The following interview, done in March 2012, is done with Orlok.

Countess is a black metal band with a long history, which first began in 1992. In fact, 2012 marks the bands 20th year anniversary. You’ve been creating top notch music continuously in that time. Where have you derived all the inspiration from?

Well it’s good to hear you think our music has been top notch all these years. As for the inspiration, it has always been there and it still is. If it weren’t I’d quit right away. As for where it comes from, I’d say from everywhere. Obviously, all the music I listen to inspires me, but many other things as well, books I’ve read, movies I’ve seen, all my experiences in life really.

In the time since you first began your journey with Countess, the metal genre has undergone a lot of changes, good and bad. The past decade saw metal music in general gain mainstream popularity. Quite a few once underground bands have altered their sounds to gain wider acceptance, a trait I detest and scorn. Countess, however, has retained the same great spirit and sound of early days. What is your opinion of bands that dramatically change their sound and style for acceptance or perceived financial gain? Why have you never felt the same desire to change Countess?

There are several sides to this issue. Obviously, most bands do change with time. Countess has changed as well. A lot of Countess albums sound quite different from each other. When you grow older, experience more things, different things will inspire and influence you. That’s only natural. For some bands, this ‘natural’ evolution may lead to wider acceptance - for Countess this obviously hasn’t been the case – and I don’t think there is a lot wrong with that. If, however, you purposely set out to change your sound to gain wider acceptance, there is something wrong with that. I doubt it often works anyway, by the way. And then there are bands that do the exact opposite thing: they purposely don’t change because they have a certain style and sound that guarantees them a certain ‘built-in’ audience. Thus, they keep releasing the same album over and over again. When done on purpose, I guess that’s just as wrong as changing your sound in order to appeal to a wider audience: in both cases, you’re manipulating your ‘natural’ sound and its evolution for – whatever – gain. Not that there is much money to be made in music these days anymore, of course, unless you’re a really big band. In conclusion: I’m confident that the evolution of the Countess sound has always been a natural one. And obviously, this ‘evolution’ has been in a direction that has kept the band firmly in the underground.

Back in the mid-nineties I came upon the first full length release ‘Gospel of the Horned One’. I bought it from a tiny distro/label here in my town called Ground Zero, which was an operation basically run out of the guy’s vehicle. He was known for having a selection of tapes and CDs of strange and unknown bands from around the world. Thus I discovered Countess. The track ‘Kneel Before the Master’s Throne’ became an instant all-time favorite. What can you tell us about this first release? Any memories you can share with us? What was inspiring you at the time?

Well, that was a long time ago . . . remember this was 1992, when Black Metal was becoming far too popular and all these new bands were all getting good reviews in big magazines. We longed for the old days, when Black Metal was hated – as we felt it should be – by the big magazines. We certainly succeeding in getting bad reviews but, more importantly, I think we succeeded in creating a truly unique album. When we recorded the album we played all the songs live with drums, bass and rhythm guitar, using really old and worn-out equipment. We were playing in a barn with no heating whatsoever while it was freezing and the wind was howling outside (it was Winter Solstice) so we drank a lot of vodka to keep warm. Most of the songs were done in one take. When we had done all that, we added some more rhythm guitars, leads, vocals and keyboards.

Recording this album was a rather unique experience really. Somehow we managed, in spite of our obvious musical ineptitude, or perhaps – at least partly - because of it, to create an album with a really unique atmosphere. I still think the atmosphere of The Gospel is unequalled by any later Countess recording, no matter how much better these may be musically and sound wise.

As for the song ‘Kneel Before The Master’s Throne’, well, it’s probably the best track off the first album and it has become sort of a classic over the years. It’s the only track off the first album that was part of the live set through the years since it was a great live song too. I remember when we played in Berlin in ’97, when we had played everything we could play and the audience still kept on yelling for more, so we finally did this song as a last encore. It sounded pretty awful because the guitar was rather out of tune by then, but it was still great.

