). For a period between 1998 and the 2013, the band didn’t play a single show. That all changed in 2014 when the band returned to the stage, but mainly to play one-off shows and festivals. Of course, if you catch a Countess show, don’t be surprised if there’s a real lack of shock and awe showmanship often seen with other contemporary black metal acts.
“We don’t do anything special in terms of a stage show. We just go out there and play our songs to the best of our ability, as powerful and energetic as possible. We noticed over the last few years that some people complain that ‘nothing happens on stage’ at our shows but we don’t care. A live show should be about the music first and foremost. If you want to see some kind of show with props and costumes and pig heads or whatever, go to the theatre instead. “
Coming off the June 30th release of their 15th full length album, entitled ‘Fire of Destiny,’ Countess will be hitting the road for a few select shows. Due to budget constraints that comes with being an underground European metal band, don’t expect Countess to cross the ocean and hit the USA anytime soon. Of course, if you’re in need of that live show experience then you’re in luck. The band has over 148 videos on their official Youtube channel, including a pair of music videos featuring a pair of tracks from the new album, and a short documentary chronicling the band’s return to the stage in 2014.