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For the first half on the nineties Enslaved was by far my favorite band. As time went on and they changed their style, no one band rose up to replace them as kings of the wandering, multi-layered, chaotic long-playing epics of black metal art. Romania’s Negura Bunget, formed in 1995, first entered my radar in 1998 with Breath of Night’s reissue of 96’s Zirnindu-sa and impressed me with straightforward fast atmospheric black with an aggressive edge, but not impressive enough to stand above other similar bands. After a maturing process in musicianship, Negura Bunget started making waves outside Romania with the excellent Maiastru Sfetnic, released in 2000, finally a contender, but not quite. Now, with a new full-length, their fourth, N Crugu Bradului, they have surely released their masterpiece. Negura Bunget is a black fog coming from a deep, dark, dense forest. The two words are from the Traco-Dacic substrate of the Romanian Language.
Clearly they are influenced by Immortal, Satyricon, Darkthrone, Emperor, but lest you think perhaps they play early 90’s Norwegian black for nostalgia buffs, take the complex epic arrangements of early Enslaved add in an indomitable pagan spirit, ambient, atmospheric and primitive black components and lyrics in ancient Romanian, what comes out of the mix is more of a musical expression of being than a series of songs. One more Enslaved connection, then I’ll move on. You know how, with early Enslaved material, you get totally caught up in the music, lose track of time, feel it instead of hear it? Same thing here. Symphonic in the sense of Romantic era composers, not as in Dimmu Borgir, even though only drummer Negru has any classical training. Code666, who replaces long time promoter Romanian label Bestial Records, who actually started the label in order to release the first Negura Bunget album, bills this album as “...intertextualizing with old Romanian folk ballads with rhythms that transform patterns of Romanian folk music, combined with some of the finest black metal sounds...” Before making a comparison in your mind to old Cruachan, know that most of these folk rhythms and patterns are played with those instruments traditional to metal music, not with folk instruments. There are some older instruments used, mostly percussion, but not as gimmicks, with the band feeling that if using for the sake of using it is better not to do it at all. The music has a quality of natural sounds instead of electronic amplifications of sound samples.
This album is a journey, a shepherd who witnesses the cycles in nature while leading his flocks through the mountains becomes a cycle, a part of immortality. The significance here is that you go on the journey with him. Great music puts images in your mind, not just a series of notes for you to decipher, but an experience. This Transilvanian trio plays great music. Lyrics are very important, important enough to be sung in an archaic form of Romanian. Translated into English, an example: “In the depth of a thick night, the lonely moon unstitches to let the spell take place.” As is usually the case, poetic style is probably lost in translation, but reading the English translations I am impressed with their depth. “Brave sheep are rambling through valleys of majestic mountains.” and one can “hear the firs sighing and the beeches whispering,” and their topic of discussion is N Crugu Bradului. They call it “primitive Transilvanian” black metal, but that is primitive as in 200 BC, not as in ‘simplistic, talentless.’ The great early 20th century American artist Alfred Stieglitz talked of making photographs, not taking them. Every photographic image was, in his mind, an Equivalent, a portal through which your mind travels back to reminiscence of the feelings which inspired you to make the picture in the first place. In other words, that photograph hanging on the wall is a vessel that holds the key to your memory of a specific place. Just look at the picture to unlock the portal. Negura Bunget talk of feeling music, not hearing it. They hope to “unveil hidden essences of Romanian spirituality thus crossing the borders of Transilvanian dimensions.” In other words, their music is an Equivalent, a dimensional portal defying time and space, a connection with the infinite cycles of nature that links you with a timeless place, granting you a form of immortality. As long as the music plays, you are adrift in the mystical fog of ancient Transilvanian spirituality. Like the shepherd, you become one with nature, timeless. The band says their goal is to melt the conscience in with the Will of the universe.