My only complaint of the aforementioned release would be that the vocals seemed to be recorded too low. Do you agree? Any chance of a re-issue?

No, I doubt there will ever be a reissue. I know some people think the vocals should have been more prominent in the mix, but I think the mix is fine the way it is. More up-front vocals would lessen the album’s unique atmosphere. In fact, there was an original mix had the vocals much more prominent and less emphasis on the guitars, and this mix sounded a lot worse than the second mix, which is the one that was released. I doubt there is still a copy of the original mix anywhere, though, and the original recording tapes certainly don’t exist anymore. And before anyone asks, I don’t think a re-recording of the album in its entirety would be a good idea either.

We did do a new version of one of the album’s tracks, ‘Doomed To Die’, though, a few years ago. That was done just to see how the song would sould with a ‘better’ production job. It sounds quite all right, I think, but it also shows that the original album’s ‘unique’ production, so to speak, is for a large part responsible for what makes the album special. This new version of ‘Doomed To Die’ was never released, but for those interested, it can be listened to on our reverbnation page:

In 2011 you released your 13th release, ‘On Wings of Defiance,’ which shows the music of Countess to be as strong as ever. Can you tell us what differs in your opinion on this album than previous ones? You’ve had a lot of line-up changes over the years, is it hard to find dedicated musicians in your locale?

Well, I’d say ‘On Wings Of Defiance’ isn’t radically different from the immediate preceding albums, but it does takes the evolution of the Countess sound towards a more traditional metal style even further than previous releases have. It’s still raw and primitive, of course, but the riffing and song writing lean a bit more towards traditional metal.

As for the line-up changes, we used to have them all the time back in the day, but for the past decade or so Countess has essentially been a one-man operation, so line-up problems haven’t really occurred in the more recent past. It always was a problem finding dedicated members in the past. You know, it’s hard to find suitable members in the first place, and when you have a line-up, all kinds of complications can arise, when other members want to take a different musical direction, or cannot commit to a tour because they have other priorities, or whatever. Having no other members means you don’t have to deal with all that shit, but the downside obviously is that you can’t play live. But we’ll get to that in the next question.

You haven’t played live since 1998, mostly due to the continuous unstable line-up, I read. But in the past you did many shows, including some with Finland’s great Barathrum. That must have been a legendary show. Can you tell us anything about it? Do you like to play live?

Actually we haven’t played live since 1997 . . . and yes, I like to play live. I think everyone who is in a band enjoys playing live. The problem is that you need a line-up to play live and it’s pretty hard to get gigs too for an underground metal band, at least around here.

We did indeed do several shows with Barathrum – and Sabbat from Japan – back in 1997. It was a short tour, with several dates in Holland and Germany. I don’t know if these shows were legendary, but they certainly were a lot of fun.

I always found it strange that Countess never seemed to receive the popularity that other black metal bands of the era did, which is probably a good thing. Popularity seems to often kill creativity in my opinion. What do you think?

I don’t really know why we didn’t gain the same amount of popularity as some of the other bands did. Maybe because we were too different from the ‘modern’ style of black metal that became popular in the early nineties. Or because we had too much of an ‘underground’ sound and feel to be able to gain more widespread acceptance. I actually never really thought about this too much .

And I don’t know if popularity always kills creativity. Maybe in some cases, many in other cases not. Maybe in some cases it can even inspire greater creativity. Then again I wouldn’t know because we have never been popular, haha.

I’ve never heard of you ever doing any side-projects. Have you? Have you ever considered doing another band, with perhaps a different sound or style?

Well I did do some side-projects back in the early days, but most of these aren’t really worth mentioning. I don’t think I’ll do any side-projects again in the future. If I would want to do something with a different sound or style, I think I would integrate that into the Countess sound. I doubt I would want to do stuff that would be too different to use in Countess.

