Album: The Shining Swords of Hate
Label: Barbarian Wrath
Release Year: 2000
"The Shining Swords of Hate" is the most recent album release from the "Orthodox Black Metal" band Countess. The first thing any fan of Countess will notice upon playing this album is how different it is from the rest of Orlok's music. Gone are the harsh, screamed vocals of the earlier albums. They've been replaced with an agonized moaning, which is so low in the mix that it sounds very distant, almost as if Orlok is in one room, and the music is in another. Gone, too, are the more straightforward elements of Countess' attack- "Unorthodox Black Metal" has been created here, and it takes some time to get used to.
At first listen, I was mourning the loss of Orlok's old vocal style, and it was hard for me to reconcile this album with the rest of Countess' work. I put the album away with a heavy heart, almost ready to declare it my least favorite Countess album. At some point the next day I realized that I'd been humming "Te Vuur en te Zwaard" off and on at work, and I decided that perhaps my judgment had been a little bit hasty.
I went home, put the album on again, and gave it my full attention. The songs are very long (most are around ten minutes, one is over twenty). For the most part, they're slow, doomy, atmospheric pieces, dripping with rawness and despair. One thing I noticed almost immediately was how well the new vocal style fits with the music. Yes, I still prefer the old style- but to use it here would have overwhelmed much of the atmosphere of these songs, and atmosphere is the defining element of "The Shining Swords of Hate". Orlok's pained groans and snarls on this album are the perfect complement to the hateful, oppressive music.
By the time the album had played to the end, it had become my favorite of Countess' albums. The genius here is subtle, yet I cannot deny it. This album grew on me, and once I came to appreciate it, "The Shining Swords of Hate" more than exceeded my expectations (which were very high, this being Countess.) Get this at all costs- there are only 666 numbered copies, available from Barbarian Wrath.
Best Track: "Te Vuur en te Zwaard". Along with Megiddo's "The Oath", it's easily one of my two favorite Black Metal songs from the year 2000. This track creates such a perfectly bleak, hopeless atmosphere- amazing. This is worth the cost of the album alone.