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If you go to the Countess website you can read Orlok’s personal memories from the recording sessions of all of the albums through 2007’s Blazing Flames of War. On a number of occasions (i.e. The Gospel of the Horned One and The Shining Swords of Hate) Orlok boasts about making albums with the most “horrible” sound quality possible. He seems to see the ultra lo-fi production as an ideological finger at overproduced and commercial black metal and simultaneously, a horned salute to first wave legends such as Venom and Bathory. The one album whose sound Orlok actually laments is The Book of the Heretic, which he thinks “utterly sucks” (which is apparently the polar opposite of being “horrible”). I can’t help but find this highly ironic, because The Book of the Heretic is the perfect example of an album with production that is in principle terrible, but on this one special occasion fits the songs like a glove.
The production on The Book of the Heretic is like that of no other black metal album. Black metal is notorious for producing albums on which the bass is very low in the mix, if not completely inaudible. Here, the bass is not only audible, but it by far the loudest instrument in the mix! Each rubbery note of the bass stands front and center. The guitars are much lower in the mix, with the exception of the solos, which are sharp and clear. Now on paper, that sounds awful. First of all, the bass is a rhythm instrument and unless we’re talking about Geddy Lee, Les Claypool etc., the bass should stick to that roll. Considering that Countess is a raw, minimal, old-school black metal band, it’s hard to see how a bass-centered album can work… but damn does it work! The reason it works so well is the narrative nature of songs that make up The Book of the Heretic.
The Book of the Heretic is a loose concept album based around stories of warriors who have sold their soul to Satan so as to rid the world of Christianity. The lyrics have it all: battles, torture, goats, demons and strange sex rituals. These are like bedtime stories from Hell. Orlok describes the various torture chambers, battlefields and dimensions of Hell in descriptive story tale fashion, mostly from the first person perspective. He employs a wide range of vocals to add drama to the stories. Of course there is his signature blackened squall, but there are also boisterous spoken word passages and bellowing chants.
By and large, The Book of the Heretic is composed of slow paced songs that take their time to unfold, and that’s just fine, because the melodies are excellent. The songs mostly start out soft and subtle before eventually reaching intensely violent peaks. Orlok takes his time letting every line sink in, allowing the wicked stories to vividly come to life in the listener’s imagination. The trotting bass lines set the pace for the stories to unfold, while the devious guitar leads and spooky synths provide colorful highlights throughout.
The Book of the Heretic is one of those albums where every song (save “Creation”) is excellent in its own right. It’s tempting to describe every song because each one has its own creepy story to tell and Orlok is never at a loss for a few catchy hooks and dramatic compositional twists. For the sake of brevity, I’ll only mention the simultaneously hilarious and kickass “Give me Your Soul.” Countess has always had a theatrical element to its sound, and here Orlok decides to let his inner thespian come out. Our “hero” has a woman trapped in a torture chamber where teases her while preparing to steal her soul. “It’s not just your flesh I want,” hums Orlok as if he were talking to a scared puppy, before bursting out into blood-curdling screams of “giving me your soul!” It’s so excessive and extreme that you can’t help but laugh and bang your head at once.
The only weakness of the album is the three faster, thrashy songs; here the production does lead to awkward results. The pounding bass and minimal guitar just cannot fulfill the vicious aims of these tracks. Nevertheless, Orlok’s malicious vocals and blistering solos still make “In Hate of Christ” and “On the Wings of Azeral” worthwhile. “Creation,” on the other hand, is basically two and a half minutes of filler. Otherwise, the longer, slow tracks all sound excellent.
The Book of the Heretic is a great album in the same way that a cheap, low budget horror movie can be great. Yes, it’s silly, over the top and isn’t executed with much grace, charm or attention to detail, but it sure is a lot of fun. For those who like epic and spooky melodies, demented fairytales and lo-fi production, The Book of the Heretic is essential listening and any Countess fan who overlooked this release should remedy that immediately.
(Originally written for deinos-logos.blogspot.com)
This record suffers from some small "technical" errors but is perfect on a songwriting level. Unlike many records of it's kind it is not a "slam-bash" release but more a thoughtful (partially due to the fact that it's conceptual) and theatrically paced record from Countess. (Orlock always did have a flair for the "old-school" horror motif that always presents itself within his keyboard work over the course of his many albums.)
