January 01, 2019

Looking back on fifteen full-lengths

This month, our official playlist takes the listener on a condensed trip through our entire discography. The playlist features one song from each of our fifteen full-lengths, picked by Orlok. For the occasion, Orlok looks back on all of these records and explains why he chose the tracks he did.

The official playlist on Spotify

"The first track is from our third album 'Ad Maiorem Sathanae Gloriam' (1995). This was a special record for us, since it was the first one recorded in an actual studio. Though this caused quite a bit of stress since we had just three days to record and mix everything, this proved to be a very educational experience and also led to the album having a pretty good sound. This was also the first Countess album to garner some positive reviews, much to our own surprise. The full story of the album can be found here. The album has a very distinct sound and some really good songs, the best known of which are undoubtedly 'The Priest Must Die' and 'The Wrath Of Satan's Whore' that have both become classics and are still being played live. Here I went with the former, because it is a great opener - on record as well as live.

'The Return Of The Horned One' (1994) was as raw, primitive and admittedly flawed as our first album, yet still managed to become a definite classic over the years. Probably because it has a whole bunch of really strong songs, quite a few of which we are still playing live today, like 'Ritual Of The 7 Priests', 'Aleidis' and of course 'Bloed In De Sneeuw'. Read all about this record here. I know some diehard Countess fans still consider this our finest album and though I do not share this opinion, I certainly respect it. As hard as it was to choose a song from this album, I decided to go with 'Fire & Blood' simply because it's a track that I like a lot. The pictures, both on the album cover and in the booklet, were taken at Burg Lockenhaus where Elizabeth Bathory once roamed.

'The Revenge Of The Horned One - Part II' (2002) may be our most maligned album. Personally I think if we had have given the record another title, people would not have reacted so negatively to the album. The songs for both 'Revenge' albums were recorded during the same sessions, after all. But perhaps it indeed isn't one of our strongest records. Here I chose 'Child Of The Millennia', a song that even people who otherwise loathed the record agreed was really good. The original artwork for both 'Revenge' albums was provided by Demonos Sova. On an interesting sidenote, for digital distribution (iTunes, Spotify and so forth) the original covers were not accepted and we had to use alternative covers.

'Fires Of Destiny' (2016) was our first album to feature Mortüüm on drums. Anyone interested in the full story of the creation of this record can watch this video. I still like this record a lot and I don't think there is a single weak track on it. For this playlist, I picked 'Today Is A Good Day To Die'. This song is special to me because it has a long history: the first version dates back to 2004. Through the years I wrote and recorded several demo versions, but I was never really satisfied with it. Then sometime in 2015 while we were working on new stuff, Zagan showed me some riffs he had and I immediately realized these would be perfect for this song. So we recorded it for this album and we began playing it live as well.

'The Revenge Of The Horned One - Part I' (2001) featured a more traditional sound and was probably our most straight-up metal album up to that point. Quite a change in direction after 'Shining Swords' that was released the year before (but recorded later). The 'Revenge' albums were the result of a burst of creativity in late 1998 - though not released until a few years later. What I remember most about these records is that we had a lot of fun recording them and this probably shows in the material. Admittedly, there is some stuff that's perhaps a bit silly, but these albums also feature quite a few really cool tracks. The best one is probably 'Hymn To The Gods Of Yore', a song that has long been one of my personal favourites. It was eventually recorded again (twice, actually) and has been a regular in our live set since 2014.

From 'Ancient Lies And Battle Cries' (2014) I chose 'By Hammer And Blood'. While most of the songs on this album are either long and slower or short and faster, this one strikes a nice balance between these two types of songs. 'Ancient Lies' of course marked the return of Zagan: his first appearance on a Countess album since the 'Revenge' albums (not counting the live bonus tracks on 'Heilig Vuur'). It's also an album we spent considerably more time on than most of our other records: it took almost three years to complete from the beginning of writing the material in early 2011 to finishing the final mix at the end of 2013. We did a short 'making of' film that you can watch here where Zagan and myself discuss the creation of this album.

'The Book Of The Heretic' (1996) is quite a unique album. Our only concept album to date, marred by an awful mix, yet still hailed by many as a masterpiece. How this all came to pass is a long story that has been divulged many times already, but anyone interested in the full story can read it here. There are indeed some cool songs on this record that were eventually played live and a few were even recorded again. For this playlist I chose 'Give Me Your Soul' because it's quite representative for the album and also because this song is somewhat less affected by the bad mix than most of the other tracks.

