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2006 saw the Romanian black metal band Negura Bunget make their crowning achievement and major contribution to the metal world; the epic 'Om'. Although I cannot (yet) bring myself to call it the everlasting masterpiece that so many fans claim it to be, it is undeniable how much it stirred black metal; no longer was the scene in the hands of the Scandinavians. After the classic Negura Bunget split with some previous members forming Dordeduh, the more recent incarnation of the band came together to release two new albums. One of these was a redux of their second album, and this- the more successful of the two- was of entirely new material. 'Virstele Pamintului' is not quite as cohesive as 'Om' was, but the grand focus on ethnic instrumentation here makes me enjoy the album just as much. With such a folkish influence in the sound, Negura Bunget brings an added dimension to the realm of black metal.
The sound of folk music is nothing new to metal, but there are few bands out there that do the sound as well as Negura Bunget. To be quite honest, far too many of the bands that label themselves as 'folk metal' use the folk sound as a gimmick and nothing more, but Negura Bunget takes these ethnic instruments and makes them a central part of their sound. Of course, the main focus is still on the black metal elements, but there is still enough of an Eastern European flair and atmosphere to make it all sound convincing. As I have said, the songs here do not flow amongst each other as well as 'Om' did, but taken song by song, 'Virstele Pamintului' is a real winner; there is a greater focus on melodies and highlighting the folkish influences of Negura Bunget on this album, and both traits tend to make it a more enjoyable experience.
Things often sound like Opeth here, but without the same sense of repetition, or contrived heavy-to-light contrasts that Opeth builds themselves around. The music Negura Bunget makes here flows very naturally, and like all music I have heard from this band, it takes several listens for the music to really sink in. Some of the synth sounds that the band employs are a little tinny, but for the most part, things are produced excellently, and the pastoral, spiritual vibe of a Romanian village gets through in the sound here. The vocals- much like the music- alternate between abrasive rasps and cleaner tones, and the clean vocals are the more enjoyable of the two. The harsh vocals here are not bad, and even fairly diverse for a black metal album, but simply never truly standout enough to really grab my attention. The clean vocals on the other hand do a much better job of capturing the nuances of the Romanian language, which consequently helps to give an even more atmospheric experience.
A very good album that really exceeded my expectations. I was looking forward to a fairly good album here, but with a slightly less-than-impressive track record with the band in the past, I was not anticipating listening to this like a regular fan of the band. However, while its clear that I may be coming to the Negura Bunget fanhood a little latter than I should have, 'Virstele Pamintului' has corrected me; maybe it is time to revisit 'Om' after all.
Now, I have never listened to Om. I would go on Youtube, listen to a song, and say to myself that it was good, but not quite THAT good. I think a person could get the same impression from listening to a track or two from Vîrstele Pamîntului. But this is meant to be a complete experience, not to be judged on the basis of one song.
At an hour long, it can be a bit daunting to tackle the whole album. But it is worth it, without a doubt. To get a taste for the flow of the album, the first two tracks are the best place to start. "Pamint" starts out with some kind of pipes, and after a while traditional percussion comes in. Eventually a dude starts screaming--your first hint this is a metal album, coming about five minutes in. When the guitars break in, you know what it is. Following that is "Dacia Hiperboreana", a much more metal track with some psychedelic elements. The whole album is like this--folk parts giving way to black metal and blending together superbly.
A few tracks could stand alone. You could check into "Ochiul Inimii" with its Indian sounds and the flute as a suitable substitute for lead guitar, or "Cara De Dincolo De Negura" with its metal and horns mix. But don't judge them on that basis. If you like it at all, get the album and set aside an hour. It's worth it.
The Verdict: This is a great album, and Negură Bunget has sold me on their album-oriented approach to folk black metal.
adapted from http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/
Well, as you may well know, there have been some shake-ups in the Negură Bunget camp since 2006's magisterial Om, leaving only Negru, the drummer, of the original members to carry on under this name. I don't particularly care about whatever disagreements led to the split, and have already suggested elsewhere that thankfully this drama never quite reached the farcical levels of the Gorgoroth drama. The real question, of course, is, How does this stack up next to the visionary Om?