N Crugu Bradului lasts 54 minutes and contains four tracks, titled I, II, III, IIII, representing the principle of 4, the four seasons, four phases of the moon, four winds, etc., saying it is “macrocosmos’ manifestation in microcosmos, the most balanced and moderated form of the contraries to coexist.” Their music is of a spiritual nature, focused on Dachs, the Romanian nation’s oldest direct ancestors who praised immortality, bravery, strength from 400 BC. to 106 AD. The Dachs felt they had to have a spiritually appropriate personality or their god would not except their sacrifice. Greek historian Herodotus wrote that the Dachs made themselves immortal. The dachs were well known for their great military skill, blood thirst and wisdom, often assimilated with their totemic war flag ritual animal, the wolf. This is the band’s entrance into transcendental spirituality, but it can be assessed from many cultural perspectives. They emphasize spirituality and knowledge rather than hatred and war, saying “black metal is something into which you must reach beyond personal identity... reaching to an archetypal state.” We are a consciously assumed consequence of this spirituality. The band’s fight is for the return of this ancient spirituality and to reveal the hypocrisy of the christian religion. Negru has a masters degree in the ethnogenesis of the Romanian nation, but you don’t need one to appreciate this disc. The more background you know the more you get out of it however. I’ve been waiting for Enslaved’s successor for a long time, Negura Bunget is the new king, and I’ll call N Crugu Bradului the best black metal album of 2002.
Originally written for http://teethofthedivine.com
No measurement or gauge of any sort applies to this genius. No categorical or genre defining parameters can be associated with it. Not only do Negura Bunget spit in the face of “scene” culture with this album, they spit in the face of Black Metal’s musical history, musical properties, and its conventions. With no need to rebel by means other than their music, Negura Bunget perch upon their sylvan throne with nothing but distaste for anything put out by the genre to date or anything that it will ever put out. No words need to explain, no pictures need to show one their expression of refutation, their denunciation of Black Metal’s dominion, and even its precedential integrity. However, to limit 'n Crugu Bradului to such concepts as “rebellion” is criminal at best. The album transcends all, and that includes itself. Alien to our simple understanding, 'n Crugu Bradului crushes even the word “understanding,” and verily crushes every other word and concept, for this album is the embodiment of everything. This work is an anthem to the all powerful and ever present, and consequently itself; yet, the album abounds with modesty, and as such, it in no direct manner sings an ode to its own brilliance.
Far surpassing any semblance of or even association with the material drivel of early and contemporary Black Metal, Negura Bunget step outside, not only themselves with 'n Crugu Bradului, but the Black Metal community as a whole. Some similarities exist, as structurally, this is in the vein of old Darkthrone. As one wanders through I, II, III, and IIII, hints of Transilvanian Hunger’s basic layout are noticeable. However, unprecedented usage of layering, complexity vs. subtly, and conceptual fortitude, reveal 'n Crugu Bradului depths, strengths, and unbound efficacy. Darkthrone oriented Black Metal truly wears a new mask, if one talks in shallow terms, and is by no means basic anymore. The inaccessibility of this album far outweighs the inaccessibility of Transilvanian Hunger now, and possibly outweighs TH’s inaccessibility at the time of its release. Yet, again, this music is so far advanced from the Darkthrone sound, or any sound for that matter, that there is no comparable association that can be made, or that should be. Associations with Darkthrone, any other band, or anything native to a man’s consciousness demeans this album’s worth and majesty; 'n Crugu Bradului can only be associated with itself. What’s more, 'n Crugu Bradului brings us out of the dark ages of 90’s 2nd Wave and into a primordial age so distant and antiquated that it can only be expressed through Negura Bunget’s album. Where the Black Metal genre, in all its ornaments, ends one will find 'n Crugu Bradului’s beginning. This is music’s music.
Composed of at least 10-25 movements per song, 'n Crugu Bradului, is compositionally insane. Issuing polyphonic layer upon polyphonic layer the album is meaty with atmosphere. These atmospheric depths are impregnable to worldly bodies, as not even this art’s exoskeleton cedes to the material world. Careening with finesse through unconventional dissonance, each song, and every riff, is weighed by its individual virtue as only an actor, as a working part of the whole. With riffs and chords far more advanced than any The Work Which Transforms God passage, Negura Bunget hinges this opus on subtlety; such that each individual riff defines the album’s true essence.