This record has it's fair share of sledgehammers (the best being "Creation" and "On the Wings of Azazel") but for the most part the album is a collection of mood tracks that put you through the story presented inside the superbly crafted booklet. Overall, this CD is an experiance in black mood, with a few "orthodox" black metal crunchers lurking in the shadows.
The bonus track, "Die Gift Der Goden" is a full band track that rocks like a bulldozer as well. It saddens me that few "full-band" tracks of Countess exist - as this production/sound would have made a great record even better. Orlock is a master of moods, while avoiding gothic cheese...
This CD is a must have for fans of Black Metal and for fans of Countess!
Listening to this while drinking mighty Quebecois-seperatist brewroot was a great idea, but I don’t in any way attribute my immense enjoyment of it to the beer, because this album is so worthy of my high praise! I was told that the sound is supposed to be (even by Orlok) sub-quality, even for Countess, but several minutes into it I fumed about such accusations and demanded to know what is wrong with the damned sound. I think the production is perfectly suited to the music on EVERY Countess album I’ve heard, and this is no exception. The overall atmosphere is one of such majestic reflection and triumphant glory that I was captivated in my seat, and at the same time there were so many separate moments that still stand out in my mind as being climactic and great. For example, in ‘Give Me Your Soul’, I loved the chilling way in which Orlok chanted, ‘welcome to my lair, darling! I hope you’ll stay for a while.. how about AN ETERNITY to start?!!’... something to that effect. Another song which really stands out in my mind is Chapel of Doom, but of course everything on the album is once again worthy of high praise. Any who thinks that the guitar is too quiet and the bass too loud in the mix is WRONG. The composition is what’s important here, and I believe the sound suits it perfectly. Oh, and one more thing: "Count Yamaha" seems to be playing moderately more advanced beats here than in other Countess I’ve heard, and also as Abominatrix points out, Orlok seems to have also thought more about his synth compositions. Lay down your soul to the mighty Horned One!
"The Book of the Heretic" is Countess’ fourth full-length CD release, and second as a completely solo project by band-leader Orlok, and once again Orlok succeeds at crafting his own barbarically-regressive style of old-school black metal while also developing the song writing and orchestration to an even greater degree than on the previous album, "Ad Maiorem Sathanae Gloriam". Some of the riffs are simple, crude power-chord riffing (bass-driven and probably written on the bass as Orlok is primarily a bassist, but I’ll expand on that in a bit), but there are other guitar parts, acoustic parts, and even keyboard parts that weave in and out of the songs really adding depth and texture to the songs. This album is also a concept album, telling the tale of a time-travelling warrior of Satan and his struggle against religion, and the song’s overall effects do weave together to effectively tell the tale. This is also aided by some really nice packaging - an album cover that looks (oddly enough) like a book, which opens to an eight-page insert which tells in prose the tale of the Heretic and his struggle (also weaving in the parts of the story that each song tells, setting them off by putting the song’s titles in bold in the story - a nice touch IMO). There’s a lot of great music on this - from the pounding opener "On the Wings of Azazel" to the slow-paced, sinister "Give me Your Soul" to the medieval/classical keyboard/acoustic work on the instrumental "Mediaeval Shadows" to the multi-textured, majestic fourteen-minute epic "All the Master’s Children".
There’s only one gripe I have with this album, and unfortunately it’s a big one - the production. Most of us BM fans are used to raw or ‘bad’ production, either giving it leeway or honestly preferring it that way. Well, this album really has a production job that will take a LOT of getting used to. It was basically recorded in the same setting as the previous album (i.e. a real 16-track studio), and the individual instrument sounds are basically the same (that slightly midrange-y guitar tone, the ‘punchy’ bass, the fairly machine-sounding drums), but the mix is completely off - the bass is the loudest thing in the mix, and the guitars are far too low (in fact, in "On the Wings of Azazel" the guitar is totally drowned out by the bass). On top of that, the EQ job that was done on the drum machine tracks thinned them out to the point that it’s obvious they’re machine drums. I think even a simple remix would do wonders for this album. Even as it stands, though, the genius of the songs shines through, and after a while you start getting into the sound (after all, it is a REALLY cool bass tone) - but I couldn’t help myself thinking through the whole thing "if only they could mix that this way....". Songs this good deserve a bit more production work. Overall, though, I do give this a recommendation, but with the above warning.
(Originally published at LARM (c) 2000)