To this humble listener, the results are a bit of a mixed bag. The core sound and intent of the band seems relatively unchanged, inasmuch as these Romanian lads are still banging on after a rather mystical, folk-ish take on black metal, heavily incorporating various non-traditional instrumentation into their potent and heady blend of magic. Drudkh remains a none-too-shabby point of reference, as do American stand-outs Agalloch and Wolves In The Throne Room. This, perhaps obviously, is all for the good.
These songs benefit greatly from the inclusion of not only some excellently non-cheesy keyboards, but also various folk instruments such as flutes (or pipes; it's a bit hard to tell), horns, and a tasteful selection of extremely taut drums and other percussive sounds. If you recall some of the wood-sticks-being-banged-together percussion from 2002's 'n Crugu Bradalui, you're on the right track. Negură Bunget's take on folk-ish black metal is a highly melodic sort, with the melody typically quite wandering, and generally carried by tremelo guitar. The core of the sound, however, is highly textured, which is most frequently accomplished by overlaying both acoustic and distorted guitars for maximum classiness.
On another positive note, the production here is generally quite clear, which allows for all the different components to be heard; you won't really be left guessing as to when you're hearing keyboards versus when you're hearing "live" folk instruments, and the bass, especially, is given prominence at some key moments when it demonstrates some wonderfully deep oscillations. The only complaint about the production, really, is that occasionally the drums sound a little off; the cymbals, especially, sound to these ears somewhat clipped, which I suppose is probably better than an overly splashy cymbal sound, but was still somewhat distracting.
One of my primary concerns in the transition to this new line-up was that the vocals of long-time mainman (and, frankly, ridiculously-named) Hupogrammos Disciple's would be sorely missed. Thankfully, though, the harsh vocals of new vocalist Corb are wonderful. They are hoarse, deep, and impassioned, and recorded clearly enough that I imagine if I spoke Romanian, I'd have no trouble following the words. At times, they remind of Sakis' latter-day vocals in Rotting Christ. Unfortunately, the few times that the band turns to clean vocals do not fare nearly so well. On "Chei de Rouã," in particular, the clean vocals are distractingly off-pitch, almost veering onto the Urfaust or Circle Of Ouroborus axis (which works with those bands, by the way, but not so much here).
I've mostly been positive so far, and truth be told, this is still a very good record. Nevertheless, there are several details which keep this from reaching anywhere near the transcendent heights of Om. My biggest complaint, really, is that the album never really gets any momentum, and when it does pick up a little bit of steam, it is arranged in such a way as to be almost self-defeating. Too many of the songs are in the mold of a classic slow-tension-building-to-a-cathartic-outburst design. Individually, this works very well, but because this happens again and again, listening to the album feels like the band is trying to begin the whole thing over again with each new track, rather than proceeding more organically from one song to the next.
Essentially, one of the reasons that Om came off so masterfully is that not only were the individual songs excellent, but the songs were written and the album was sequenced such that it still felt more or less like separate movements contributing to a greater whole. On Vîrstele Pămîntului, most all the individual songs are excellent when listened to in isolation; strung together in this fashion, though, they seem far too much like brief flashes of something that could have been stitched together differently to produce a greater cumulative effect. This leads not only to the problem of too many slow-building tracks, but also to the fact that many of the songs fade out too quickly once it seems like they've finally hit their stride. This results in some rather awkward transitions.
