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I am apparently to think of this band as black metal, but it's now definitely the '80s kind if any, plus there are keyboards and pianos and fucking heroic melodies and riffs aplenty. Having been around since 1992, now one-man project Countess mutated from bedroom black metal of the second wave worshiping variety into something far more 1984 and, I would venture, far more worthy. Gospel of the Horned One right at the start featured some of the tempos and ancient atmospheres to be fully embraced years later, and now On Wings of Defiance revels in that stubbornly retro veneer while yet adhering to irreligious lyrics.
The wailing leads labouring under the highly retro mix remind me of the guitar sound on certain demos, where the higher registers of the instrument sound somewhat plastic. The record doesn't suffer for it often though, as although something like the intro to 'Let The River Run Red' and some other points would be improved by a more articulate mix, the usual and overall impression is more in line with other throwbacks like Iron Man, perhaps with a dash of Forefather. Some of the vocals are beautiful in that harsh way, again like what some of the pagan bands achieve with proud and passionate shrieks.
'Where Eagles Die', perhaps a deliberately cheesy nod to Maiden, is an epic start to the album and one of the best cuts. NWOBHM licks abound and simplistic shredding defines the 8-minute song's various triumphant movements. 'At The Hot Gates I Stand' also gets the balance between grunted rasps and pseudo-exotic heavy metal melodies pretty spot on, with a great nostalgic solo section. Similiarly with 'Sermon of the Devil Preacher' - Venom meets Witchfinder General meets Saxon. Man, this guy is getting so many retro points. The title track and 'Foggy Dew' are fists and drinking horns in the air, a totally killer set of epic riffs and handsome, yearning melodies for eight-odd minutes in both cases. The stuff of classic metal albums given analog life in 2011.
Sometimes things can get a bit too power metal - a lot of 'I Am the Infidel', for example, which is a pity because the chorus makes for a great anti-Islam chant that we can all join in with when sharia law starts getting too out of hand across Europe and riots ensue. 'Invictus' and 'An Emperor's Stand' meanwhile are somewhat dull, slow songs that I can do without, though they have some nice "big" riffs going on there's nothing to bring me back for more.
The record has its fair share of glories in its eclectic volleys of guitarwork, and gives something of a different spin on the regressive schools of black metal by introducing some more glamorously melodic flights of fancy. The album isn't all hits, but some may well find it worth the price of admission for its untouchable epics 'Where Eagles Die' 'Foggy Dew' and the closing title track.