Following the fateful schism between Negru and the other core members of Negură Bunget in 2009, there has been question as to the legitimacy and substance of the band in its current incarnation. I don’t write this as a critic, so much as a fan that remains disappointed by the way things turned out for them. I am almost certainly not alone in saying their fourth album, OM, had one of the most original and otherworldly atmospheres ever committed to the black metal artform. Estranged bandmates Hupogrammos and Sol Faur forged a suitably magical successor to OM when they released Dar de Duh as Dordeduh. In a turn of events not wholly incomparable to the more-recent debacle with Queensrÿche, Negru hired a cast of fresh initiates and pushed onward. Vîrstele Pămîntului was decent enough, but it pales in comparison to what the other side of Negură Bunget have done since, nevermind the bold monuments that came before it.
With talks of a bold ‘Transylvanian Trilogy’ (of which Tău is the first installment), it seems as if the present-day Negură Bunget intends on making a statement as (if not more) ambitious as their old work. Completed trilogies tend to become landmarks in the discography of any band that attempts them. It’s because of that promise of ambition that I’m so disappointed in Tău. I am disappointed because the other expectations I had for a post-schism Negură Bunget album have been met. Tău wanders. It dawdles. It is challenging without being rewarding in an enduring sense. It is enjoyable in spite of those things, but ultimately comes off as a contrived echo of the mastery genre-veterans should have come to associate the band’s name with.
It is worthy to note that the lineup on Tău is nigh-indistinguishable from that of Vîrstele Pămîntului. In other words, Mr. Negru is the sole proprietor of the direction the band takes; the rest of the musicians are largely there to fulfill the execution. Tău mirrors the band’s trademark style well: the avant-garde laden mixture of folk and black metal is here in full. More importantly, the weird, indescribably mystical atmosphere—the likes of which made Negură Bunget such a challenging listen in the first place—is still here. Even if the membership has given rise to the question of whether this project warrants its name or not, the distinctive sound remains. If there is any issue to be taken with the album on a purely stylistic basis, it’s that Mr. Negru hasn’t seen it fit to push the sound forward. Tău feels like an understated shadow of their past, rather than the bold new chapter that the Trilogy concept might have promised.
Yes, the sound is strange, though not in a way that demands proper understanding. Negură Bunget automatically sounds at least a little alien by their everpresent folk instrument. Slavic folk has informed the way melodies are shaped. Far less consonant than the folk of Northwestern Europe we most often see incorporated with black metal, Negură Bunget still earn points from the sense that they’re making metal that is indelibly coloured by its folk influence. So many ‘folk’ metal bands could be heard just as well without the slathering of accordions and violins. Even without the swirling pan flutes and atmospheric touches, you would be able to hear significant traces of Negură Bunget’s Romanian homeland. The style is comfortably described as avant-garde, but Tău still feels like the largely natural amalgamation of cultural influences. A few outlandish exceptions exist; the buzzing sound of theremin at the end of ‘Nametenie’ cannot be explained by any traditional standard of folk music.
You can certainly hear the black metal at work on Tău, but it is made to seem like something else by the layers of clean vocals, folk orchestrations, and alien experimentation. Regardless whether this is the ‘true’ Negură Bunget or not, Tău has a firm grasp of the adventurous and jarring style I’ve (slowly) grown to love about their music. Where Tău suffers most is the songwriting. There are great ideas, but only a couple of great songs. ‘Schiminiceste’, for instance, is a suitably melancholic closing piece, armed with a perfectly mournful chorus and reprise. ‘La Hotaru cu Cinci Culmi’ is a beautiful showcase of their folk side, replete with enchanting Pagan vocals and varied instrumentation. More often than not, however, most of the great concepts on Tău feel the need of some better context. The songs do not make full use of their best ideas; they stray and wander, and only rarely sound like they’re building up to something. Most times a promising momentum is kindled, it is stopped in its tracks by some misguided detour. ‘Taram Valhovnicesc’ is a particularly jarring example of this; while the last two minutes comprise one of my favourite passages on the album, most of it sounds like cheap synthphonic black metal. There’s a time and place for that sort of thing, but in the context of Tău, it serves to hurt the album’s folk-infused atmosphere.
There isn’t anything that really surprises me about the way this album turned out. Hupogrammos and Sol Faur were responsible for most of the writing before Negură Bunget went their separate ways. Mr. Negru has proven he can capably lead a band with all of the bells and whistles associated with this project, but songwriting is not among his stronger talents. With ‘Schiminiceste’, Tău is very good. With ‘Taram Valhovnicesc’, not so much. Most of the time, the album falls into that nondescript mid-range where the music is enjoyable without being immersive.
I do like this album and hope the best for the next chapters in this ‘Transylvanian Trilogy’ they are working on, but barring the non-possibility of some miraculous reconciliation, I fear the best days of Negură Bunget are long over.
02) Izbucul Galbenei
03) La Hotaru cu Cinci Culmi
04) Curgerea Muntelui
05) Tărîm Vîlhovnicesc
06) Împodobeala Timpului
07) Picur Viu Foc