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When you think about it, the term black metal has entirely too many meanings nowadays. You could write a lengthy dissertation describing what it is and its characteristics as a genre, but you just know it when you hear it. The funny thing is that the forefathers of the genre, the inventors like Venom and Bathory, sound almost nothing like what black metal has become. Somewhere along the line, black metal has lost touch with its classic heavy metal roots and become infused with more death metal characteristics than the original intended qualities, and that's fine. However, I'm so relieved and happy to know that there are bands out there who still religiously remain true to their roots.
The legendary Dutch black metal band Countess is one of those bands. Self-described as "orthodox black metal," Countess pays worthy homage to the original "Venom" sound while still maintaining plenty of originality and uniqueness. When I was first contacted by the band about a review of their latest album, On Wings of Defiance, I saw the name Countess and immediately thought of the old Venom classic, "Countess Bathory," which is undoubtedly my favorite Venom song. What I never really understood is just how much influence Venom has had on Countess, and as a result, listening to Countess has brought back so many great memories of old days for me. Make no mistake, this is not what the world has come to accept as black metal, this is raw, ugly, evil heavy metal.
Countess is a one-man band with Orlok handling all instruments and vocals, and he's a more than capable musician for this type of music. If he has a weakness, it's in his ability to play guitar solos. They sound extremely primitive and technically simple, and many of them are probably unnecessary, but that's really where the weaknesses end. When you think of orthodox black metal, you probably think of raw and ugly in terms of musicianship as well as production, but the production on On Wings of Defiance is actually pretty good. There's a crisp high end that you never hear on the old Venom albums, and it really opens up the sound of the music very well. The bass is clear and powerful and follows the drums to create an undeniably enjoyable rhythm section.
The only part of the album I would even remotely call poorly produced would be the vocals, but the way they sound works just fine with the rest of the music. The vocal style is definitely best described as an old-school shouted growl, and you're either going to hate it or simply accept it. If you loved the heavy black metal of the days of yore and Cronos or Quorthon in particular, you'll really love the nostalgic feel that the vocals will bring. They're actually quite well done in terms of being able to understand the lyrical fare, which is another very strong aspect of the album.
The riffs and songwriting you'll hear on the album are very simple but also very catchy. The guitar tone is pretty ripping and cold. Many of the riffs rely on big plodding, sometimes doomy chords with interspersed short melodic leads throughout, and that does nothing but make the songs absolutely epic and that much more enjoyable. The atmosphere that Orlok creates on On Wings of Defiance is also spectacular. I hate to keep using the word, but the package as a whole is just so epic. Listening to this album just makes you want to pump your fist, bang your head, and refer to yourself as a warrior. It's that good.
On the whole, if you liked Venom's Black Metal or Bathory's Hammerheart, you would absolutely love this album. Countess is every bit as integral to the history of black metal as those guys. If you don't dig that old-school raw stuff, you're not going to dig this. If you only like polished, modern sounding extreme metal, you're not going to dig this. I'll go ahead and say that I really like it a lot. The main thing that On Wings of Defiance does for me is remind of good times when black metal was what it was meant to be. What the bands didn't have in terms of production quality or resources, they more than made up for it with a vicious, unfailing passion for creating some excellent heavy metal. Orlok still has that passion, and for that, I'm truly grateful. Countess has my utmost respect and adoration. Welcome to my list of new favorites. Thank you for keeping it real.
Originally written for http://raisethyhorns.blogspot.com