Now to the more philosophical side of our interview. The lyrics of your latest release deal mostly with the pagan world’s ancient struggle against ‘civilization’ and all the filth it brought. Since ‘Gospel of the Horned One’ you’ve dealt a lot with the topics of pagan religion and the glories of the past. Does this reflect a personal belief in the ancient religions of our ancestors?

Well, without going into detail about my personal beliefs, I think it is fair to say that the oppression of the original (and, if you will, ‘natural’) religion, culture and identity of the European peoples was very unfortunate, to say the least. The imposition of an alien ‘religion’ that originated in an entirely different part of the world, among entirely different people, has left the European peoples in a spiritual void and, over the centuries, almost succeeded in making us forget who we are and where we came from. Not completely, though. It did however, interfere with the natural evolution of our peoples and our religions.

Of course, the European peoples never chose to become ‘christians’. This so-called ‘religion’ was forced upon them by corrupt rulers who recognized monotheism (in this case, in its christian form) as a useful tool for oppression. And it is not like the people did not resist. There are many, many tales of brave people who stood against the oppressors in defiance, loyal to their true gods, prepared to die rather than bow to this ridiculous alien ‘religion’.

The struggle against monotheism has indeed been an major inspiration on especially the more recent Countess albums, to the point where the previous album, ‘Burning Scripture’, was entirely focused on this theme. ‘On Wings Of Defiance’ has a bit more variety in subject matter. The ‘theme’ of this record, as expressed in its title, is standing defiantly against great odds. A very ‘metal’ subject matter, I think.

It’s always interesting to see the evolution one goes through when seeking the truth about religion, and/or ‘god’. The powers-that-be haven’t made it easy for someone to learn about the old religions. Many people, in defiance of Christianity, have found Satanism as the only alternative in their youths. But as one ages and slowly learns the truth, Satan in an allegorical sense becomes a guide to the religions and deities of the past. It is interesting that ‘Satan’ is said to be the angel of light. The light of knowledge and truth shines upon the darkness of ignorance and lies and destroys it. We also should mention that the Christians called our deities devils and demons, especially our horned deities. What are your thoughts on all of this? When you were young and thirsty for knowledge what did you find?

Well, deities can obviously take many forms. I think people are sometimes too focused on the form rather than the essence. One could argue that it doesn’t matter whether Satan was originally a part of judaism/christianity or not, whether Satan should be seen as a literal being or in an allegorical sense, or whether Satanism is compatible with Paganism or not, or whatever . . . what matters is essence. Deities can be representations, for example of a people’s collective subconscious, but that does not mean that they are not or cannot be ‘literal’ entities at the same time. People who try to be very ‘strict’ in for example Satanism or Paganism, at least this is my impression, often make the mistake of approaching their own faith – or what they perceive to be their own faith – in the same manner that monotheists do.

Do you believe that there is anything that survives after death? Some part of us that lives on after our physical destruction? Can some form of sentient life live on in the energy that leaves the body after death?

I am not convinced either way. I consider it a definite possibility, but one cannot be sure while in this life. If one thing is certain in this life, however, it is the fact the one eventually will find the answer to this question.

If there was one question that you could know the absolute answer to, what would your question be?

None. There would be no point in that. Answers always only bring more questions.

Mankind has fathomed the stars and the night sky since time immemorial. Yet, even in our age of science, we seem to still know little more than early man did. When you look to the midnight skies, what do you see in terms of the possibility of life beyond Earth? It’s mind-boggling the numbers of planets they predict could support life in the universe. Do you see an age when mankind could leave the prison of our solar system and venture out into the unknown, or will we burn out and self-destruct long before?

Well, if you mean to ask whether I believe there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, then the answer is a definite ‘yes’. I am not going to argue with the Drake equation. On the other hand, considering the vast distances between the stars and the fact that it still seems to be impossible to exceed the speed of light, chances of mankind ever coming into contact with alien life seem extremely small to me.