'Burning Scripture' (2010) may be one of our least known albums, probably because we didn't do any promotion for it at all. It is one of my personal favourites though; it has some really good songs that are perhaps more compact and a bit thrashier than most Countess material. It also has a coherent theme connecting the songs: the struggle against monotheism. As hard it was to choose one track from this album, I went with 'The Mad Pharaoh'. It's a song that was originally written in 1997 and went through a lot of changes and different versions until it was finally released on this album. The original artwork for the album was provided by Saevus, who did an excellent job in visualizing the record's theme.

The official playlist on YouTube

'Blazing Flames Of War' (2007) was another one in a series of album I recorded more or less on my own. On this one, Othalaz makes a guest appearance, though. He played the acoustic guitars on the record and can be heard on the song I picked, 'Gods Of My Fathers', a pretty old-fashioned Countess song.
This album is one of the few Countess albums from which not a single song has ever been played live. No specific reason for that - it's simply a matter of having such a vast back catalogue that there are always way too many songs from. The original artwork for the album was provided by Annick Giroux.

'Holocaust Of The God Believers' (2006) was kind of a continuation of the previous record, yet with a bit more of a nefarious feel to it. It lacks a theme connecting the songs, but there are some really cool songs on this album, some of which are quite unlike anything we had ever done before, such as the country-inspired 'Rebel Stand' and the oft misunderstood, but apparently quite popular cut 'Columbine High Blues'. It's also one of only three Countess records not to feature any keyboards. For this playlist I picked the title track because it simply is one of the most raw and brutal songs we ever did. It is also the one song off this record we eventually played live.

'The Shining Swords Of Hate' (2000) is a complete love-it-or-hate-it affair, even more so than any of our other albums. Probably because it's quite different from anything else we have ever done, opinions on this record seem to be extremely divided. I still think this album was an interesting experiment; it certainly has a unique atmosphere. Most of the songs were barely outlined when I began recording and improvised on the spot. Writing and recording the entire album took just two weeks. Picking a song from this album was not easy, but I decided to go with 'Te Vuur En Te Zwaard'.

'On Wings Of Defiance' (2011) was the last album recorded before Countess became a full band again. There are a few songs on the album that we eventually played live, most notably 'I Am The Infidel', but for inclusion here I picked the title track. It's a cool and epic song - even when it's not all that long - that kind of summarizes the entire record. Like the preceding album, this record has a coherent theme connecting the songs: standing for what one believes in, against whatever odds, whatever the cost. The album's first eight tracks all tell tales of defiance and the title track explicitly vocalizes this theme.

'The Gospel Of The Horned One' (1993) was our first album and though it was - objectively seen - rather bad to say the least, it nevertheless managed to become somewhat of a legendary record. Probably because it harked back to first wave black metal at a time when most bands were moving away from that sound, but the album also has a really unique atmosphere. I think the atmosphere is still unequalled by any later Countess recording, no matter how much better these may be both musically and soundwise. It was also the first of our albums to be released on vinyl, in 2014. There are also some cool songs on this record, the most popular song of course being 'Kneel Before The Master's Throne' and that's the one I decided to pick.

'Heilig Vuur' (2004) was the first album released after the 'Revenge' records and hailed by many as a return to form. The reason for this may be that for this record I decided to go back to basics. There is no experimentation here, just a collection of straightforward old school black metal tracks. It was also our first - and so far only - album completely in Dutch. This certainly added to the album's atmosphere and was also the reason why we added the three Dutch-language songs from the 1996 live album as bonus tracks. While the title track - that would years later become a live staple and would be recorded again as well - is probably the album's most popular song, here I picked the short instrumental 'Stemmen In Het Woud' ('Voices In The Forest'). We never did many instrumentals, but I really like this one. It's short, to the point and just sounds pretty good.

'Spawn Of Steel' (2005) is obviously the most traditional metal album we have ever done and not just because it has quite a few simple, over-the-top lyrics about the glory of metal. It has been hailed by many as (one of) our best and it's easy to see why: there are simply a whole lot of great songs on this album, quite a few of which we liked enough to play them live and even record them again for the 'Sermons Of The Infidel' compilation in 2014. For this playlist, though, I picked the record's closing epic 'March Of The Ten Thousand' that tells the story of Xenophon's 'Anabasis'. I like most of the many closing epics we have done through the years but this one may be my favourite. I've always enjoyed writing historical lyrics (probably because I grew up listening to Maiden) and this is one that turned out rather well in my opinion. The rather brilliant original artwork was provided by Demonos Sova and this may well be my favourite Countess album cover."