5 Dec 2016

Countess: "Ancient Lies and Battle Cries"

This album is the very definition of hit-and-miss
Countess from the Netherlands has released an almost unbroken line of black metal albums since the early 90s, each being met by the band's cult following with enthusiasm. The band has for the most part been a one man project by songwriter Orlok, but the release of Ancient Lies and Battle Cries in 2014 marks the return of Countess as an actual band with the return of guitarist Zagan to the lineup, who had previously played on a 1997 EP.

The black metal that Orlok has brought forth from his hands and throat since the early 90s has revealed a decisive love of traditional heavy metal. His approach has always been highly different from the vast majority of European black metal bands, but the tendency has only become more apparent with each new album. Ancient Lies and Battle Cries boils it down to the traditional jagged guitars and raw vocals being accompanied with swathes of keyboard synths and a melodic pacing that most bands wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole.

"their hooks fail to grab me no matter how many times they insist on going through the motions."

To many this is the appeal of Countess' music. Seldom does Orlok's compositions expand into fully fledged black metal grandeur, but the band at this point draw out their songs to excessive lengths. Tracks like Battle sky and By Hammer and Blood go through several phases, both stylistically and in disposition, that warrant a lengthier play time, but their hooks fail to grab me no matter how many times they insist on going through the motions.

In contrast with the album's straight-to-the-point lyrical themes the music in itself wanders aimlessly through dreary moors where airy riffs and meandering drums hazes the horizon with an impenetrable fog while Orlok spews his rants like a complaining old man. Beneath the Eye of Wisdom makes an exception to the rule by cutting through the fog with hate-fuelled heaviness, a guitar section that is much catchier than the vast bulk of the album and a more easily digestible song structure. This track is somewhat less ambitious than the rest, but uses its assets in a much more economically efficient manner than the rest of Countess' compositions.

"...this speaks of a certain integrity and dedication to the old school of music recording..."
While the addition of a musician dedicated to guitars has added substantial depth and heaviness to Countess' music on an overall level, the group still openly shuns layering guitar tracks to create a fuller sound image. In conjunction with the lacklustre drumming, the band's music comes off weak and light-weight compared to most other genre pros. True, this speaks of a certain integrity and dedication to the old school of music recording where shortcomings aren't masked with studio magic, but this dedication results in the band's offering being inadequate.

The previous album, On Wings of Defiance from 2011, was lashed and beaten into submission when TONEwood previously touched upon the band, and while the three year period in between these two albums has seen severe improvement, there is still lots to be desired. The band is, as mentioned earlier, surrounded by a cult following, perhaps because of their early origins, but I truly can not see the appeal. Countess aspires to impress with blossoming melodies and an abundance of raw epicness, but even with tracks like Burn the Throne and Cursed Seed of Aten the album never even comes close to achieving this ambition.


Released in 2014 by Barbarian Wrath


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