There’s not many metal bands that carry on long enough to release fifteen albums, but Fires Of Destiny sees Dutch veterans Countess reach that landmark. The band have never really had a period that could be described as a lull, having consistently been releasing new records since their formation in 1992, but the past few years have seen them expand from a studio-based project in to a live band once more. There’s always been a passionate fire to Countess, but as of late it’s arguably stronger than ever, and that passion for early black and heavy metal is undeniable on Fires Of Destiny. Countess have always existed on their own terms, and that’s as true as ever here, with the band offering ten tracks of unfashionable, but stirring metal.
There’s no escaping the fact that Countess have always been an underground band, never ever really being fashionable or seeking mainstream attention (a stance that is to be admired). They’re the kind of band that exist between genres, not really being black or heavy metal yet having strong elements of both. Mainman Orlok’s vocals are vicious and passionate, recalling the first three Bathory albums, and there is a comparable first wave-esque fire to much of the music. At the same time, Manowar and Manilla Road are equally valid comparisons; melody is a very strong component of the Countess sound, as are strong choruses and keyboards. It’s a combination that makes songs like “Fires Of Destiny” very powerful and catchy with soaring guitars and vocal lines. Other tracks, such as “Rise Of The Horned One”, bring the early black metal aspects to the fore, being possessed of a more malevolent and Satanic spirit.
Whilst the individual elements that make up the songs haven’t changed much from previous releases, it’s worth highlighting that on Fires Of Destiny, the songwriting is much stronger than it has been. Whereas previous album Ancient Lies And Battle Cries had songs that fell in to one of two categories (“long, mid-tempo” or “short and faster”), that’s less of an issue here, with all tracks being of a much more uniform length (between four and six minutes, roughly). The only exception is closer “Bard Van Het Verleden”, a closing epic of nearly ten minutes that has enough elements and variation to justify such a length. Likewise, the other tracks on the album are more varied that on Ancient Lies…, making the album a much more interesting, attention-grabbing listen.
The lyrics are also much improved from Ancient Lies…, replacing many of the “brotherhood of metal” tropes with more Satanic or historic themes that, even if hardly novel, are handled with more intelligence and skill than many other bands manage. Fires Of Destiny is also notable for the return of songs in Dutch, something Countess have not done for some ten years.
To say that Fires Of Destiny is “Countess, but better” feels like an understated way of describing the album, but it’s also probably the most accurate description. The band aren’t really doing anything too different with their fifteenth album; but what they are doing is writing better quality, more varied, stirringly passionate songs in their own distinctive style. As such, it’s probably their best record in quite some time, and is well worth your attention. They may never be fashionable, but I somehow doubt the band care about that, and Fires Of Destiny helps cement Countess’ place as underground veterans whose future is just as strong as their past.
Fires Of Destiny is available to stream and download, as well as on CD, via Bandcamp.