Still, I don't mean to give the impression that this is some sort of trainwreck. As I've said, the individual songs tend to work quite well on their own terms, and the overall sound and vision of the band is still admirable, and relatively unique in the world of contemporary metal. The two purely instrumental tracks on here, "Umbra" and "Jar," deserve special notice for each featuring some very rich folk instrumentation and achieving an ambient effect that doesn't also bore me to tears, death, or Nasum. In fact, in light of these tracks, as well as the two acoustic re-imaginings included on the recent re-recorded version of their 2000 album Măiastru Sfetnic, it struck me that an all acoustic, ambient/neo-folk album by this band could be very interesting.
So, all in all, this doesn't match up to Om (nor, to be fair, did I ever really expect it to). What it does do, however, is to continue to weave their dark spell of meditative metal for Transylvanian forests, and I'm still quite happy to come along for the spinning of these heathen tales.
Overall rating: 78%. Wasn't broke, but didn't fix.
(Note: Originally posted at http://spinaltapdance.wordpress.com/)
While I consider myself over-versed in metal music, I’ve come to find that there are multitudinous genres and genre-morphs that are yet channeled by me. It’s with great excitement and expectation that I seek out these bands to review so as to broaden my personal horizon just a wee larger than my preferred comfort zone. While I know of many folk/prog bands my personal knowledge of many of them is limited to say the least.
Negura Bunget needs little introduction to its fan base; the rampant love for this band seems overwhelming, and deservedly so. This is my first introduction to the band, so I’ll begin with my first impressions. I immediately hear folk elements that border on something you might hear in the introspective moments of the Karate Kid movies, which is by no means a knock! The calm serenity of that type of music is meant to set up something well-deep, be it a vision, an epic battle, an inconceivable loss or a moment of extreme clarity and decision.
What makes for a good score in a movie to set up its tension or plot is the same formula that heavy metal has been built on for years, save for the obvious movie comparisons. Metal has always been a very “rounded” genre in that it tells the tale through lyrics or music, has a moment (or ten) of sojourn and a dramatic finish (if done properly). It’s what sets our music apart from anything else - it finalizes itself accordingly. Negura Bunget has added yet another fine album to its stable, one of which I found and ingested over a weekend like wine and French fries.
What is fascinating and beautiful about Virstele Pamintului is its absolute mastery of such incredible imagery it manages to help you create. When a band or artist can create pictures without MTV’s half-handed assistance and lift you to some other place so effortlessly and easily it’s a keeper. Virstele Pamintului is an album wrought with incredible beauty and musicianship that rarely repeats itself and dispenses folk metal at its absolute brilliance.
I cannot imagine not having been exposed to this music before, which leads me to believe that I’m slacking in my old age. While it’s one of the most versatile albums I’ve ever heard in the metal genre, its staying power long after you’ve ingested it speaks volumes. The album here houses so many devices, styles, tempos, emotions - it’s a cornucopia of music that is levels above anything I’ve experienced in quite some time. The folk elements are so perfectly-placed within the songs, creating the picturesque Romanian countryside too often relegated to tales of Vlad Dracul. There is majestic history and culture to be captured, and Vîrstele Pamîntului is the penultimate vehicle to do just that.
It is one hour of the best musical experience you might find in your recent acquisitions. From flutes to female ethereal vocals, through beautifully-master keyboards (finally!) to strong male vocal deliveries, this album has everything short of the kitchen sink. I’ll be spinning this one a lot more often, this I can guarantee.
An amazing band with a brilliant album and equally amazing visages to ponder is what you’ll find here.
(Originally written for http://www.metalpsalter.com)
In the spring of 2009, undisclosed disagreements led to the departure of two of the three members of this Romanian black metal band. But although founding member Hupogrammos and Sol Faur were on their way out the door, they finished working with co-founder Negru on a re-recording of the band's 2000 album, Măiastru Sfetnic. The new work, called Măiestrit, was recently released, and it's a remarkably impressive work.
With Hupogrammos and Sol Faur gone, Negru set about recruiting a new line-up, including a guitarist and vocalist called Corb and a guitarist called Spin. In all, the new Negură Bunget is a six-piece band constructed to give even more attention to traditional folk instruments, and the new line-up has just released its debut album, Vîrstele Pămîntului.
