Interview with Orlok
Interview conducted by Cluedo
Date online: April 26, 2006
Quorthon. Tom G. Warrior. King Diamond. Cronos. Gezol. These are but some of the names that would be brought up in a discussion over the legends of Black METAL. But where would the subject of this interview feature in such a debate?
It is this metalhead's humble opinion that he would be at the very top. For over a decade he has churned out classic after classic whilst remaining criminally overlooked. His brand of metal may borrow from the past masters, but the spirit and conviction with which he composes his music is unrivaled - quirky, unhinged, yet totally Orthodox.
Different bands use different tags for their music, but none are as fitting as yours. How did you come up with the term 'Orthodox Black Metal'?
Back in the early '90s, would-be BM bands were popping up everywhere and they all used rather ridiculous ways to describe their music, like "true Aryan evil unholy BM" and so on. Originally, Countess' music was described as "cold, dark BM in the archaic tradition" (if I remember correctly) and though certainly fitting, especially for the first demo and album, I wanted to find a way to describe Countess' music in a shorter, more direct and more recognizable way, to set Countess apart from all the other bands. One day, I just came up with "orthodox BM". It sounded cool and seemed fitting then, as it still sounds and seems today.
What drew you to metal in the first place? What does metal mean to you?
Well, what first drew my attention to metal in the early '80s was the imagery, I think. When I discovered the actual music that came with it, I found what I had been looking for all my life. Sounds pathetic perhaps, but it's true. Which leads me to what metal means to me: it's my life. Maybe that's pathetic too, but again it's true.
From a full band, COUNTESS now seems to the outsider to be an exceptionally personal band. Does this hold true? Do you consider past members of the band to have played a crucial role in shaping the direction of the band?
For the past few years, Countess has been just me. Past members obviously played a role in the sound of the band when they were in it, but I don't think many of them played a real role in shaping the direction. In fact, several members probably left the band because they wanted to shape that direction and I didn't agree because I didn't like the direction they wanted to take. Of course, an exception were Zénon and Vercingetorix who were responsible for the early Bathory-worshipping direction. I have always tried to keep that in the band's profile, but obviously over the years I have expanded the musical scope and I will keep doing that as long as Countess exists.
You certainly are a prolific artist. 9 albums and a couple of EPs over the last decade or so, with numerous other albums shelved. How do you keep yourself going? What songwriting techniques do you employ to keep your ideas fresh?
I don't know, the inspiration is just still there, even after all these years. In fact, I seem to be getting more and more inspired as I grow older, as strange as that may seem. There is nothing more to it; I just have the urge to write songs almost constantly. I don't use specific writing techniques; I just write what comes to me, if that makes any sense. And whether my ideas are still fresh, well, that's not up to me to judge I think.
On the note of the shelved albums, how many of them do you see yourself revisiting in the hope of possibly releasing them in the future? How do you decide what gets dumped in the bin and what is given a second chance?
None of the shelved albums will be released, I think. I do like to listen to shelved stuff, preferably several years after it's been recorded, because then you have more distance to it and it's easier to judge what stuff is good and what not. That way, many ideas from shelved albums eventually turn op on new albums. A good example is "Schemering Der Goden", that originally was a track on the shelved "From The Wells Of Chaos" album and eventually made it onto "Heilig Vuur", with some slight changes and different lyrics.
Critics feel that the early COUNTESS albums were inconsistent with regard to production values. The very same critics now laud the production of the last two albums, "Heilig Vuur" and "The Spawn of Steel". Do you share their opinion? Were there any drastic measures taken to improve the mixing of the last few albums, or have you simply matured as a producer?
Yes, I agree the last two albums have a better production than most earlier albums. The main reason for this is that they were mixed straight to mini disc instead of being mixed to tape and then transferred to mini disc; this apparently prevents a huge loss of sound quality. Also, I'm obviously more experienced every time I record another album. That being said, I do feel that with "Spawn Of Steel" I have more or less reached the limits of what you can do with an analog 4-track recorder, so in the future I will probably have to upgrade my recording equipment.
Is there any chance that COUNTESS will play a live show again? Are there any plans to make any videos, if they exist, available to the public?
I am planning to get a line-up together again in the future to be able to play live again. And yes, there are old live videos but I'm not interested in releasing these.
