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Album Title: Heilig Vuur
Label: Barbarian Wrath
"Heilig Vuur" is the ninth album from Countess, and the first with lyrics written entirely in Dutch. As always, this band's music can best be described by frontman Orlok's own designation - Orthodox Black Metal.
This album takes the work done on both parts of "Revenge of the Horned One", spices it with a touch of the experimental drone of "The Shining Swords of Hate", and then looks back to the classic songwriting of "Ad Maiorem Sathanae Gloriam". The result is an album that successfully fuses everything that Countess has done over the last few years. Everything here is Countess at its best - high, echoing solos, relentlessly old-school riffing, and menacing keys, all backed by minimalist drum machine programming. Orlok's vocals are a bit back in the mix, this time, though perfectly audible. This is an excellent choice that puts the focus on the music.
The songwriting here is astounding. When I listened for the first time, these songs seemed as if I'd heard them before, but not in a bad way - quite the opposite. These songs flow so naturally that they seem almost inevitable, as if they always existed throughout Countess' work, but were only just unearthed. Each song is perfectly memorable, chock full of catchy riffs and solos. As if that weren't enough, the album ends with "Schemering der Goden", an epic piece that's the purest expression of Countess' music since "Te Vuur en te Zwaard". And on top of that, there's three classic live songs as bonus tracks: "Bloed In de Sneeuw", "De Gift der Goden", and "Dokkum 754". Even the live tracks are entirely in Dutch!
"Heilig Vuur" harks back to Countess classics in many ways, yet it manages to stay progressive as well. It's a major improvement over the spotty "Revenge of the Horned One, Part Two", and is more cohesive and consistent than Part One. It fully incorporates the lessons learned from "The Shining Swords of Hate", while staying clear of the experimentation that made "Shining Swords..." such a love-it-or-hate-it album. This is easily the pinnacle of Countess' recent work.
The only comparison I can make with "Heilig Vuur" is to the glory days of Countess. To my mind, "Heilig Vuur" compares favorably with classic albums like "Ad Maiorem..." and "The Book of the Heretic". Countess isn't for everyone, but if you appreciate their previous albums, I can give no higher recommendation than this.
Standout Tracks: "De Wilde Jacht", "Drakendoder", "Schemering der Goden"
Review by Vorfeed: http://www.vorfeed.net
Yes! The legendary cult act is back with the stunning Heilig Vuur record that I thought would be a terrible display, in all honesty. The band has not been the classic Countess we've all known for many years and despite a few enjoyable tracks that were released during the Barbarian Wrath era the band has simply been subpar as of late. (I mostly loathe the Barbarian Wrath era of the band, being a fan of the more inspired N.E.P. released work...until now...)
It must be noted that the performance is the bands single most violent to date. Orlock hasn't snarled and howled with this much rage in years. The songwriting/musicianship has vastly improved, bringing the band back to their NEP-era prime. The songwriting has also progressed, adding more harmonies, melodies and speed to the mix. This record may be the record to convert non-fans as it is very accomplished musically. while retaining the simplicity that marked many of the earlier Countess albums. Progression, without decay is rare in many black metal acts, yet Countess has finally proven that it's not only possible, it's mandatory.
The production also must be noted for having a large part of the records charm. The misty and atmospheric sound reminds one of a cross between "Filosofem" by Burzum and the traditional Countess sound. (Though, the drum sound is still a TINY bit awkward for me...but this is a minor complaint among such genius work.) Though many loathed the sound on "Filosofem" the end result for Countess is wicked, vile, twisted and listenable all at once. It may not reflect the "clean" values that were originally presented on classic records such as "Book of the Heretic", but this new sound is twice as violent as those records could ever have been. The production adds to the mood, making the record impossibly tense and fiercly melodic. In many ways, I see this as the record the Filosofem was SUPPOSED to sound like. Leave it to ole' Orlock to perfect this style.
Orlock, you have finally given us the record that matches with your legacy. After the tired affairs that were the "Revenge..." albums and the sloppy (yet interesting on an entirely different level) "Swords..." you've come back to pure form. The legions that follow your career could not be happier.
Countess have re-ignited the "Heilig Vuur" ("holy fire" in dutch) in my heart for the band and thankfully remind me as to why I worship. Buy this or die, as this embodies all that is great about black metal and all that is great about the dutch underground.
(Kudos also, for the bonus tracks as we have so few examples of the band live in concert!)
Ah yes, the deranged genius that is Countess. As far as overall output goes, they're one of the few bands that somehow manages to achieve a totally hit-and-miss track record and STILL comes up with something worth listening to, every single time. Some Countess discs are somewhat overshadowed by others, but even at their weakest (The Gospel Of The Horned One and The Revenge Of The Horned One Part II in particular) you're always guaranteed a mind-fucking black metal experience.
Heilig Vuur, on the other hand, has turned out to be the strongest Countess disc since the monumental The Book Of The Heretic epic in terms of musical content, and the most sonically impressive since Ad Maiorem Sathanae Gloriam. Of course, the buzzing rawness is still ever-present, but this is far more refined than the sludge-ridden slime of The Shining Swords Of Hate, and lacks the excessive low-end of the Revenge... albums. Instead, Orlok's single-handed instrumentation saws away in near-total clarity, with only the vocals being obscured by a veil of distortion, as well as being somewhat buried in the mix. Not to worry though - all the lyrics are in Dutch this time, so to a non-speaker of that language, the vocals are merely another instrument.
As for the actual music, well, like I said before, this is the strongest in years. It avoids the weird experimentation of the last few efforts, and while it's not as textured as The Book..., there's still plenty here to sink one's teeth into. Of course, the opener Bloed Voor Wodan opens with the exact same disharmonic synth noise which has started every Countess album right from the start, this time leading into a slow-building crescendo riff, which explodes right into a vicious howl of a song.
The title track is a bit faster and not quite as heavy, instead focusing on the traditional loping-verse/pounding chorus formula, while De Wilde Jacht builds from a creepy bass/drum intro into a menacing, lycanthropic outburst of hatred.
All the elements you'd expect are present and accounted for - the old-school 80's black metal riffing, overdriven atmospheric lead guitar, simplistic-yet-effective drum machine, and of course the brilliantly cheesy schlock-horror keyboards which permeate the music.
Of course, I couldn't conclude this review without mentioning the monumental epic of a finale, Schemering Der Goden, a 14-minute monster of a track (apparently written quite a while before the recording of the album), which easily ranks up there with past epics like "All The Master's Children"and "The Wrath Of Satan's Whore", crushing all in it's path with it's storming metallic purity. It's songs like these that truly elevate Countess to the upper echolon of black metal's finest. Well, that and the fact that absolutely no one sounds like them, nor does it seem to possible for any band to even attempt to replicate their unique sound. As usual, this is limited to 666 copies, so if you've ever enjoyed any of Countess's past works, you'd be wise to snap one up before it's gone for good.