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It would be first important to briefly establish who this Romanian act are, for those unaware of the history behind them. Prior to their formation in 2009, founding members Hupogrammos and Sol Faur were members of Negură Bunget. With the latter band having taken a direction that veers somewhat more towards dark folk and ambient music on their most recent album “Vîrstele Pamîntului” it’s with Dordeduh that we see the original band members taking their old torch and manifesting itself in a new incarnation. Prior to this, their first full length, they have released one EP, 2010′s “Valea Omului”.
On first hearing ‘Dar De Duh’ it is immediately clear that we can hear the work of musicians that were much of the creative force behind “Măiastru Sfetnic” “‘N Crugu Bradului” and “OM”. The influence of ethnic folk music is more prominent here too, mostly in the form of dulcimers, pipes and percussion. Sweeping, analogous synthesizers underscore, intertwine and accompany dissonant, staccato guitar riffs that bring to mind a cross between the more technical lead guitar work of Voivod with the oddball black metal of acts like Manes and Fleurety, whilst the polyphonic interplay of bass and strings is resemblant of Ved Buens Ende.
The balance of vocals ranges from the regular fare of aesthetically convenient shrieking to beautifully accented clean singing. Ambient, subtle interludes of pedal driven guitar textures and ethereal keyboard work somewhat remind the reviewer of a nod to Pink Floyd’s ‘Echoes’ or King Crimson’s ‘Moonchild’ but are never imitative. These musicians certainly compliment their influences but know how to make something productive of it rather than be a mere ‘send off’. Whilst listeners will undoubtedly listen and hold the stigma of comparing ‘Dar De Duh’ with the alumni’s previous band, it should be stressed that Dordeduh most certainly build on earlier explorations and manages to forge stylistic disparities together with greater cohesion than before.
What sets this band apart from many ‘forward thinking’ contemporaries is that they know how to perform an eclectic take on various styles without being self-indulgent or trying to be unique for the sake of it. Having a similar quality to the best work of Primordial, Skyforger, Obtest and Nokturnal Mortum, and much like their previous embodiment Dordeduh keep a raw and earthy approach, rather than reverting to the banal drunken singalongs that many associate with ‘pagan metal’. If there were one initial detraction regarding ‘Dar De Duh’ it would be that the length of the album may ‘drag on’ at times, though repeat listens unveil its true charm.
Solid and immersive work.
After years of tribulations between the bulk of Negura Bunget and their drummer, who somehow (I don't really pay much attention to legal affairs) ended up with the rights to the bands name (or maybe the rest decided to leave on their own account), and after a brief EP, the sound of which was not far distanced from that of latter era NB, we get the long awaited debut full length by the group of people that should have, perhaps by principle alone, kept the Negura Bunget moniker. Or at least that's what logic would say, because the music itself sings a different lyric altogether.
My main fear regarding this project, especially after the final work as band with Negura Bunget (the rerecording of Maiastru Sfetnic, which far surpassed the original album) and the rather underwhelmingly Om-sounding EP, Valea Omului, was that Dordeduh would sound just a tad too much like their counterpart, and that the whole project would simply be Negura Bunget But With A New Drummer.
Thankfully this perhaps unfair preconception was proved wrong less than a minute into the opener track.
What we have here is certainly something that the old Negura, the one that brought us 'N Crugu Bradului and Om could have done in this still fresh and new decade. That is exactly why this sounds very little (or nothing at all) like Negura Bunget. Think about it. Think about the abrupt evolution the band went through with each of its albums, and how they all sound very little like their respective predecessors. This is exactly what happened here. This album sounds nothing like Om, and yet it retains a spirit, unique to Negura Bunget, that was of course the product of the main creative force of the band, which now inhabits this body called Dordeduh. I should have realised this sooner, but the new NB lineup did such a wonderful job with their first full length as a new band that I lost sight of the real creative engine behind the classic works.
So, how about the music itself?
The album opens with its longer track, a bold move indeed. A move that often brings disaster, but at times signals to the true spirit of defiance and confidence groundbreaking albums have (see Enslaved's Eld for a great example). From the moment the aerial, light intro melts into the metal foundation you realise ambiance is the key to this work. Progression, in the traditional sense, is far more prominent here than in any other release by the authors. The best works by NB tend to hold into a particularly mesmerising structure for long enough to get you in a relaxed trance state and then suddenly take you to a completely different place (this is especially notable on ('N Crugu Bradului). While this album is far removed from progressive acts that can't sit still on any given tempo or riff for more than a handful of seconds, the variety in moods, tempos and passages is notable. The music itself doesn't focus on trance-like repetition, but tries to keep things moving and interesting, even in the longer tracks.
