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Countess is one of the most underground black metal bands that haven't quite achieved the recognition that they've deserved. Having began in 1992, they've contributed some of the most influential music during their reign despite being surrounded by mediocre and bad reviews. At the point in time of recording The Gospel of the Horned One, Countess were a three piece group consisting of Orlok on vocals and bass, Vercingetorix on drums and keyboards and Zenon on guitar. What exactly does this debut release from Countess sound like, and should it be in your record collection?
The album begins promisingly with an eerie, hellish introduction that uses various synthesized sounds, such as metallic scraping and malevolent keyboards; these synthetic ingredients, especially within "Full Moon Baptism", are preludes to the early prison works of Burzum which actually didn't come along until the late 90's. These elements reappear sparingly throughout the material, giving it a detailed malicious cult aura that is surpassed by few others of the era. The macabre atmosphere is further endorsed by a surrounding raw production quality that embellishes the content with a grainy sound, but without the overabundance of static that's so well associated with this time period of early black metal. It's easy to hear that the simplistic compositions within aren't exactly tight or by any means well performed, but are rather excruciatingly unkempt. While this seems to be the breaking point for most listeners, this incredulous flaw actually gives the material a certain appeal that any other record would instantly fail from.
The primary make up of The Gospel of the Horned One are onslaughts of repetitive high treble guitar rhythms that are mostly composed of simple power chord progressions. Each track has its own unique guitar hook that implants itself effortlessly into the mind of the listener, however some of these compositions are elongated for vast periods of time and become slightly tedious; most notably in the nine minute song "Highland Victory". The large abundance of treble is somewhat offset by deep thumps from the bass, which follows the pace and fret changes of the guitar compositions. Although there is a high repetition factor in the material, the guitar often breaks away into extremely provoking medieval style acoustics, slightly jazzy bridges and lightly distorted picking. Occasionally there are solos overlaid on the material, which are simplistic in skill as they consist of fast string strumming and some fret changes.
There are some powerful drumming sections located throughout the material, such as the tribal effort in "Highland Victory" and the passionate blast beats of "Doomed to Die". The general majority of drum compositions are riddled with slow beats that mostly focus on percussions such as hi-hats and cymbals, but the tom-toms seem to be a runner-up favorite of Vercingetorix. There are some blast beats and bass kicks added in to a few tracks here and there, which is radically different than the large portion of black metal that focuses on insane bouts of blast beats behind frenzied strumming. The vocals are harsh cries that litter the limbo area between each instrument, fading in and out with a haunting ghostly quality that will send chills down the listener's spine but due to the quality of the recording it's nearly impossible to distinguish the actual lyrics when not reading along with a sheet.
The Gospel of the Horned One is an album that's soaked in a dark, malicious raw atmosphere that still stands strong over a decade later; while some may call this pure Bathory worship, the content is still unique for its time and has a great sum of enjoyability. While the mixing isn't ideal, with the rhythm guitar constantly pressing the forefront of the production to the point of overshadowing the remaining instruments and vocals, the simple yet messy compositions are memorable. The tempo of the material fluctuates enough to keep the attention of the audience, ranging from slow doomy paces to furious bursts of crazed instrument work, all the while the vocals matching each given mood with shrill cries or aggressive growls. A strong debut despite its many charming flaws and a true hidden gem from early era black metal.
- Villi Thorne
Between Orlok’s maniacal cackle, playful guitar melodies, bouncy bass and ghetto drum machine, Countess is a band that can never be mistaken for another. For better or worse, Countess always has its own unique sound. That makes listening to the first Countess album quite a strange experience. This is Countess before Countess, so to speak. Countess has been a one man band since 1995, but on the debut release, The Gospel of the Horned One, Countess is actually a three piece band and frankly, quite a bad one. Little more than poorly performed and terribly produced Bathory worship, The Gospel of the Horned One is a rough start to the Countess project.
There are tons of problems with this recording. First, this is straight forward Bathory worship with absolutely no original contributions. There are faster, thrashier tracks that replicate Bathory’s faster, thrashier tracks and there are slower, doomier tracks that replicate Bathory’s slower, doomier tracks. That’s the entire musical spectrum of the album. “Fullmoon Baptism,” the most offensive culprit, boarders on plagiarism of “Enter the Eternal Fire.”
What really makes this album so bad is the production. It’s quite amazing how bad the mix is on this album. The guitars are really loud and sharp. Sometimes in raw black metal, such in-your-face guitars can create an extremely vicious tone (i.e. Mütiilation). Here it just sounds cheap. On the faster tracks there’s so much feedback that its impossible to distinguish any tune whatsoever. The bass is extremely flat but almost as loud as the guitar; it’s like watching a fish out of water aimlessly flopping about on the inevitable path toward death. The drums are almost all cymbal and high hat. The toms and bass are mostly inaudible. The vocals are drowned deep, deep within the mix as if Orlok was screaming a few rooms away.
The performance is also pretty bad. There are some really awkward moments where it sounds like the band forgets how the song goes but just lets the tape keep on recording. For example, at one point on “Fullmoon Baptism,” the guitar stops playing and the Orlok does some horrendous bass solo (or perhaps he is tuning) that is totally out of rhythm with the drums, which are playing at twice the speed. When the band isn’t falling into complete and utter disarray, they still sound out of synch.
