Sunday, March 4, 2012

Countess - The Return of the Horned One (1994)

Following the poor display of musicianship and songwriting found on the debut album from Countess, one really has to wonder how they managed to survive long enough to record another one. Every band is entitled to make a bad album or two, as long as they learn from their mistakes and show signs of improvement. However, Orlok had no battle plan ready when he put together a new line-up and began working on the band's sophomore effort. Released in December 1994, The Return of the Horned One not only failed to improve upon the first album, it can hardly be considered a full-fledged Metal record.

Orlok certainly put more thought into the songwriting, as this L.P. does not sound like a collection of rehashed Bathory riffs. Unfortunately, that would have been preferable to the atrocious filth that makes up the bulk of the second Countess album. One is likely to get the wrong impression from the outset, as "Aleidis" is not half bad, and sounds more developed and consistent than most of the material on The Gospel of the Horned One. The synth is too loud and it is clear, from the beginning, that the drummer was replaced by a machine; nonetheless, it comes off as rather solid, though average at best. It possesses somewhat of a gloomy feeling, aided by the ear-piercing vocals, but this track is not indicative of what is to follow. Songs like "Fire and Blood" and "A Cry of Hope Forever Gone" sound like more of a mixture between rock and techno, having almost nothing at all to do with Black Metal. The drum machine and bass lines completely ruin any chance this had, though it is not likely that it was ever going to become a classic along the lines of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. "The Wolf Cries Evil" and "Deisidaimonia" are about the only tracks to not bear these techno overtones, with the latter being the best song on the album. Even with better musicians and real drums, this tune could never hope to amount to anything more than mediocrity, but it really stands out among the horrid aural rape that surrounds it.

The production is really one of the worst things about this album. The guitar tone lacks any sense of rawness, which does no favours for the material. One would think that the band would want the guitar to be the dominant instrument, and to make sure that the sound is nasty and threatening, but it resides in the middle and is quite ineffective. The vocals are a bit too loud and, due to the shrieking nature of Orlok's voice, this becomes a problem. Neither of these things are as damning as the fact that the bass and drum machine are far too high in the mix. First of all, the bass lines are useless and do nothing to help the songs. The drum programming should be buried beneath the rest, to hide the fact that the band did not have a real drummer. Though, to be fair, it still would not have been so bad if the songwriting had been better.

The Return of the Horned One is a terrible album, even worse than the first one, and should be avoided by any means necessary. With this release, Countess proved to be a worthless musical entity and things only got worse from here. If you are just starting to branch out from the Scandinavian bands in your search for more Black Metal of this period, skip this and look instead to the Hellenic scene or the French Black Legions.