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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.