Even after several intense listens I still don't quite know what to make of COUNTESS's latest album. In a way it's non-Black Metal for Black Metal fans or vice versa. At many points throughout the album I got the feeling that if it weren't for the croaky vocals, "Blazing Flames Of War" wouldn't be that far removed from straight-up Heavy Metal at best (see "Messalina") and, gasp, AOR at worst (see "Scarlet Witch Queen"). Many tracks also rely on decidedly Punk flavored aesthetics (see the title track and "Blood Orgy"), with simplistic riffs and ultra repetitive choruses flying all over the place. Yet despite all these numerous musical indiscretions the album as a whole manages to conjure up a fairly epic and sometimes plain 'fun' atmosphere. Grim and frostbitten Metal this most certainly is not.
Listening to this album it is easy to spot the similarities to GRAVELAND; both bands started off as unadulterated primitive BM bands but over the years both bands, both of which are now essentially one-man projects, have gravitated towards a more traditional Metal sound while also piling on the epicness-factor, with elaborate synth sections, battle-themed lyrics and overall "Hammerheart" worship replacing the raw minimalism of old. There's nothing wrong with this approach, mind you, it is just that all these disparate elements occasionally cost this album a bit of coherency. The one song sounds like arena rock with "evil" vocals and the next like a cross between BATHORY and IRON MAIDEN ("Messalina"). Lord, take away the gruff vocals, add a dance beat to it and "Fields Of Athenry" sounds like an ale-drenched cross between KORPIKLAANI and RIGHT SAID FRED!!! Seriously, it's fun but also incredibly silly to the core. I would say that COUNTESS mastermind Orlok has the right ideas but when it comes to the execution of those ideas the wheels tend to come off a bit. He has the correct map but it's held upside down.
If you like GRAVELAND's "Immortal Pride" album with a healthy side-dish of silliness thrown in then I'm sure you'll dig the hell out of this album. The only thing that worries me is that I don't think Orlok intended for this album to have such an unhinged undercurrent, so I suppose the joke is on him.
Fun but flawed.
Mostly the latter...
(Online January 30, 2008)