Album Title: Blazing Flames of War
Label: Barbarian Wrath
This is the eleventh album from Countess, a Dutch one-man band band playing orthodox black/heavy metal.
On "Blazing Flames of War", Orlok continues to fuse the black metal sound of Countess' older albums with his newer, more heavy-metal-influenced style. The repetitive rhythm guitar lines and blackened, tortured vocals are classic Countess, and on this record they mix perfectly with the epic songwriting and metal soloing from the newer albums. As a result, the songs on this album achieve a more unified sound than on "Spawn..." and "Holocaust...". At the same time, the album as a whole has a better balance between fast and slow parts, lending it a nimble and dynamic feel. The vocal sound is also improved -- the parts that ought to be understandable are easy to make out, and the more emotional/violent parts have just enough vocal distortion.
As is usual for Countess, most of the record is mid-paced. The layered, intricate sound on "Scarlet Witch Queen" is a perfect match for some of Orlok's most impassioned vocals since "Blood On My Lips". The epic of the album, "Swords Shine in the Highlands" is a lovely tale of Christian slaughter and pagan victory, completing the Black Duncan story begun on Countess' first album. The use of repetition on this song is great, as is the emotional guitar work during the last two minutes. The proud, stately riffing and chant-along chorus of "Gods of My Fathers" is headbang-inducing. "Messalina" is just plain killer: a perfect balance between Bathory and Manilla Road, with a nice dash of Venomish sex obsession to round things out. This song would have been at home on Countess' "Book of the Heretic". The shorter and speedier songs on the record ("Blazing Flames of War", "Blood Orgy", "Winter Solstice", and "Wail of the Banshee") do a great job of catching the listener's interest and breaking up the more mid-paced songs. "Winter Solstice" is especially good; it's surprising to hear Countess doing something this fast! The offbeat soloing in "Wail of the Banshee" is also great. The album ends with a rousing version of an Irish folk song, "Fields of Athenry", and two re-recorded Countess classics ("Aleidis" and "Bloed in de Sneeuw").
Overall, "Blazing Flames of War" is an even better album than the last one. "Holocaust..." seemed a little long, but the running time here is perfect, and the songs are all excellent, both individually and when taken together. The wide variety and warm production make this one sound smooth as a glass of Guinness, much more welcoming than anything Orlok has done in a long time. If you already like Countess, get this immediately; if not, the combination of old and new on this record (especially the re-recorded stuff) makes this the perfect place to start. Highest recommendations.
Standout Tracks: "Scarlet Witch Queen", "Gods of My Fathers", "Messalina"