I listened to Măiestrit first, and then wondered how Vîrstele Pămîntului would compare, both in musical style and in quality. The answer to the first question is that the latter album has moved even further away from black-metal stylings and deeper into the territory of progressive folk metal. But in terms of quality, the re-constituted Negură Bunget has taken no steps backward. The new album is a passionate and entrancing combination of extreme metal and traditional folk melodies and instruments, and it’s wonderful.
The tone of the album is announced with "Pamint," the first track. For five minutes, a flute (or pipe) leads an increasingly improvisational folk melody, joined by the strumming of a string instrument, the sound of rapping on a block of wood, and eventually the melodies of a synthesizer and clean vocals. Only in the last minute does the voice turn into a howl and tremolo guitar and metal drumming take over.
The songs that follow combine, to varying degrees, poetic, melancholic laments and swift, whirling dances. At the core of almost every song is a melody or combinations or melodies that have a distinctly traditional, folk-music feel to them. I would be more certain about the "traditional" part if I knew more about traditional Romanian folk music. But apart from the melodies that each song explores, the folk-metal feel is attributable significantly to the instruments used and the singing.
The instrumental sounds are remarkably varied. I’m making some educated guesses here, but the songs include what sound like pipes (or flutes), acoustic guitar and other string instruments (a dulcimer?), something that produces the mournful sound of a bassoon (which may be the long Romanian horn called the tulnic), a multitude of traditional percussion instruments (including what sounds like a xylophone) played with tremendous skill and inventiveness by Negru, and piercing whistles.
Of course, this is also a metal band, and so along with the traditional instruments, the synthesizer is almost always present, along with blistering guitar riffs and occasional double-bass and rapid-attack drumwork. Many of the songs also feature tremolo guitar -- but not usually the distorted "wall of sound" effect associated with black metal. Instead, the rapid strumming is clean and clear and melodic, and in places comes across as an electrified substitute for a violin.
The vocals are just as dynamically varied as the instrumentation, but the lyrics are all sung in what I assume is the native Romanian tongue. From song to song and within songs (except for two purely instrumental tracks), Corb delivers clear, powerful clean singing, raspy growls, high-register shrieks, spoken-word recitals, and insistent whispers.
This is a deeply-felt, exotic collection of music that is rooted in traditional culture while still maintaining the driving aggressiveness of extreme metal. It reminds me, in its stylistic progression from black metal into old forms of traditional music, of Rotting Christ's fantastic new album, Aealo, which draws on ancient Greek culture, much as the members of Negură Bunget are now powerfully embracing the instruments and folk sounds of their own country.
Finally, after quite a long wait, only briefly interrupted by the appetizer which goes by the name of Maiestrit, we get Vîrstele Pămîntului, the first explicitly new album by Negură Bunget since 2006's Om. As I've mentioned on my review for Maiestrit, I wasn't sure what to expect, and even though I was sure the band would deliver quality material, I didn't really believe the new lineup could hold a candle to the majestic works of the classic lineup.
So, did these expectations turn to be accurate? It's a bit complicated.
I don't really know the details regarding general compositions on previous albums, I don't know if the trademark sound achieved by the band was the work of Negru, the only original member left in the band, or if it was a completely democratic effort. It would explain a lot if the former was the actual case, otherwise it would seem the new members simply tried to carry on the sound bequeathed by the former members, adding their own quota of creative input. Whichever may be the case, it worked.
As far as I'm concerned this is a new, different beast. But enough of this, let's jump right into the music.
The album starts right off with an intro of sorts; a beautiful folk ensemble complete with wind instruments, percussion, the classic strings we've heard in previous albums and some clean, almost ritualistic chanting right before keyboards join the party, building up to an entangled crescendo while the singer(s?) adds different tones of growls and generally raspy vocal deliveries until the metal instruments kick when there's only a minute left in the song, and immediately, if subtly, you can hear and feel the changes in the band's sound.
