originally written by Chris McDonald
Countess, hailing from the Netherlands and helmed by lone “visionary” Orlok, have been churning out simplistic black metal records for well over a decade now. The band, despite their jarringly raw and repetitive (some would say amateurish) sound, is surprisingly well-regarded by some; check out the reader reviews on their Metal Archives page and some of the lashes on their last album here for proof of that. Then again, just as many cpnsider them either terrible, humorous, or some combination of the two. I’m familiar with some of the outfit’s previous material, but Blazing Flames Of War is my first time listening to one of their album’s start to finish. Knowing full well that Countess aren’t exactly Boris in terms of releasing unpredictable records, I figured it’d be as good a place to start as any.
So how’s it sound? I’d call it solid, slightly-above par black metal with plenty of strengths as well as weaknesses. Orlok prides himself on calling his project “orthodox black metal,” but this is only somewhat fitting in my opinion, as much of the material here is too mid-paced and lead-oriented to really fit that tag to a tee. Speaking of leads, this is definitely one of Countess’s strong points. Blazing Flames Of War is rife with well-played, if simplistic, lead melodies that are probably the band‘s biggest success in terms of being memorable. The solos in “Messalina” make that song particularly strong, and it’s obvious this fellow knows how to craft a good melody when he puts his mind to it. The upbeat riffs in “Wail Of The Banshee” are similarly well-constructed. Production is also surprisingly good; nothing top-of-the-line, of course, but clear and heavy all the same. I will say that the leads sound a little fragile, however.
Now about those weaknesses. Most of the flaws of Blazing Flames Of War are frustratingly apparent, even on first listen. First of all, the vocals honk. Awkward and irritating, the clumsy screeches might entertain at first but are mostly monotonous and indistinct, if not out right distracting. Also, the choruses found on songs like “Blood Orgy” and “Wail Of The Banshee” are beyond generic. If these choruses are supposed to represent this band’s much-ballyhooed influence from traditional metal legends like Manilla Road, I suggest that Orlok go back and listen to those bands a little more carefully. Finally (and this seems to be a recurring problem with bands like Countess) the album is too long. While the shorter tracks like the title track are all enjoyable, the longer cuts (especially “Scarlet Witch Queen”) are mostly too redundant in structure to be that interesting, as they are slowly paced and consist of no more than two or three riffs. These songs just don’t achieve the atmosphere that I feel they were meant to.
Basically, its more of the same from Countess. If you know the band, you pretty much know whether or not you’ll like this album. Blazing Flames Of War definitely has some very strong moments (the title track, “Messalina”) but just as many that are grating or boring. However, I will say that for those who like their black metal particularly raw and simplistic, Countess may very well have something to offer you.