'n Crugu Bradului entertains a multifaceted sound that can only be defined, if at all, by nature’s timeless song. In this way the album fights any and every complexity in man’s perception, for nature operates as an entirety, and thus is simple. Like nature, 'n Crugu Bradului operates as a living world, a full-form(less) absolute. Each complexity heretofore is not liquidated in sacrifice to the whole, but respected as an operational part of it. In this way, 'n Crugu Bradului, with care, weaves every miniature complexity within itself, through itself—the all powerful operator, creator, mother, father, God. Every instrument is in the forefront and yet each instrument seems to be the backbone for each one of the multiple underlying layers as well. Yes, such structural choices or rather, perceptions of construction are contradictory to logic, but then again 'n Crugu Bradului defies all logic.
The backdrop to 'n Crugu Bradului continually provides for several different layers of timbre throughout—enough to make one’s mind perpetually multitask. While not a constant, the more obvious keyboards do their fare share of base and independent melodies, but a less obvious ambient presence accents both the album’s most predictable and least predictable moments in which to use that ambience. Even when punctuated by the waves of its multiple acoustic passages, 'n Crugu Bradului’s depth in polyphony subsists. However, with so many audible textures thrown in together, the unrefined listener may interpret them all as a combination of rogue and desultory sounds, when in fact they are one elegant mesh of sound. If one supposes that intent is important in an artistic endeavor (as one should) than Negura Bunget succeed, for they clearly show the poignancy of every chord, note, and sound on the album. Negura Bunget use precision and their music thus responds with an equal precision in sound, for the listener can hear that the artist’s process was painstaking; intent is lucid.
The dissonance used on 'n Crugu Bradului, as previously said, is highly unconventional. It fails to go by contemporary “experimental” Black Metal standards, not to mention most other Metal and non-Metal genres alike. Bands such as Blut Aus Nord and the other dissonance masters, have been referenced when describing 'n Crugu Bradului, but again, association is worthless. While Blut Aus Nord’s music shines brilliantly in its structure, competence, and musicianship, their use of dissonance and departure from convention fails to appeal to emotional depth the same way 'n Crugu Bradului does. In fact, most bands fail to realize this caliber of emotion—the inexplicable kind, the REAL kind—at all. Negura Bunget’s use of dissonance is so unique because of the way in which it exudes emotion. Most bands tend to disassociate themselves from emotion by using dissonance, or if that is not the case at least focus on one emotion or concept via dissonance. However, 'n Crugu Bradului is set apart from that mentality, for the emotion that they create through dissonance is not a singular one, not one of a duality or polarity, but an all encompassing one. Their dissonance, and in fact the entire album, creates emotions that encapsulate every color, every mood, every age, the ancient and the new, the intellectual and the primitive, the pure and the unpolished—the true. For what is musicianship without the cognizance of emotion?
Just like each filamentous note and each lonely chord, this album makes one feel infinitesimal. However, unlike these chords and notes, the individual listener is not part of this whole, just an onlooker, just a lonely passer by. The notes are nurtured by their master’s life-force, but I, the visitor, am left with nothing but a vision, a feeling, and a memory; a memory fathered by a father’s father. This world is such a full ecstasy of greens, black, and browns that the colors immerse themselves inside me. I cannot immerse myself in these colors. I cannot dive into their lushness. 'n Crugu Bradului allows none to trespass into its earthy kingdom; my status of “visitor” shall be eternally cemented—I am forbidden to pass beyond this title’s threshold—just as with any and all that stumble towards the kingdom. One after the other, breaths like steam rise from my mouth agape, as I trudge in a light fog. I traverse a barren stretch, while cradled by my brother dissonance and my sisterly strummed strings—I walk in awe. My feet squeak in movement across dew-sustaining grasses—where the sounds once were, now there are imprints. In the distance giant pillars of stone line the horizon in a sporadic array—a monument to the gray heavens. Primitive tensions well up in me, unprovoked by violence, but instead influenced by the beauty of “Once upon a time…” Yet, now I am filled with a growing sense of the violence to come—a growing sense of fear—but the comfort of the present fills me with life and nature. I am man, guide me father. I am man.