That being said, if I understand the current scientific views on the subject correctly, at some point in time solar temperatures will increase to a point where life on earth will no longer be possible. In the unlikely event of mankind still being around by that time, mankind will have no other choice than to migrate into space if it is to survive.

One question that has always perplexed me is an end to the universe. Scientists say the universe has an end, yet how can there be one? Their theories seem shady to me. I personal believe that it rolls on forever and ever. What do you think?

Well, funny you should ask that. That’s something that I used to think about when I was like five or six years old, until at some point, when I had gotten older, I decided that it was rather pointless to ponder such questions as the answers to these would be beyond human comprehension anyway.

Now, of course, I know that there are many different scientific theories about the – possible – end of the universe. None of these theories have been ‘proven’ as far as I know, though.

Speaking of self-destruction... there is now over seven billion people on earth. The planet’s resources are waning. There is no end in sight to this human epidemic of over-breeding. This problem, mingled with a vast amount of growing others, darkens our future. What do you see for the future of mankind and this planet? Do you see things growing worse before better?

Well, predicting the future is not easy, if not downright impossible. Nevertheless, as you say, there are definitely massive problems with overpopulation on our planet. I find it hard to say where this will lead to, but it is not farfetched to assume this will lead to massive disasters within several generations, or even sooner. Nature, in the past, usually had ways of reasserting itself – plagues, wars, etcetera – but nowadays the population seems to be growing too fast for nature to be able to keep this growth in check. However, mankind has a very strong instinct for survival, so who can tell what ways people will come up with to deal with these problems. Maybe we, or at least some of us, will be living in space within a few generations – or maybe there won’t be any humans around anymore in a few generations and everything will start over again from scratch.

When life is done, what would you like to be known for? What things would someone that knows you well say that you represented in life? And lastly, is there anything special you’d like said on your tombstone?

That is something that I have never really given much thought, to be honest. People who have known me will all remember me in their own way, I suppose. I don’t really care that much about how other people will remember me.

My last question involves one of my favorite songs in black metal. Countess’ ‘The Heretic’s Torch’ from the album ‘The Book of the Heretic’. It truly is a masterwork. Its lyrics, poetic and wise, are below.

“At last existence to be seen, as it has always been
Life and death, always an illusion
The end brings only more confusion
Chaos, the truthful answer why
But even chaos, itself a lie
Good is evil, black is white
The dark is light, the day is night
The end brings no escape, a new beginning will take shape
Impossible to annihilate eternity, slaves to existence we’ll always be.”

If you can tell us something about this song, like what went into its creation, that would be interesting. But more so, the words that flow so well with the music. The unmistakable feeling captured here of one who truly believes in what he is saying. This song reveals to me the fact that you’ve spent a lot of time contemplating human existence. What do the lyrics mean to you? Do you remember writing them?

Yes, I remember writing that song. You know, ‘The Book Of The Heretic’ is a concept album, but it wasn’t originally envisaged as a concept album. When I had most of the songs ready, the tale of the heretic just came to me and I figured this was a story that could connect the songs I had. So I wrote the story down – exactly the way it was printed in the booklet. Not all the songs were completely finished by then, though and ‘The Heretic’s Torch’ wasn’t written at all then. It was the last song I wrote for the album and it was written as sort of an epilogue to the album. Yet at the same time it’s a prologue to the continuing tale of the heretic. When I had written the music, I was playing the song one night, in the dark, on a keyboard if I remember correctly and the lyrics just came to me. I still don’t know if I fully comprehend the lyrics and their consequences myself, but I did have a feeling that the words come to me in what one could call a moment of ‘clarity’, when you have one of these rare moment of insight into what everything is really all about, if that makes any sense.

Many thanks for the honor of interviewing you, and for your time spent answering our prying questions! Any last words to the waiting world?

Thanks to you for putting some interesting questions in front of me. To anyone reading this: keep the flame of real METAL burning . . . hail & kill!!!

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