Apparently I don’t read the metal news enough, because I had no idea that (a) a new Negură Bunget album was dropping this year, or (b) that it again features an entirely new line-up, with drummer Negru the only constant. For those of you similarly out of the loop, here’s a condensed recent history: after releasing the band’s masterpiece Om in 2006, Negru parted ways with fellow founders Hupogrammos and Sol Faur, who formed Dordeduh and released 2012’s rather splendid Dar de Duh album. Meanwhile, Negru continued under the Negură Bunget name, recruiting five new musicians for 2010’s Vîrstele Pămîntului. Heading further into folk territory, it felt a little directionless compared to Dordeduh’s strong debut. A further five years down the line and Negru has created another new lineup for the band’s latest offering. Such tinkering suggests a desire to move in new musical directions – so what novelties does Tău display for seasoned Negură Bunget aficionados?
Opener Nametenie holds few surprises, blending wandering folk melodies, eastern-tinged guitar lines, and textured synths into a quintessentially Bungety whole. From track two onwards, though, things move all over the place. “Izbucu Galbenei” is the first Negură Bunget track I can think of as having a real groove to it, drawing influences from Dissection, Emperor, and even Dimmu Borgir. Fifth track “Taram Valhovnicesc” is a second attempt at this style, but ends up being more Bal-Sagoth than Emperor thanks to some cheesy circus-synth lines. I quite enjoy both these songs on their own, but I’m not convinced they make sense in the context of the album. While adding to the overall variety, they lack any of Negura Bunget’s distinctiveness, almost feeling like covers or tribute pieces (“Taram Volhovnicesc” even includes a vocal cameo from Rotting Christ’s Sakis Tolis).
The other major surprise on here is sixth track “Impodobeala Timpului.” I was gearing up for some more old-school black metal worship as the song features a guest appearance from Rune “Blasphemer” Eriksen, but instead we’re treated to an upbeat folky number complete with humppa rhythm. Obviously Negură Bunget have very strong folk music ties, but they’ve never been realised in quite this manner before. Some aspects of the song work very nicely – the contrast between the lethargic, sinister plucked string ostinato with the enthusiastic brass tunes is interesting, and the blend of genres is executed well. But other elements – the seemingly constant annoying whistles, Blashpemer’s guitar solo – sound irritating and amateur. It’s another noble attempt at something different, but in this case dubious execution is the issue rather than a lack of identity.
The remainder of the tracks carry on from where Vîrstele Pămîntului left off: the beautiful “La Hotaru Cu Cinci Culmi” exhibits the more familiar quiet sadness typical of Negură Bunget’s folk songs, “Curgerea Muntelui” is a moody atmospheric piece underpinned by rumbling bass and layers of synths, while “Picur Viu Foc” and “Schiminiceste” return to Negură Bunget’s more usual black metal and folk blend. While stylistically varied, a despondent melancholy is present in each that distinguishes them from the more upbeat songs.
Production-wise, Tău is similar to the last couple of records – natural-sounding guitars and drums blend with the traditional instruments and synths to create a primal yet otherworldly atmosphere that few other bands can match. The drums sound more consistent and powerful this time, which helps the more traditional black metal sections, but the weak guitars lack any width, which does not. The new band members acquit themselves well – I’m particularly keen on this set of vocalists and their range of melodic and growled vocals – but the use of horns and whistles often grates. “Curgerea Muntelui,” for example, is a dark and brooding synth epic, and subtle horns could have enhanced this atmosphere – instead the horn is treated like a solo instrument and its rapid, wandering melody is distracting. It’s handled better on “La Hotaru Cu Cinci Culmi,” but is still intrusive, while you already know how I feel about those blasted whistles on “Impodobeala timpului.”
Ultimately Tău comes across as an album from a band in transition – which to be fair is exactly what they are. It’s great to hear them progress and attempt new ideas, but the execution is flawed. I don’t know how much of the music is written solely by Negru so can’t speculate as to whether this is due to his shortcomings as a writer or whether the new line-up is taking time to gel; Tău is the start of a grand “Transylvanian Trilogy,” though, so perhaps this will become apparent over the next couple of instalments. If Negru doesn’t fire the entire band again, that is.
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label:Lupus Lounge (Prophecy Productions)
Websites: NeguraBungetOfficial | Facebook.com/NeguraBunget
Release Dates: EU: 2015.02.27 | NA: 03.03.2015