Between Orlok’s maniacal cackle, playful guitar melodies, bouncy bass and ghetto drum machine, Countess is a band that can never be mistaken for another. For better or worse, Countess always has its own unique sound. That makes listening to the first Countess album quite a strange experience. This is Countess before Countess, so to speak. Countess has been a one man band since 1995, but on the debut release, The Gospel of the Horned One, Countess is actually a three piece band and frankly, quite a bad one. Little more than poorly performed and terribly produced Bathory worship, The Gospel of the Horned One is a rough start to the Countess project.
There are tons of problems with this recording. First, this is straight forward Bathory worship with absolutely no original contributions. There are faster, thrashier tracks that replicate Bathory’s faster, thrashier tracks and there are slower, doomier tracks that replicate Bathory’s slower, doomier tracks. That’s the entire musical spectrum of the album. “Fullmoon Baptism,” the most offensive culprit, boarders on plagiarism of “Enter the Eternal Flame.”
What really makes this album so bad is the production. It’s quite amazing how bad the mix is on this album. The guitars are really loud and sharp. Sometimes in raw black metal, such in-your-face guitars can create an extremely vicious tone (i.e. Mütiilation). Here it just sounds cheap. On the faster tracks there’s so much feedback that its impossible to distinguish any tune whatsoever. The bass is extremely flat but almost as loud as the guitar; it’s like watching a fish out of water aimlessly flopping about on the inevitable path toward death. The drums are almost all cymbal and high hat. The toms and bass are mostly inaudible. The vocals are drowned deep, deep within the mix as if Orlok was screaming a few rooms away.
The performance is also pretty bad. There are some really awkward moments where it sounds like the band forgets how the song goes but just lets the tape keep on recording. For example, at one point on “Fullmoon Baptism,” the guitar stops playing and the Orlok does some horrendous bass solo (or perhaps he is tuning) that is totally out of rhythm with the drums, which are playing at twice the speed. When the band isn’t falling into complete and utter disarray, they still sound out synch.
A certain amount of cheapness and sloppiness has always been a part of Countess’s free-spirited charm, but The Gospel of the Horned One takes that way too far. The production is about as bad as it gets and there’s no retrieving it through appeals to “raw” or “cult” aesthetic because this album fails to create an atmosphere. The only thing that saves this album from being a complete an utter disaster is that there are some good melodies on some of the slower songs and some of the keyboard intros aren’t half bad. Still, nothing can save The Gospel of the Horned One from bargain bin status.