without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
Negură Bunget-- with OM in particular-- sound completely alien to me. In all the years I've listened to them, I haven't been sure if feeling that way is due to their Romanian folk heritage, or the avant-garde angle they channel it from. Perhaps not so surprisingly, I have a lot more experience engaging with the latter. Eastern European folk hasn't been totally removed from my listening diet however; I love the mysterious folk energies that permeate the work of Drudkh and Kroda, for example, but while both share Negură Bunget's enigmatic aloofness, both were incredibly easy to appreciate by contrast. What makes OM such an uneasy experience each time I've put it on, then?
I think the challenging aspect with Negură Bunget for me is precisely because they're applying a progressive framework to a folk tradition I'm less familiar with. At least for me as a listener, it's almost like trying to write poetry in a different language I'm only half-familiar with. I'm probably overrating how "different" Negură Bunget sounds compared to a lot of Western black metal, but whatever reason the uneasy, foreign atmosphere has kept OM from connecting with me on an emotional level. It's also what's kept me coming back time and again. I may go months without hearing OM, sometimes long enough to the point where I don't remember if I like it or not. I always get the same impression: even on its own terms OM is vaguely inconsistent, but the atmosphere here is as pure and authentic as anything I've heard, irregardless of culture or context.
I think one of the greatest things about atmospheric black metal is how often it is grounded in nature. This is especially true when authentic folk instruments are brought into the mix, as it reflects the people who populate the given lands. Other than Drudkh, Negură Bunget is arguably the best at capturing a distinctly Eastern European atmosphere within black metal. Even then, there are major differences between the two bands' tones; Drudkh's atmosphere is mournful and tragic; natural, but not completely removed from human society. Negură Bunget's atmosphere sounds downright ancient by comparison, and even mystical. Although there are a few moments (like "Înarborat" or that gorgeous chorus on "Cunoașterea Tăcută") that strike immediately on a gut level, OM's otherworldly strangeness makes it a slow grower. Anytime I put it on, it usually takes at least a couple of spins on repeat before I finally mesh with the atmospheric undercurrent.
Of all their works past and present, OM is easily the album that best balanced that authentic atavism with the weight of modern recording technology. Negură Bunget had done some excellent material on the two albums prior, but OM is the one that feels like all the proper stops were taken in the production to give the music the frame it deserved. These benefits have little to do with the actual black metal, and much more with the dense folk arrangements. Unlike most old fiddle-dee folk metal around, the folk presence on OM feels just as, if not more important than the metal input. Without one half, the album couldn't exist. The near-perfect production this time around gave them the ability to flesh out the folk atmosphere to its max.
The atmosphere here is incredibly rich-- it's arguably at the point where I could call OM one of the most atmospheric black metal albums of the modern era. I think this is helped by the album's seamless structure; track division doesn't seem to discriminate, and the music flows effortlessly from one peak to the next. The atmosphere runs consistently, making it a perfect album to put on if you're inclined to don a headphone set with the lights off and resort into your inner mental theatre. No matter what time I listen to it, I'm always less impressed with the written songwriting itself. That's not to say that anything on OM is anything close to weak, but hearing songs that don't impress me in their own right serves to pull me out of the impression that it's the "instant classic" masterpiece every else seems to scream about it being. It's hard to pull out particular moments on the album as everything flows together, but I have the constant feeling the album's quality is a bit frontloaded. Even after listening to it several times in a row, and having heard it for years, most of the perfect moments I remember happen in the first 5 or 6 tracks. Not that OM begins to slump or anything, but a more even distribution of the Sublime would probably take some of the mix out of my opinion.
For everything it's worth, Negură Bunget created an album with this one that offers from depth and patient rewards than the vast majority of black metal-- even including albums I enjoy more than this one. There's a virtually perfect fusion of mystical folk and black metal on this album. I have never managed to truly emotionally connect with it in a decade the way I've doe with the albums out half that time. Maybe I'd caw-caw a typical rant about OM being "overrated" if I was feeling more cynical, but there's never any doubt that the album is nonetheless a total standout.