You seem to be fiercely loyal to Opyros and BARBARIAN WRATH. Could you tell us about the factors that have contributed to this extremely strong relationship you have had for over a decade?
Personal factors aside, Opyros signed Countess in '94 at a time when no other label would even have entertained the thought of doing that and he has fiercely supported Countess ever since.
If the day were to come, and BARBARIAN WRATH were to cease operation, would you consider signing with another label?
I don't know. Perhaps. I don't think any other label would want me, though. Anyway, I consider this a very hypothetical question since I count on it that BW will continue to unleashed real METAL upon the world for many years to come.
Some critics feel that "Revenge – Part II" is the weakest album in COUNTESS' discography. They have also gone on to suggest that it was Zagan's contribution that led to the album being regarded to as a 'letdown'. How do you respond to this?
First of all, I don't agree with this criticism. Parts I and II were recorded during the same sessions (in September-October '98) and I only decided to put which song on what album afterwards. I honestly believe that if we would have given Part II a different title, people wouldn't have reacted this way. I actually thought I saved the best songs for Part II. Maybe I'm wrong, though. As for blaming Zagan, I don't think that's fair. I wrote almost all of that stuff, so if anyone's to blame, it's me.
Most feel that "The Shining Swords of Hate" is unlike any other album in your discography. What were you aiming for with this release? Will you revisit the terrains explored in TSSoH in future releases?
"Shining Swords" was both an experiment and a statement. I don't think I will ever record another album quite like that, but I'm currently working on an album that does go somewhat in that direction, with simple, doomy mid-era Bathory-inspired songs. This album will have better songs, better playing and a better sound than "Shining Swords", but the direction it takes is somewhat comparable.
Was there any special reason for recording "Heilig Vuur" entirely in Dutch?
Not really. I just thought it would be cool. Countess was the first BM band to do a song in Dutch, "Bloed In De Sneeuw" back in '94 and I thought it would be a good idea to do an entire album in Dutch. There was no special reason or meaning behind it.
Do you share Vercingetorix' interest in the Black Duncan saga? Will Duncan Campbell be making a reappearance on future COUNTESS recordings?
I don't really share Vercingetorix' obsession with the character, but he will make another appearance in the future. The aforementioned album I'm working on right now will have the definitive Black Duncan song. It's called "Swords Shine In The Highlands" and I think it's a worthy successor to the previous Duncan songs, both musically and lyrically. It's pure fiction, a story I devised abouth his birth, life, death, journey to Hell and back and ultimate triumph (as described in "Black Duncan Rides Again").
Just to satisfy my curiosity, what is the intro to "The Triumph of Metal" all about?
Well, I thought that was obvious . . . but for those who don't get it: it's a parody of Manowar's "The Warrior's Prayer" (from "Kings Of Metal"). It's a parody meant in a very respectful way, though. The song is dedicated to Manowar.
I realized that the intro the Triumph of Metal is a parody of The Warrior's Prayer, but what I meant to ask was there a specific reason why you were poking fun at that track?
Well, now that I've given this some more thought; perhaps it's not even a parody, but more a kind of humorous tribute. That describes the intention behind it better, at least. I had no specific reason to do this; I just like A Warrior's Prayer and one day I figured; what if the kid found his grandpa in a grumpy mood, not willing to tell a story? Then another day I was looking for a cool intro for Triumph Of Steel and figured that would be fitting.
Tell us a little about your days before COUNTESS. Is there any chance of your pre-COUNTESS work getting re-released?
There's not much to tell about the stuff I did before Countess. Most of these bands and projects existed only for a short time and released only demo's. And no, none of that stuff will be rereleased as far as I'm concerned.
You have a new album coming out later this year, "Holocaust Of The God Believers". What can we expect from it?
It kind of carries on where "Spawn Of Steel" left off, with perhaps a bit more variety. Some songs are even more traditional metal, some are more pure BM again. I think it's a pretty decent album.
Thank you so much for the time you have taken in answering these questions. If you would like to add anything, feel free to do so.
Thanks to you for the interview. To everyone reading this: keep the flame of real METAL burning! Hail & kill!!!
|Other information about Countess on this site|
|Review: Heilig Vuur|
Copyright © 1999-2015, Michel Renaud / The Metal Crypt. All Rights Reserved.