Here is a very beautiful and magnificent work of black metal art that is inspired by the mysterious forests and snowy landscapes of western Romania where this trio is based. The work is divided into four movements which may reflect the four seasons of the year, each movement being about 12 - 15 minutes in length. There are many layers to this complex music which necessitates several hearings for listeners to grasp and appreciate what the musicians are communicating. The album can be very chaotic but this is to be expected given the concept behind it: Nature can be a benevolent giver and the source of life but Nature is also the destroyer of life and demands a heavy price to be paid by humans for its gifts, and you never know which side of Nature will be apparent from one day or one season to the next.
The black metal ranges from fast to middle-paced and there are many off-key melodies and atonal features. Bursts of guitar, distorted vocals and very technical drumming that changes speed a lot alternate with acoustic folk melodies, clean and almost operatic singing, synthesised orchestral music elements and keyboard passages that create cold dark atmospheres. The musicians often combine the most dissonant musical elements so you may be hearing trilling acoustic Latin-styled guitar and a dark cloudy keyboard passage at the same time, or the black metal music itself may be characterised by musical modes that would be more at home in traditional Balkan folk music styles. So there are a great many contrasts at work here and it might be appropriate to describe the album as a tapestry that reveals a multitude of twists and turns as it unravels to pour out its treasures. There is a full-bodied epic feel and you can't help but think that the trio is channelling the sounds and voices of a mystical other-world inhabited by strange beings of Transylvania and the Banat area. (I'm not talking vampires here!)
The album becomes more mystical and atmospheric, more moody and strange as it progesses. Perhaps the best part of the album is the fourth track which although is mostly mysterious and haunting rumbling ambience with a low drone, metallic shimmer and strange creatures howling in the background, also features a long passage with fast solid BM guitar and drums, and very high-pitched theremin-like keyboard melodies that add a demented psychedelic twist to the music. This could well be the climax of the entire album as the music then tends to fade out slowly after this passage.
Probably the main downer for many people is that there is no printed English translation of the dense Romanian lyrics which would enable listeners to get a handle on the album's concept and understand why the music does what it does. You have to hear this album in its entirety, hearing parts of it will convey only a small part of its majesty. The musicians have poured their hearts and souls into creating this opus and you can feel the passion coming out of the album when you hear it all. The black metal element seems to have imposed a kind of restraint or discipline on the music so that it never becomes over-melodramatic and sentimental. Possibly there is too much atmosphere on the fourth movement compared to the earlier three movements which can detract a bit from the album's overall unity and the second and third movements probably should have had a bit more ambience to help properly reflect the transition from spring to summer and so on; this though is a minor criticism and maybe not many people will notice the difference that much.
Perhaps an enterprising label like Candlelight Records or Supernal Records may re-release this album eventually with English language lyrics alongside the Romanian lyrics though I don't find it a bother that I can't follow the native Romanian as the singing is not very upfront and becomes another element in the music.
If you don’t know how a band from the depths of Transylvania, Romania can be successful in an underground music genre, you definitely have got to check out Negura Bunget (literally translated as “Fog Forest”). They consist of three members and present with ‘n Crugu Bradului their forth album. There are four long songs on this album, every one of them about 12-13 minutes long, who take you on a journey through the mighty, spiritual forests of Transylvania by creating a great atmosphere with a lot of different sounds. This is not the easiest music to enjoy, but once you’ve got the catch of it, you’ll be a fan. This will sound like pure chaos to some, but for me it’s a masterpiece. Symphonic Black Metal, with a nice experimental touch, like the use of a xylophone and some crazy guitar sounds. Every song starts sober with an intro but builds up to a great climax. You definitely can feel the passion, anger, … in the vocals, who are perfectly supported by the music. Listening to their music is pure enjoyment for my ears, it can keep me concentrated from the beginning until the end. A minor is that all the lyrics are written in Romanian, a second minor is that the fourth song is a little bit too focused on the atmosphere so you get an extremely long, a bit monotone outro. To conclude: Be sure to check out Negura Bunget, they’re great!
