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Countess – Banners of Blood

Banners of Blood
by Justin "Witty City" Wittenmeier at 19 April 2021, 6:40 AM

COUNTESS is a black metal band from the Netherlands that formed in 1992. This just goes to show the depth of the metal world because after being around for 27 years and having released 16 full lengths albums, I'm just now hearing their name and music for the first time. That 16th album is their new release "Banners of Blood." This was a hard album for me to review and took me a long time to decide what rating to give it. Musically speaking, I enjoy what I'm hearing quite a bit. If I was basing the review on the music alone, then my final rating would be much higher.

Although the band fits under the blackened category, their music is hard to pin down which is why I found it to be so interesting. Across the twelve tracks with over an hour of play time, punk, rock, and groove finds it's way into the album's sound. It honestly reminds me of mid era SATYRICON but with less focus and more rawness to the overall sound. For example, the opening track "Sword of The Millennia" injects a ton of groove into the music with the energy and spirit of punk. The galloping riffs behind the solo echo NWOBHM and the keyboards add a subtle layer and dimensional shift to the proceedings.

Sometimes the music is very moving such as the guitar solo in "Below The Sky" and the church bells that come afterwards. So what's the issue I am having with it? The vocals are constantly threatening to ruin this experience for me.  On some of the songs such "Wall of the North" the vocals do a decent job but most of the time the vocals just have too many cracks in it and it sounds like he is out of breath or straining.

It might be different if actual singing was attempted but he uses the constant cadence of spoken word. Try as I might, I can't get around this and it really dulls the experience for me. Another problem is the length…with twelve tracks and over an hour of music, this is just too much for this style. I never could make it all the way thru in one listening and had to break it up into multiple sessions. Still though, this isn't a bad album and like I said earlier, the music is so goddamn good. The title track is full of head banging riffs and the tempo is perfectly balanced. All in all, the vocals and album's length really mar an otherwise enjoyable experience.

Songwriting: 6
Musicianship: 7
Memorability: 5
Production: 6

3 Star Rating

1. Sword of the Millennia
2. Below the Sky
3. Wall of the North
4. Ledovoye Poboishche
5. Night of the Fallen
6. Banners of Blood
7. Pagan Man
8. Fall of the Achaemenid Empire
9. Slachting der Saksen
10. Last Man of Honour
11. Toortsen uit het verleden
12. Sword Symphony
Orlok – Bass, Vocals
Mortuum – Drums
Haxa – Keyboards, Guitars (Acoustic)
Valgard - Guitars
Record Label: Independent


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