After just one listen of Countess’ latest album ‘Fires Of Destiny’ I was hooked. I wanted to know much more about this long serving band. Orlok was gracious enough to answer a few questions!
Fist Of Satan 666: Countess has been around since 1992 and, while continuously releasing quality black metal, is not generally on the tip of people’s tongue. I must admit I only recently discovered Countess.
With releases almost yearly your body of work speaks for itself. Why do you think Countess has flown under the radar for so long?
Countess: Well, there may be a few things that have contributed to that. When we started out, the so-called ‘second wave’ of black metal was exploding and we didn’t sound like that at all, sounding more like the originators of the style. People who checked us out back then and expected us to sound like the modern bands of the day may have been put off. Then, of course, there was a long period when the band was hardly active. Between 1997 and 2014, Countess was essentially a one-man operation and didn’t play live. There was a new album almost every year, but that was about it. And finally, of course we have always been an underground band, without any substantial promotion.
FOS: In the 25 years of existence Countess has progressed from very raw and primitive black metal to a more traditional metal sound with elements of black metal.
What lead to this progression? Was raw black metal too limiting for how you wished to express Countess? Or did it just sort of happen over the years?
C: I think this was a natural evolution. If you listen to all our albums in sequence (quite a task, by the way) you can hear his progression was gradual. We always loved traditional metal; it’s the music we grew up with and over time we incorporated more influences from traditional metal in our sound. The fact the really raw, primitive black metal has rather a lot of limitations may have played a part as well, but not really on a conscious level I think.
FOS: Throughout Countess’ history Orlok, has remained the one constant. The majority of albums were recorded by him alone. Does the prolificness of releases necessitate going it alone?
C: No, that has nothing to do with it. I just didn’t have a line-up in these years and didn’t feel like getting one together, so I worked alone for quite a while. Having a full line-up is pretty hard; you need to find exactly the right people to make it work and that’s not easy. After the band split at the end of 1997, I was just fed up with maintaining a line-up. In the years that followed, I often thought about getting a line-up again to be able to play live again, or maybe play live with session musicians, but for a variety of reasons that never happened until finally a few years ago everything fell in place again, so to speak.
FOS: Besides Orlok, Zagan has appeared most often contributing guitars to the 1997 EP Hell’s Rock and Roll, a guest appearance on 2001’s The Revenge of the Horned One Part I’ and most recently on 2013’s Sermons Of The Infidel and 2016’s Fires of Destiny.
Why has his contributions been somewhat sporadic over the years?
C: Well, after the line-up that recorded ‘Hell’s Rock & Roll’ split up at the end of 1997 we still stayed in touch. So when I was doing the ‘Revenge’ albums I asked him to participate and he played basically all the leads and also some rhythm parts on these records, as well as contributing a few songs (his involvement was more than a ‘guest appearance’). In the early 2000’s we also worked on some stuff together that was never released but after that, we kind of lost touch until we met again in early 2013 and we decided to work together again. He has been a full member of the band again since then.
FOS: From a recording technology perspective things have changed greatly from the times of 1993’s The Gospel Of The Horned Ones to 2016’s Fires Of Destiny.
Have you embraced new technology over the years? Do you still retain any techniques from the old days in your latest recordings?
C: Well, I wouldn’t say I ‘embrace’ new technology but I do use it. Using modern recording equipment has a lot of practical advantages over using recording equipment from 25 years ago. Other than using modern equipment, we haven’t really changed the way we record.
FOS: On the subject of recordings can you talk a bit about the writing and recording of Fires Of Destiny? What is your writing process? Where do you record?
C: The album was recorded in our rehearsal room; as usual, we did everything ourselves. We wrote the songs in 2014 and 2015; basically Zagan and myself wrote everything together and recorded demo’s of the songs. Then we started rehearsing the songs at the end of 2015, shortly after our new drummer Mortüüm joined the band. We began recording in February 2016. That was done in a fairly conventional way: first a scratch guitar track, then the drums, then the bass, rhythm guitars, guitar solos, keyboards and finally the vocals. In May, we completed the process.
FOS: Countess began in the underground days of paper zines and tape trading. You’re still here in the internet generation. Do you feel some of the magic of discovering new music has been lost when all it takes is for someone to download your album instead of waiting weeks (or months) for a tape to arrive in the mail?
What are your thoughts on the resurgence of tape releases in metal?