Wow! This album is very interesting, but I like a lot. Negura Bunget are a Romanian act who take black metal and twist it around into something eerie, mysterious and addictive. This album comprises of four songs but takes up almost an hour of exciting black metal mixed with odd structures and Romanian folklore. The words Negura and Bunget translate to Forest and Fog which is definately an apt metaphor for music like this. There is a very progressive feeling throughout this album which Negura Bunget use to their advantage keeping everything fresh, interesting and unique. Negura Bunget are very far from what you could call traditional black metal. The music of Negura Bunget is constantly evolving between mid paced black metal, blastbeats, acoustics, clean vocals and very interesting riffs bringing images of the Transylvanian forests, gypsies, despair, bleak horizons and discomfort. If you are wary because of the song lengths you have no reason to be, for even the most impatient listener there will be enough happening to keep you occupied and interested and Negura Bunget repeat riffs and passages throughout to hold everything together. 'Part I' alone morphs from atmospheric synths to mid paced raw black metal passages to blastbeats to melodic synthy black metal passages which are up there in some of the best I have heard. The majority of the riffs are not standard for black metal at all. The frantic blastbeats in some passages are very fitting and provide a perfect contrast between feelings and slower passages. Where many bands sound disoriented by putting in blastbeats straight after acoustic guitars Negura Bunget do the total opposite and make it interesting.
This album represents the natural foundation of the universe and the principle of four, hence the four parts to this album. These are meant to be viewed as a looping journey, the cycle of years and nature. There are some interesting pulses throughout this album such as at the beginnings of parts I and III which bring a psychedelic feeling. Other parts are more conventional black metal, simple basic chord progressions with an underlying melody similar to the effect Drudkh have on listeners. My favourite passage like this would have to be the closing few minutes of part III. Part IV has more of a traditional black metal approach when it starts up which soon changes into another blastbeat passage and then into more standard avant-garde black metal of which Negura Bunget are renouned for. This band's music is akin to that of a kaleidoscope, constantly twisting and forming new shapes but staying constant and with direction throughout. There are a few aspects of Negura Bunget's sound which I didnt fully get into such as the clean vocals which fortuantely arent used very often at all. This is one of those albums which will more than likely demand a number of listens to fully get into. You may need some knowledge of Romanian traditions to understand some of what is happening. You will need to have an open mind and good attention span. 'N Crugu Bradului' is an album which must be listened to in its entirety with your full attention to what you are hearing. At times it may seem disorientated but it will all come together flawlessly and when this happens you will be hooked. I have only read praise regarding Negura Bunget and it is easy to see why. Unfortunately this is a very underrated act. It is almost impossible to talk about this journey track by track, it must be spoken about only as a whole. There is nothing to really divide the songs apart, they flow as a whole. Words are not enough for music like this, it must be experienced. This is one of those albums which you will either love or hate, but it is definately worth a listen and is highly recommended. No album recently has appealed to me so much as 'N Crugu Bradului' has.
Two minute intros in black metal are hard to pull off with any sense of awe, mystery, or even a simple lack of predictability. Signaling a distinct vision of dark music different from their previous works, however, Negura Bunget brings us those two minutes of stark yet complex shifting curtains of ambiance as low string synth passages intersect nicely with quasi-folk almost modal clean guitar sound to create a sense of those exact feelings. This mood is tempered by some unnecessary clean vocal melodramatic sighing, which is nicely taken out of focus as the strange amodal folkish melody played on clean guitar merges easily with a bizarre counterpart more avant-garde jazz-inspired than anything else. This almost reminds me of the better slow and ambient passages bands like Elend or Summoning manage to muster up, albeit orchestrated in a vastly different manner. It is hard to describe the sounds being used to evoke these moods, since this album is not by any means a formulaic approach to black metal.
