Review: Countess – Fires of Destiny

Throughout my years of listening to metal I’ve had the pleasure (or displeasure as it may be) of watching new genres spring to life from the old. Combinations of elements smash and grind and mutate into a new sound; a nod to those who lead the way before them. In the beginning of the 80’s we were blessed with a handful of bands who would lay down the foundation for the likes of bands like Mayhem, Burzum, Morbid Angel or Deicide. These bands are what is commonly known today as “the first wave of black metal” and their names were Hellhammer, Slayer, Venom and Bathory. Quorthon of Bathory had given us something new in his vocal style, like a madman howling at the moon his voice was unlike anything before; primal, haunting, and pained. The music itself was faster, darker, and unlike anything that came before it. Long story short: Bathory was awesome and went on to be the philosophical ideal for Viking Metal as well as Satanic Black Metal. Sometime later, Varg burnt some churches and killed his guitarist, Quorthon died, and Black Metal evolved into fifty other genres we are listening to today. One of the bands to come from this new wave is Countess and they’ve just the brand new album, ‘Fires of Destiny.’

Now in all fairness Countess has been in the game since 1992, which is right around the time Euronymous was still wearing those ridiculous ripped t-shirts and white nikes, just to give you an idea how long these guys have been around. Still, I can’t help but write these guys off as a cheap Bathory spin-off. Countess, in my opinion, is the “Better Call Saul” to “Breaking Bad,” it’s the “Z Nation” to “Walking Dead” and I just can’t get past it. Just looking at the album cover, which is almost identical to Bathory’s classic, “Blood, Fire, Death” or the band’s use of the gothic old English font used in their logo makes me question just what these guys were thinking when they decided to package their brand. I’m trying here, people, I really am, but come on now. Who signed off on this? Ok, perhaps I’m being too harsh. Let’s take a peek at the music itself and let it speak for itself, shall we?

The first track to this masterpiece is called “Runenlied” and right away I’m reminded of some old school Bathory, especially with lead singer Orlok howling away in Quorthon-esque fashion and the jack-hammer guitars. The production of the album is halfway decent, but I feel someone left the keyboard volume on the mixer up a little too far and at times it becomes a bit obnoxious, particularly when the Lost Boys theme kicks in.

‘Fly the Battle Flag” as well as the fourth track ‘Rise of the Horned One’ are probably my favorite tracks of the album. Here the band flexes its metal muscles and the keyboards take the back seat and let the guitars dominate the song. The band definitely knows how to channel the more aggressive sound with that classic buzz saw sound; the vocals and the thunderous bass definitely have me banging my head along.

‘Plague upon the Pious,’ the album’s halfway point, doesn’t do much for me. Between Zagan’s 80’s glam riffs and that keyboard! I seriously find myself waiting for the song to end.

‘Today is a Good Die to Die,’ (which gives me a chuckle as I recall Bathory’s ‘Fine Day to Die’) is another of the good tracks and a nod to the classic Black Metal sound with crunchy, heavy distortion and some killer riffs. For once the keyboard actually contributes to the music and adds to the foreboding atmosphere of the song.

‘Choir of the Valkyries’ and ‘Treason of Kings’ are probably the album’s most atmospheric tracks with a slowing of the tempo, epic guitar solos, heavenly keyboard elements, and even the desire to be swept away into a medieval dream world where I can ride dragons and fight evil wizards in black robes.

“Bard van het Verleden” finishes up the album and Countess goes out as strong as one could expect. The tune starts slow, another ballad song I think to myself, but eventually the song comes crashing down as the slow but heavy guitar riffs, and Orlok’s possessed vocals attack to create a solid, diverse metal anthem.

Overall, I’m not wildly impressed with this album. Is it bad? No, it’s not a bad album; the ingredients that make a good album are all there. There’s solid instrument work from the band, a level of intensity that I can appreciate in the music, and the production is decent. I can’t curse these guys for using Bathory as blueprint, but in my humble opinion you can’t out-Bathory Bathory and while the music isn’t necessarily bad, it is dated and it’s been done better. To look at Countess objectively maybe it would have helped if I had never heard Bathory before. I think most people that are into extreme metal have heard Bathory before, so it’s hard to look at Countess without comparing them to original because when you try so hard to be just like a particular band it’s hard not to be compared to that band and in this case, it simply comes up short. 6/10

 

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