Incredible as it may seem, it has been 5 years since Negură Bunget last made an album. To me, it honestly feels as if it was 5 minutes ago, and a lot of beer has gone under the bridge since the release of “Vîrstele pămîntului”, their previous album. For those not in the know, they’re a bunch of guys that play a unique brand of black metal that is very heavily influenced by their own culture. Blending many strange and wonderful folk instruments into a blend of uniquely compelling black metal, that caused a massive stir with the release of their other worldly masterpiece that was “Om”. However, not all has been well over the past few years with a complete sea change of band members that only left Negru, a key founding member and drummer. Such a thing would’ve have normally spelled the death knell of most bands, but they ploughed on with a completely new line up from their “Om” album.
As much as I enjoyed “Vîrstele Pămîntului”, I felt that at times there were parts that were a bit ‘touch and go’; there were parts of the album that I felt concentrated too much on the folk instrumental pieces that I felt acted as filler. The album had much more to give somehow – which may be my over critical ear, trying to compare it too much to “Om”, or the sign of a band trying to find their musical feet. Or, perhaps it could have been a combination of all three? Either way, that particular album still worked and stuck a chord for many people.
Which brings us neatly onto their latest release, “Tau” that is due to be released for late Feb/March 2015 – which I was delighted to receive for review. I was originally concerned that Negură Bunget may have had too much of a struggle with such a drastic change in line up, but such fears were completely unfounded and went completely out of the window.
So, how does Negură Bunget sound nowadays on this new release? So far, pretty much superb. The black metal rawness has returned, and has become more dynamic with the same majestic sound that made “Om” such a total barnstormer. ‘Nametenie’ starts with eerie and ethereal flutes, cyclic acoustic guitar riffs, before jumping into a rich black metal stomp. New vocalist Tibor sounds great, with a wide dynamic range covering a deep black metal growl to clear and clean vocals. The acoustic folk elements of the tracks mesh together perfectly, with a perfect balance struck between this and the heavier parts that definitely works better on this album.
‘Izbucul Galbenei’ is a remarkable track, that has a fantastically chuggy riff that sounds utterly massive, and is one of the more heavier tracks. The production of the album is top notch; keyboard notes and other instruments can be heard over a crushingly heavy mix without losing any balance or becoming claustrophobic, which can be a problem for such bands with so much going on in the whole structure of the sound. This has the heaviness of their earlier works, but with a far more coherent and pleasing sound balance.
The bands enters an interlude for a bit of variety, starting with ‘La Hotaru Cu Cinci Culmi’; a more folk driven piece. You could be forgiven for thinking it sounds like something that Mike Oldfield wrote if Hergest Ridge or Ommadawn came from an alternate universe and he was a Romanian man. Somehow, the track is heavy within in its own right, and is densely layered but contains a soaring majestic sense of drive to the proceedings. It’s all going on in this track: flute, densely multi layered acoustic guitar, drums, and if I’m not mistaken a zither like instrument. ‘Curgerea Muntelui’ continues in a similar path, but reminding me of a moody film score with horns and sounding somewhat tribal – like something you’d get in Game of Thrones on a battle scene. Soaring horns and trumpet are pinned over the top, with growled vocals adding to the mix like an impassioned call to arms, while trumpets continue in an almost jazz style fashion.
‘Tărîm Vîlhovnicesc’ bounces back with heavy crushing black metal guitar riffs, that soar and ebb throughout, which then leads onto an almost comedic style jig in the form of ‘Împodobeala Timpului’. This tune in its own right is beautifully composed, reminding me very much of Finntroll and other folk influenced bands. It combines crushing black metal, zither type instruments and female vocals, while a hurdy gurdy polka thing goes on having a trade off with lead guitar licks that sounds utterly absurd on paper but sounds utterly brilliant. Essentially, a song where you can tell Negură Bunget a mile off from any other band in the scene that is uniquely theirs. If I had to pick two songs that I think are signature pieces, it would be this and Țesarul De Lumini’ from their “Om” album if I was to introduce the band to someone who hadn’t heard of them before.
Lastly, ‘Picur Viu Foc’ continues in a heavier manner with horns in the mix. with riff patterns that remind me vaguely of Satyricon until other instruments such as flute and acoustic guitar comes in. ‘Schimnicește’ starts quietly with eerie synth passages and singular guitar notes, breaking into choral vocal parts, building up layers of heaviness in a brooding malevolent manner that reminds me very much of latter day Enslaved.
For some people, Negură Bunget may be a band that may be a bit tough going. Cynics may believe they are probably trying to sound too wacky, and they may be an acquired taste to those who prefer their black metal to be more of a meat and potatoes sort of sound. In that case, they’re clearly not a band for you. However, if you love such things like latter days Enslaved, Drudkh, and Finntroll you will love this album, and will have heard of them already. In fact, you probably had similar concerns to myself that “Vîrstele Pămîntului” may have been an album that in places sounded awkward and missing a vital spark. From my findings, I will say that “Tau” is a very strong album that has built on from this; and to my ears is definitely the sound of a band on excellent form.