On the production: I have very little complains. Every instrument is clearly audible, although the bass is lost during the more intense moments. The vocals, both clean and harsh, are executed with passion and avoid being overbearing or cheesy. The clean vocals could use a bit more volume, but otherwise, fantastic. They paint wonderful landscapes and just reek of fresh earth and autumn winds. The distortion is gritty, but not excessively so, producing smooth torrents of riffs instead of an aural attack (which, while good in certain contexts, would ruin the album here). The drummer, who is one of the only two members not to come from NB, does an amazing job. He's considerably technical without making technicality the whole point of his drumming. At times his style reminds me of VBE-era Czral, although not nearly as dexterous. He has a very refined ear, which allows him to be both modest and endearing in his almost jazzy play. But when it comes to pure energy, he also delivers without so much as missing a step.
But most of my praise goes to the tasteful and rich use of folkloric elements. They're not used constantly, which would probably get old rather quickly. Instead they appear in crucial moments, either alleviating tension or building up to it, accompanying the guitars or forcing them to follow their suit. The folkloric elements are obviously the focus of the album. They're responsible for most of the floaty ambiance that dominates the music overall. And they give the band an edge that no other band, not even Negura Bunget can claim. Norway is bursting with folk-focused metal, as is Finland and other european entites like the United Kingdom, but this band offers a unique take on their own local folklore mixed with the more refined and contemporary brands and quirks of progressive metal. In fact, one of my favourite moments on the album happens around the 4 minute mark of track 5, "Pândarul", when a sweet and wishful sounding flute dominates the music, accompanied by clean guitars and groovy drumming. Faint keyboards swelling from a distance, until distorted guitars take the lead, following into the flute's footsteps without actually repeating or even hinting at its melody. Clean vocal harmonies come in as the guitars get ponderous and heavy. Chuggy, even. This is what this album is all about. A perfect balance between the metal elements and the pure folklore of the upper half of Romania. They don't even (and scarcely do) need to use walls of harsh sound, blastbeats and black tremolos (so, sorry if that's what you're looking for). They dominate both the metal aspects and the folkloric ones with elegance and an almost perfect balance.
The guitar tone is a bit subdued, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, since gritty guitars and pounding metal are not the focus of the music. This band, this group of people have but one thing in mind: Evolution. And putting the guitars on the spotlight would be a regression. Instead, they maintain all elements, including vocals and keyboards, on a very balanced and egalitarian position. So whence, then, does this heavy, abrasive and all-encompassing ambiance come? I have but two words: Ethereal folklore.
If I were to resume this album in a handful of words it'd be ethereal folkloric metal. And no, folkloric metal is not the same as "folk metal". Please don't expect any humppa jumpy folk accordions accompanied by heavy guitars and beer chants. This portion of NB took the best folk elements with it and used them in hitherto unheard ways, at least when it comes to this particular band, from this particular European country. Local folkloric instruments, especially wind instruments, play a key role in tying the music together and flooding the listener with ambiance. It goes great with the black metal elements; it blends perfectly with the eerie folk-tingled clean guitar passages. It even makes great friends with the keyboards, which, while sober and discreet, are almost omnipresent.
I think I can give a clearer idea of what it is that this album offers: The music, basically is like a mixture of Enslaved's brand of highly imaginative and hard-hitting but also ethereal and relaxing progressive viking metal and Kvitrafn's purely folkloric project, Wardruna, which makes use of original restored folkloric instruments and melodic traditions exclusively, blended into a perfect balance, and of course, translated from norse folk into the very specific and perhaps darker shades of Transylvanian folklore.
There are plenty of great things to say about this album, but the most important factor, that which separated this form the parade of disappointments 2012 had in store for most of us, is that they escaped the Negura Bunget ghost. They managed to separate their sound (a sound they crafted themselves, mind you, since this band retains most of NB's lineup) from that of their old band and created something new, something decidedly separate from their older works that, at the same time, retains the musical vision that made said works so unique. This is the true evolution of pre-split Negura Bunget, taken once again as before into a new tangent; a new direction. A direction that is definitely more interesting in showcasing more regional musical tradition than extreme metal sensitivities, resulting in perhaps the most exciting and innovative contender in ambiance-oriented folkloric metal since Enslaved's and Moonsorrow's (and even Negura Bunget itself) mid 2000's albums. 2012 has been one of those years full of promises and therefore full of disappointment, but this album is a proud exception. Perhaps not as mindbogglingly revolutionary as some would have expected (this is, after all, a continuation of a pre-existing sound, as distanced form it as it is), but it's definitely noteworthy enough. This is, by all accounts, the next step, and it's a step on the right direction.