Album Title: Heilig Vuur
Label: Barbarian Wrath
"Heilig Vuur" is the ninth album from Countess, and the first with lyrics written entirely in Dutch. As always, this band's music can best be described by frontman Orlok's own designation - Orthodox Black Metal.
This album takes the work done on both parts of "Revenge of the Horned One", spices it with a touch of the experimental drone of "The Shining Swords of Hate", and then looks back to the classic songwriting of "Ad Maiorem Sathanae Gloriam". The result is an album that successfully fuses everything that Countess has done over the last few years. Everything here is Countess at its best - high, echoing solos, relentlessly old-school riffing, and menacing keys, all backed by minimalist drum machine programming. Orlok's vocals are a bit back in the mix, this time, though perfectly audible. This is an excellent choice that puts the focus on the music.
The songwriting here is astounding. When I listened for the first time, these songs seemed as if I'd heard them before, but not in a bad way - quite the opposite. These songs flow so naturally that they seem almost inevitable, as if they always existed throughout Countess' work, but were only just unearthed. Each song is perfectly memorable, chock full of catchy riffs and solos. As if that weren't enough, the album ends with "Schemering der Goden", an epic piece that's the purest expression of Countess' music since "Te Vuur en te Zwaard". And on top of that, there's three classic live songs as bonus tracks: "Bloed In de Sneeuw", "De Gift der Goden", and "Dokkum 754". Even the live tracks are entirely in Dutch!
"Heilig Vuur" harks back to Countess classics in many ways, yet it manages to stay progressive as well. It's a major improvement over the spotty "Revenge of the Horned One, Part Two", and is more cohesive and consistent than Part One. It fully incorporates the lessons learned from "The Shining Swords of Hate", while staying clear of the experimentation that made "Shining Swords..." such a love-it-or-hate-it album. This is easily the pinnacle of Countess' recent work.
The only comparison I can make with "Heilig Vuur" is to the glory days of Countess. To my mind, "Heilig Vuur" compares favorably with classic albums like "Ad Maiorem..." and "The Book of the Heretic". Countess isn't for everyone, but if you appreciate their previous albums, I can give no higher recommendation than this.
Standout Tracks: "De Wilde Jacht", "Drakendoder", "Schemering der Goden"