The new vocalist (I'm assuming it's one of the new guys, Corb) is amazing, his voice feels full of energy, his spoken parts are soaked in passion and his growls are very guttural and inspired. All throughout the album he gives a very imaginative performance, not settling with one or two styles. The first third of the album is overall heavier, slower, even more atmosphere-centered than any other piece of music this band has ever recorded, guitars tend to be less fuzzy and aggressive, there's a lot more lead parts, clean guitars and acoustic guitars playing slow but increasingly more energetic tunes which work perhaps as a prelude of things to come.
As I said, folk elements and spacey, droning keyboards are more prominent, and actually take the center of the stage on this first third, not only in presence as accompaniments but as central aspects of the structure and melody of the first couple of songs. Indeed, until the fourth track reaches the 2 minute mark, metal parts are quite limited.
Negru, who has always been in charge of the drums, this time plays around with new styles, he sounds quite organic and unveils a freestyle mosaic of busy rhythms which keep changing even though time signature changes are quite scarce; a step away from the chaotic but fluent nature of previous albums. Despite that, a key element of his drumming still remains: at crucial times, he's still the central engine which keeps the moods of the songs in movement.
This is only a bit far from the Negură Bunget most of us grew to love with albums like Om, but as I mentioned, this new entity keeps its core intact, choosing to develop a new skin around the ancestral foundations of the band's sound. At times, though, the remains of the old band will reach the surface of this new skin, as is the case with Ochiul Inimii, which around the 3 minute mark turns into something that sounds like an outtake from 'n Crugu Bradului (in fact, there's a riff off Cara de Dincolo de Negurã which sounds extremely familiar, but in all honesty I'm too lazy to check their entire discography song by song to see if it's actually been used before), but that feeling doesn't last much, as the band's new members don't waste time displaying their own take on inventive melodies and arrangements, which seem more intricate at times, more "progressive" in the traditional sense of the word (there are even some Enslaved-tinged moments), if less experimental and dissonant than the melodies crafted by the classic lineup.
On Chei de Rouã we get treated to the vocalist clean singing again, but this time it's not as monolithic and solemn as on the intro, but it's very melodic and has a strong folkloric tone to it, bringing to mind images of rural Romania, a place with strange, colourful and fascinating culture and traditions, people living their lives in a more simplistic way but at the same time enshrouded in the mysteries of the unknown, of the land itself, in a time when a forest or a mountain were the most mysterious places on earth, a time when nature was given godly status. The combination of clean chanting and growls on this album is some of the most elegant and otherworldly I've listened to in quite a while.
As I mentioned, the album starts on a light note, the first three tracks being almost completely devoid of what one could call actual black metal. But this situation is quickly turned upside down around halfway through the album, where the most relentless songs inhabit. There's a seemingly calculated balance between actual metal parts with tremolos and blastbeats and the wide, scenic folk and atmospheric pieces, which combine at times in odd ways; leads the kind of which are new to this band abound and some melodies are even rockish in nature, so to speak. All of this, luckily, works in wonderful ways, and not one second of music seems to be out of place, not one passage goes to waste, not once did I find myself feeling like skipping forward or getting distracted. This music calls on the listener and requests his full attention.
All said, though, the fact that the new lineup so gracefully managed to not only keep the band's soul alive, but give it a fresh new body is sort of a double-edged sword. On one hand, we are given this wonderful piece of musical art, a worthy heir of this band's amazing past, but on the other hand, I can't help but feel that this was intended, and that the band as it exists now might have lost a chance to completely reinvent themselves, not unlike the classic Negură Bunget once did.
To close this convulsed review, I ask myself, does my previous statement (and I quote directly from my review on their previous album: "I don't think Negru and his new company will be able to pull something of this characteristics ever again") still stand?
All in all I believe I was proven wrong. Sort of.