A certain amount of cheapness and sloppiness has always been a part of Countess’s free-spirited charm, but The Gospel of the Horned One takes that way too far. The production is about as bad as it gets and there’s no retrieving it through appeals to “raw” or “cult” aesthetic because this album fails to create an atmosphere. The only thing that saves this album from being a complete an utter disaster is that there are some good melodies on some of the slower songs and some of the keyboard intros aren’t half bad. Still, nothing can save The Gospel of the Horned One from bargain bin status.
(Originally written for http://deinos-logos.blogspot.com/)
Formed in 1992, Countess is a Black Metal band from the Netherlands that seems to have gained some level of respect in the underground, over the years. How this ever managed to happen is a mystery, for this band is responsible for some of the most atrocious sounds ever captured on tape and passed off as music. One would expect good things from the band's debut album, The Gospel of the Horned One, upon hearing that it is highly influenced by old Bathory and the fact that it was released the same year as such classics as Under A Funeral Moon, Det Som Engang Var, The Somberlain, etc. However, the magic that possessed those records is completely absent, here.
Musically, this is incredibly pathetic and amateurish. Most of the songs are based around mid-paced riffs that seem only to be variations of the main riffs from Bathory's "Enter the Eternal Fire". The songwriting is beyond boring, with sloppy guitar playing that meanders, pointlessly, failing to create any sort of atmosphere. Perhaps, the band thought that the useless keyboards would tie things together, but that is not the case. Everything really falls flat, as it is clear that these guys had no clue what they were doing. This represents the epitome of horrible musicianship. The guitar playing is so terrible that one might easily mistake it for the rehearsal tape of a child that has only had a handful of lessons. The drums and bass are equally as simplistic, giving the impression that none of these guys had ever touched musical instruments prior to recording The Gospel of the Horned One. This would be considered poor, even for a demo. Unfortunately, Countess decided to release it as an L.P.
The production is a joke, as well. Everything sounds disjointed. It really comes off like a riff tape with the other elements added, later on. The guitar is the dominant aspect, though that is not really such a positive thing, in this case. There is hardly any distortion, and the fact that it is so prominent in the mix only showcases the sloppy playing and boring arrangement. The drums are buried beneath the rest, which is good as the drummer could not keep time if his life depended on it. The vocals are much too low, sounding as if they are coming from another room. There is really nothing about this that could be considered necro or lo-fi; rather, it is all just haphazard and clumsy.
The Gospel of the Horned One is an awful piece of garbage that should be avoided. The only redeeming quality about the debut album from Countess is that they were going for the more primitive approach of the First Wave, rather than imitating the Norwegian bands. Regardless of this, they failed to create anything worthwhile or even minimally enjoyable. This is boring and laughable. Do not waste your time or money on this.
Written for http://ritesoftheblackmoon.tripod.com
The first Countess album offers primitive black metal which seems to be inspired by Bathory’s “The Return” and “Under the Sign of the Black Mark” plus Hellhammer. This is “fresh” in the sense that Countess at least didn’t try to copy the sound of the Norwegian scene like so many others did, yet nobody can claim that this album brings anything new to the table (even for 1993’s standards) – it doesn’t. Countess simply pay tribute to old school black metal and are content with that.
The playing isn’t always that tight, e.g. on some tracks you can notice how the bass and guitar play out of time with each other. The structure of the music is very simple; there are only a few riffs per track. This means that the tracks sometimes suffer from too much repetitiveness but despite this I still can’t say that this is a totally terrible album. It just stays too close to Countess’ influences for comfort and is unable to reach the same level as their influences. These types of albums are always a bit difficult for me because even if I like old school BM, I think bands should also try to bring some own identity into their music. Otherwise we can just keep listening to those old classics, as there’s not really any incentive to bother with the new bands, right? Most of the time the music is mid-paced but songs like e.g. “Doomed to Die” and “Crossing the Fires of Darkness” contain blastbeats too, although these blastbeats aren’t very fast. There’s synth on some tracks for extra atmosphere but as I’m sure you already understood, symphonic black metal this is not. Even some guitar solos can be found and they are pure Bathory rip-offs.
The production is OK: rough but not of the overtly thin’n’trebly kind of many early 90s BM releases (and certainly better than on latter Countess albums like e.g. “The Return of the Horned One” and “The Book of the Heretic”). I’d say the band have gone for a production similar to the first two Bathory albums and Hellhammer’s “Satanic Rites” demo. They also succeed quite well with this. The only thing I really dislike about the production is that the drums and the vocals are too low in the mix.
“Overture” is the only non-metal track: a somewhat creepy ambient piece consisting of keyboard soundscapes. It’s not a bad track as such but it lasts too long, over four minutes. I’d say about a minute’s length would have been suitable for this track because it’s quite boring in its present form. The only people I recommend “The Gospel of the Horned One” to are those that are completely fanatic about old school black metal and don’t give a shit about originality. Countess does succeed paying tribute to an era, however, the lack of own ideas, the clumsiness, the unnecessarily long ambient track and the oddly loose structure (perhaps I should call it arrangements) of some of the tracks leave a lot to be desired.