C: Yeah, the emergence of the internet has significantly changed the way music is spread, but I doubt that this whole internet thing has changed the music itself. Of course, having been part of the tape trading scene back in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s I feel a bit nostalgic about those days. You really had to work to discover and find new music, especially underground music. Of course, you also got a lot of really special stuff through tape trading like live tapes, rehearsals, advance tapes and so forth.
Now everything is a click away. It’s not all bad, though, especially for underground bands, because spreading your music is a lot easier than it was in the past. Getting your music noticed is probably still as hard as it was, though. Anyways, things change. That’s life; it’s just the way it is.
As for tapes, I don’t mind the resurgence but I don’t really care for them. The cassette was probably the worst sound carrier ever invented. This whole tape thing may be a form of nostalgia or people just wanting something more underground now that vinyl is enjoying a mainstream resurgence.
FOS: From where do you draw your influences when creating new music? What specifically lead to the creation of ‘Fires Of Destiny’? How has the reaction been from the fans?
C: My inspiration for writing music and lyrics comes from everything really: movies, books, music, paintings, history, religion, my own imagination, personal experiences, really everything. Most of our songs are inspired by different things; although there are a few that mainly drew inspiration from one specific source.
As for ‘Fires Of Destiny’, it was inspired by many things. The songs are all about somewhat different subjects. We didn’t really have a central theme in mind when we started writing for the album, we just focused on writing ten killer songs. The song ‘Fires Of Destiny’ was the first song written for the album and we quickly decided that would be the title track. We thought it sounded good and we also had an idea for the album cover almost immediately; to use the painting of the battle of Vienna – the subject of the song – by the 17th century Flemish painter Pauwel Casteels.
The response from the fans has been great, both to the album and to the songs from the album when we play them live.
FOS: Artists are often not limited to mediums. Do you express yourself in ways other than black metal? Painting? Poetry? Etc.
C: No, not really. Other than that lyrics can be seen as a form of poetry, maybe.
FOS: If you could collaborate with any musician, living or dead, who would that be and what would a Countess album sound like with them?
C: Well, I have a few musical ‘heroes’ but I don’t think I would want to work with any of them, even if it were possible. We prefer to create our own music; if we would collaborate with someone from outside the band (no matter how much we might admire the person in question) it would compromise the purity of our expression, so to speak.
FOS: In your long history there have been many trends and explosions of genres over the years. While the band’s sound has progressed over the years you have remained loyal to the spirit of the old days. Have you ever looked back and wondered what would have happened if you had taken the band in a different direction?
C: No, because there is no point in doing that. It never wanted to take the band in a different direction and I never did. I don’t care what might have happened if I had.
FOS: Based on your almost yearly release we’re probably due for a new album. Are you working on new material? When can we expect new material?
C: Not that quickly. We plan to write the next album this year and record and release it next year.
FOS: What music have you been listening to lately (metal or otherwise)? What books are you reading?
C: Well, while I’m answering these questions I’m listening to Rome’s ‘Flowers From Exile’ album. I listen to quite a lot of different stuff; currently mostly traditional metal, folk, outlaw country and classical music.
FOS: Other musicians will (hopefully) be reading this so I always ask about the gear bands use. Tell us about your musical equipment and how you achieve your sound.
C: Well, I’m still using basically the same equipment I have been using for the past quarter of a century. For recordings I use an Aria Pro II IGB-50 that I have had since 1992 and used on most recordings. It has an excellent sound so I record bass without an amp; I plug straight into the recorder. Other than a limiter, I don’t use any effects. For rehearsing I currently use an Ibanez SB900 and live I play a classic BC Rich Warlock. Amps differ, but I prefer to use Ampeg bass amps whenever possible.
FOS: As you have a solid lineup now do you plan to make touring a permanent part of Countess? How would you describe a Countess show for those unfamiliar with your live performance?
C: Well, we have been playing live again since 2014 but we have mostly been doing festivals since then and the odd one-off club show. Last week, we did a short tour for the first time since 1997, with Blackdeath and Barathrum. Hopefully we will be able to do some more touring in the future. We’re looking into that at the moment.
As for our live performance; we just go out there and play our songs to the best of our ability. We don’t have an elaborate stage show or whatever; we think a live show should be first and foremost about the music. For those interested, we have several live songs on our YouTube channel, including the full show we played at the ‘Veneration Of The Dead’ festival in 2015.
FOS: Final words are yours!
C: Thank you for the interview and keep the flame of real metal burning. Hail and kill!
Be sure to check out Countess’ YouTube channel for lots of live shows and promo videos!