Once the full distorted band instruments kick in, one immediately draws a comparison which could be used to quickly gloss over the entire album. This is definitely in the modern vein of experimental black metal, with an unmistakable pitch and yawning tone of Blut Aus Nord’s later work. Blistering lines of more traditional minor bar chord distorted guitar compete with the atonal ascending and descending passages of distortion, which sway from side to side in a way that somehow reminds me of being on a ship in a storm, threatening to make you sick as your point of reference with the horizon constantly changes. The more darkly melodic guitar passages and screams also compete for attention in this lumbering soundscape, as if the ship you were fighting to find footing on was suddenly engulfed in flames, and a sense of traditional danger amid a shifting uneasy landscape only added to the horror. This sense of competing strains; of the unbalanced and new and the hateful and more traditional, are definitely an integral part of the music. Sections of guitar and keyboard melodies and harmonies move, even amid the same riff, between minor and Aeolian modes and fractured dissonant passages of atonal tension. The atonal dissonance might remind one of the kinds of diades and chords used by bands such as Leviathan and Weakling. Uplifting sections of powerful keyboard and speed picking chords similar to earlier Emperor or Ulver sometimes shine through the fog of this thick recording; offering a platform of reference to the listener, only to dispel it seconds later.
Guitars and keyboards provide the bulk of the tonal color of the album, but they do not hold total dominion. The second track begins with a confusing and haunting clack of wood blocks like the beginning of some kabuki play, only to once again launch into a sea of dissonant and dark minor counterparts of guitars and keys, put off-kilter by the fact they are played simultaneously but cannot mesh as one has a key and the other is atonal. This section of the song melts away quickly to a stark passage of acoustic dissonance. Again, it is hard to imagine a black metal band having an acoustic break that is fresh in its mystery and power, but this does it as well as could be expected. I am not fond of the traditional Romanian-sounding chants that come in later to accompany this, but they do add an element of atmosphere rivaled by such greats as Graveland, Burzum, Moonsorrow, and other masters of the ‘evocative tonal song craft’ school of black metal. Vocals and drums are definitely present throughout the album, but they nicely move in and out of the tonal paintings without demanding undue attention. Drumming is actually very technical if a bit minimal, as polyrhythmic and non 4/4 sections are handled with ease and a continuing sense of malice.
Since this is a non-traditional black metal album, which some may call experimental or avant-garde, it definitely has moments that seem silly or just don’t seem to fit in with the mood that is created. However, a surprising amount of this album works exceptionally well, earning a sense of mystery as it experiments with tones and modalities not normally heard in the genre. As the totality of the album is revealed, a sense of musical framework can be honed in on, despite the unnerving and odd nature of so many of the riffs. There are usually two counter-modes at work here, and many times a dissonant atonal line to accompany. One mode is a traditional minor scale (12-tone), while the other is a far older 8 or 10-tone scale, most obviously giving a folk Romanian ‘gypsy’ sound to many of the acoustic passages but also present in the distorted bulk of the songs. The 5 long songs that make this album are very organic, as sections of riffage will surface for an odd number of repeats, only to reappear recontexualized on other instruments far later. Droning refrains will always be cut up and kept vital as other counterparts and melodies shift around them like a stream rushing over rocks.
Some may say this is simply ‘Blut Aus Nord played by Gypsies,’ (and if so, wouldn’t you want to hear that?) but I see this as an original work worthy of appreciation in its own light. The disparate elements presented here drip with a sense of complex emotion so crucial to a great black metal album; crafting dark emotions that have no words, as the best musical performances do so often. Highly recommended to those seeking challenging modern black metal.