It feels safe to say that Countess have some real momentum behind them at present. They’ve already released one album this year – Ancient Lies And Battle Cries – and have began playing live again after 16 years as a studio-based band. Now comes Sermons Of The Infidel, a selection of 12 re-recorded versions of older songs, 2 live tracks, and a Manilla Road cover on the CD version. It’s an expansion upon an EP the band released last year, bearing the same name and several of the same re-recorded songs. If you’re unfamiliar with Countess then this is an excellent starting point; and even if you are, or have the previous EP, this is well worth picking up.
For the uninitiated, Countess started life as a primitive black metal band but, as time went on, moved in to more heavy metal sounds with black metal influences. The band have updated their older material to fit in perfectly with their more recent fare, giving the tracks the production and feel that some of them were crying out for in their original forms, making this a very satisfying listen. Zagan’s guitars dominate the sound, his riffs, leads, and solos all showing clear classic heavy metal influences, whilst Orlok’s vocals give the band their black metal edge whilst still fitting in with the more classic metal sound of the rest of the band. How you feel about the (largely clear) lyrics will largely depend upon your tolerance for the standard metal tropes of war, standing alone against the world, and religion, but at no point do I feel that they detract from the album. The keyboards are probably the most divisive point of Countess’ sound; whilst they do not drown out the band, they are dominant at points, and they may fare too strong for some, but at their best, they really bolster the epic, powerful feel of the songs.
And it has to be said, when they hit their peaks, these songs are powerful. Tracks such as “Son Of The Dragon” and “I Am The Infidel” would do most other heavy metal bands you care to mention proud, and the updated version of “Bloed In De Sneeuw” is superb – it may lose a certain necro atmosphere now it has a decent production when compared to the original, but it more than makes up for it in clarity that really demonstrates how powerful a song it is. Whilst I do feel the band are at their best when playing at speed, the mid-tempo offerings here are still powerful, and very catchy, in the way that the best original heavy metal bands were.
As such, this is an immensely enjoyable listen, and it is to Countess’ credit that they have been able to make so many songs from across their long career work together – the differences in production over the years would have meant that a standard compilation would not gel together. Instead, the band have produced an album that is simultaneously an excellent starting point for those wishing to explore this band; a worthwhile album for their older fans; and a celebration of their considerable back-catalogue and the direction in which they are presently going. Indeed, based upon Sermons Of The Infidel and Ancient Lies And Battle Cries, the best may yet be to come from Countess. I may be more an extreme metal fan than one of heavy metal, but I have listened to Sermons Of The Infidel scores of times since it was first brought to my attention. Well worth checking out.
Sermons Of The Infidel is available via Bandcamp for streaming, and also as a digipack CD.