Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2021
Encyclopaedia Metallum

Best viewed
without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
or higher.

Privacy Policy

A right old rollicking - 77%

Colonel Para Bellum, February 22nd, 2021
Written based on this version: 2021, Digital, Independent

So, the new album by Countess. Blam! "Sword of the Millennia", the opening song on "Banners of Blood", starts with almost blast beat drumming – ah, listeners probably forgot what such a maneuver from Countess is like. However, a heavy metal riff with some punk-ish recklessness sounding during this attack does not allow us to fall under the "black metal illusion". And then catchy riffs with groove come into play, so these are the same "good old" Countess that we got used to in recent years. The next song, "Below the Sky", fully buries any possibility of "black metal retaliation" – it is a groovy and anthem-like rock theme, like most of the songs on the album.

Right, "Banners of Blood" is as far from "pure" black metal as the Countess previous album, "Fires of Destiny". Despite a decent amount of blast beats and even some black metal sections (which will be mentioned below), this album is more of heavy metal / hard rock. Compared to any (true) black metal work, the guitar sound on "Banners of Blood" is even "soft". You can hear it very clearly in "Night of the Fallen": the lyrics seem to be typical "black metal-ish", but the song still sounds like some kind of rock, at best heavy metal (with the assumption that this composition is somewhat muddled, including unexpected accelerations). The simple structure of the songs, something like "verse-verse-chorus" with many repeating parts, reinforces this impression. And yet Countess have changed. A little, but changed.

Now, where to begin? Let's begin from the most important. "Fires of Destiny" was released five years ago, it featured guitars by Zagan, who left the band two years ago. According to Metal Archives, Zagan has been a member of Countess since 1995, but he began to take part in the recordings only in 2013, aside from the famous "Hell's Rock & Roll" EP (1997), – throughout almost the entire history of Countess, Orlok himself recorded all the instruments. Although the songwriting question remains open, it can be said that the new guitarist Valgard, who replaced Zagan, influenced the album's production process. He plays in an old school manner here, too, but in his own way.

First of all, compared to "Fires of Destiny", the guitar sound on "Banners of Blood" became rougher edged, and even sharper. But not enough to be black metal. Nevertheless, this sound is very close to the canons of old school thrash metal / black metal, with the only difference that everything is very distinct and intelligible on "Banners of Blood", – this is especially noticeable during the guitar part in the title song. Valgard's riffs are not as catchy and unembarrassed as Zagan's, but as a reparation they do give Countess a bit of cold gloominess. Pay attention to the first riffs in "Wall of the North" – we can't imagine such dry riffs performed by Zagan. Thanks to this "dead" feeling the new Countess album turned out to be darker. But not enough to be... well, you know.

One more thing. As you should remember, on "Fires of Destiny" solos were recorded in a very old fashioned rock manner, that is, only with bass support, no rhythm guitar. On "Banners of Blood", a solo is never left without rhythm guitar support. On the one hand, this makes the whole sound more thick and heavy, on the other hand, it becomes clear that Zagan's solo parts were more mature and graceful – Valgard's diligent solos are simpler in structure and melody, they start, as a rule, with riff duplication, and then the improvisation begins. Unlike Zagan's solos, they are somewhat blurred and never raised in the mix, sometimes they even squashed by keyboards.

Nevertheless, the solos of the new guitarist can still be called characterful, but most importantly, they are very suitable for Countess that we got used to in recent years. Oh, "Banners of Blood" is characterized by an abundance of solos, each song contains several of them, sometimes after every verse. We would like to highlight the following passages: a tremolo picking solo in "Sword of the Millennia" at 1:24, alternating with a keyboard part; a double solo (that is, in both channels) in "Night of the Fallen" at 2:25; a rather sophisticated tapping solo in "Fall of the Achaemenid Empire" at 2:43; a very touching part in "Slachting der Saksen" at 4:58; groovy tremolo in "Last Man of Honor" at 2:55; one more sophisticated solo in "Toortsen uit het verleden" to the accompaniment of an acoustic guitar (in this example, you can clearly hear that the solo is muffled, squashed in the mix); a rather original solo in "Sword Symphony" at 6:51, designed to emphasize the significance of the last song, which is, by the way, literally studded with guitar solos.

With such a "dictatorship" of solo, the songs stand out against the general background mainly by their emotional component. For example, the title song, "Banners of Blood", even seems depressing in contrast to the others, at least in its second part, some kind of sadness is felt. "Pagan Man" is a very pompous and euphiustic song, but perhaps it's the most black metal-ish piece, thanks to the true black metal riff, which opens the song and repeats at 2:35 (and don't forget about blast beat here, too). In its turn, "Fall of the Achaemenid Empire" is the most atmospheric composition on "Banners of Blood", thanks to the eastern-tinged keyboard and solo parts. Paradoxically, the most successful rhythm guitar part is also presented here, – it may be said that it is the most heavy metal-ish song, there is some atmosphere in the vein of Death SS in it. "Slachting der Saksen" with mid and slow tempo alternating, is also quite a black metal-ish theme, thanks to the main riff that repeats constantly. "Sword Symphony", right, which is oversaturated with solo parts, is the most solemn song, as it should be as a closing one.

It is a fact that keyboards by Häxa mean a lot in / for the sound of Countess. And it should be noted that minimalist keyboard parts (most often in the spirit of 70s hard rock) muffle the guitar not only during a solo: when it comes time to the keyboard part, it certainly takes the lead in the mix – there was no such effect on "Fires of Destiny", although it was an almost rock album. "Last Man of Honor", one of the "hits" of the album, is a great example of the track where the whole arrangement is based on the keyboard part mostly. The guitar part in this song is "empty", it carries no melody, it is just a background. That's why it is tempting, sometimes, to rate this song as "soft music". For some it is a merit, for some it is a demerit, anyway, we can even conclude that "Banners of Blood" is unthinkable without keyboards.

But for all that, in every song the main burden of sound attack falls on the vocal part – just like in the case of rock and early heavy metal bands, where the vocals play the main function, and the guitar is often required only as a background. There are really a lot of lyrics on "Banners of Blood" – as always Orlok sings all the songs in the same way in his characteristic manner: he declaims with a very emotional voice, rather than sings. The fourth song "Ledovoye Poboishche" is sung on behalf of the Russians – well, we were able to make out the words. Oh yes, there are a lot of songs on this album, the theme of which is history – your children don't need to learn history, just let them listen to Countess.

Drummer Mortüüm very likes intense tom drum fills, and judging by these breaks, triggers were used. In the very first song "Sword of the Millennia" the breaks from channel to channel seem almost synthetic, and this feeling does not leave throughout the entire album. The last song, "Sword Symphony", begins with a "harpsichord" melody, and the unnatural break sound on its background demonstrate that many triggers are really avoidable. But this is the only drawback in Mortüüm's excellent work.

With the exception of this "technical excess", through a sound / production prism, "Banners of Blood" often resembles the old albums by Grazhdanskaya Oborona (a Russian punk band that started in the Soviet era). And even then Grazhdanskaya Oborona sometimes had a more black metal-ish guitar sound (joking aside). Well, "Banners of Blood" feels like it was mixed in the 90s, and it's a classic DIY album. Yes, this is a record of enthusiasts who, apparently, will forever remain enthusiasts. Never give up, never surrender!

The Metal Observer