Label: Barbarian Wrath
Bandcamp stream: Link
I have to admit, I was on the fence for quite a while about this album. Ancient Lies And Battle Cries is the fourteenth album that Countess has released, and blends proto-black with strong elements of traditional, heavy metal. It sounds like it could have been recorded at almost any point during the past 25 years, and it’s impossible not to feel that that is kinda the point. This is METAL in a thoroughly old-school sense, wonderfully unfashionable and not giving a damn about what you think. If you’re looking for something to get your head banging and fists raised in the air, but with an added bit of extra bite compared to the likes of Manowar, then you’ll surely enjoy this.
It will only take a few moments to make it clear if this album is for you or not. First track “Battle Sky” opens up with choral keyboards that wouldn’t be out of place on a cheap fantasy movie, and it’s almost two minutes before the guitars make themselves known. When they do, they carry on the mood of those opening moments, simultaneously heroic, haunting, with real power behind them, and when the keyboards are re-introduced, they combine with the guitars and drums well. Orlok’s vocals are the most obvious remaining link to their black metal past, not far removed from the style used by Quorthon on the first three Bathory albums, and his lyrics are clear, which is something that really helps give the songs character. The guitars are the real star of much of the song though, and indeed of the album, with Zagan playing many melodies and solos that, whilst not technically flashy, are often captivating and serve the songs well.
Much of the album is playing at mid-tempo, though the best songs for me are those where the pace is picked up, such as “Vengeance Of The Slain” which draws more heavily from their early black metal influences and history. “Confessions Of A Polytheist” combines strong keyboards with strong double-bass drumming that keeps the tempo high, whilst “Burn The Throne” comes across as a mix between heavy and 80s thrash metal, which is pretty great. The main issue though is that the songs fall very firmly in to two categories – “long, mid-tempo” or “shorter, faster” – and a bit more blending of the two would make the album much more arresting. Even though most of the songs features a few shifts and changes, the overall feel and impression of each one is pretty consistent. There are parts during the longer songs where my attention can’t help but wander; it’s not that the music is boring or dull, more that it starts to fade in to the background due to repetition and length, which is a shame. The album is obviously reaching for an epic feel, and whilst it often succeeds, there are times when the length of some songs detract from this rather than aid it.
The main reason I sat on the fence about this album for so long, though, is the lyrics. As noted earlier, Orlok’s delivery ensures that his lyrics come through clearly, and whilst there are some songs about religion and war, the chief thing that comes across is that this is a metal album about how great metal is. It’s a lyrical theme I’m not a fan of, and lines about how “heavy metal was forged by the gods”, or swearing allegiance to true metal, don’t really do anything for me. I’m glad I didn’t let them put me off the album, though. For all the issues identified, there is something very enjoyable about this album, and I’ve found myself listening to it a lot since I first heard it, often leaving it on repeat for a few spins at a time. For a guy who describes himself as being a fan of extreme metal – rather than just of metal – that’s quite a noteworthy achievement. But the main question for music of this nature should be “am I enjoying it?” As far as Ancient Lies And Battle Cries goes, the answer, now that I have given the album plenty of time, is yes, and the rating below is a reflection of that. That’s something I can’t say of many other, much bigger heavy/traditional metal bands or albums.