Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Review: Countess - The Return of the Horned One

At this point in the extensive career of Countess, Orlok had taken on the task of being the vocalist and sole musician of the band, effectively turning it into a one man project. Hailing from the Netherlands and active since 1992, Countess have had an arguable assortment of releases that everyone who's heard of the band tend to have an opinion on; either they really love what they've heard or they detest it, or rather only a specific time period is adored. Having received mostly failing reviews of their first effort, how does the second effort The Return of the Horned One redeem Countess, or does it?

Genre: Black Metal
Label: Nazgul's Eyrie Productions
Release Date: December 1st, 1994
  1. Intro Iniquity
  2. Aleidis
  3. Fire and Blood
  4. A Cry of Hope Forever Gone
  5. Ritual of the Seven Priests
  6. Into Battle
  7. The Wolf Cries Evil
  8. Deisidaimonia
  9. Since Man Has Wielded Swords
  10. Bloed in de Sneeuw
Total Playtime: 43 minutes, 06 seconds





Rating: 8.5/10



More Countess Articles and Reviews


At this point in the extensive career of Countess, Orlok had taken on the task of being the vocalist and sole musician of the band, effectively turning it into a one man project. Hailing from the Netherlands and active since 1992, Countess have had an arguable assortment of releases that everyone who's heard of the band tend to have an opinion on; either they really love what they've heard or they detest it, or rather only a specific time period is adored. Having received mostly failing reviews of their first effort, how does the second effort The Return of the Horned One redeem Countess, or does it?

The Return of the Horned One makes its mark in the unending nether realm of black metal with its imaginative combination of guitar compositions that waltz in deathlike harmony with chilling synthesizer effects to create an immersive occult experience unlike any other. While "Intro Iniquity", the introductory atmospheric keyboard track, isn't as captivating as what was heard in The Gospel of the Horned One, the rest of the material makes up in excess for this tiny and obsolete flaw.

Every aspect of this album at hand surpasses its debut predecessor, from more creative compositions to tighter instrument precision, Orlok has made sure that no stone has been left unturned and has churned out a far different experience altogether in this follow-up. This time around it sounds as though a programmed drum machine was used rather than there being a live drummer present, which has resulted in the element having a hard mechanical sound and triggers that are easy to point out. However this has worked out to the benefit of Countess, as it has allowed for a larger range of kit elements to be incorporated, better beats for the listener to enjoy, a larger range of tempos to be explored and tighter, more fluid rhythms to be executed; when stacked up against the drumming heard on The Gospel of the Horned One the content on this release is absolutely incomparable.


Even pushed ridiculously far back into the production mix, the guitar keeps its signature rhythmic riffs but this time finds itself encumbered with a deep bass tone that gives the audio much needed weight. Orlok has a knack for writing extremely catchy hooks, and this asset is much more defined on the songs within this material, which is full of amazing riffage and sick skillful solos that've become some of the most well known from Countess. In addition to the deeper tone and heavier power chord sections, palm muted riffs have been added along with well layered acoustics; all adding depth to the tracks. The keyboards attach themselves directly to the rhythm guitar and dance along with them in an eerie masquerade of despicable horror, think early Castlevania games and that's the mood that this album portrays. The keyboards are even more prominent throughout the content, and nearly every track is adorned with either skin crawling organs, haunting bells, thunder or some other type of gothic style synthesizer effect.

Orlok's vocals are intimidatingly aggressive and more pronounced in this release, with accusing screams that push beyond the boundaries of the low end equipment that was used to record this material and thusly resulting in distortion during his powerful screams and shouts. Every now and then the listener will be greeted with some spoken word and cult chants in appropriate areas and each of these vocal styles are done with deeply emphatic tones and an unbridled passion that makes it all come across dangerously powerful. The bass guitar sits in the midst of all these aforesaid elements and drives them to new levels with hard hitting lines and a tone that sounds as if it's tuned at a dropped level or two. The production quality is a slight step up from The Gospel of the Horned One, but still allows the material to stay raw in nature. The mixing is also significantly better, but still finds itself uneven where the guitars are at the back of the mix, the bass is on top of the guitar and the vocals are extremely loud; the only elements that don't sound off in their mixed levels are the keyboards and drums.

Defiling its predecessor in every blasphemous way possible, The Return of the Horned One is a better album in every possible way than the debut Countess release. Deep, heavy guitar and bass tones are driven by skillfully programmed drums that can both assault and caress the background of the material, all the while occult keyboards dance along each track and invoke memorable, unique black metal hymns. These aspects are wrapped up in a slightly less raw production quality with much better mixing; the gritty, assaulting vocals tend to become loud in some areas, however this just pushes the aggressiveness of the content and the distortion that they take on adds flavor to the album. An absolute must hear for all black metal fans from one of the mid-influences of the genre.

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