Back in 2011 I reviewed a record by the Transylvanian (that is, Romanian) black metal band Syn Ze Şase Tri. With loose connections to Negură Bunget—the guitarist/vocalist Corb was in the band from 2009-2010—these black metallers managed to get signed to Code666 and dropped a record entitled Între două lumi. The mastering on that album was so bad (DR5—with the final track pushing its way into DR4 territory1) that I found myself literally unable to appreciate the music. I was listening to it on the speakers of an iMac (not exactly audiophile equipment) and I could hear audible peaking. I summarily trashed the album—as could be expected given that—and moved along my way. Later, in 2012, I received the promo for the band’s second record Sub semnul lupului, which I assume means “We’re Sorry for the Mastering Job on Our Debut Record,” because it sounds a lot better. Not speaking Romanian, I didn’t realize what it meant and never reviewed it. But the band stuck with me for some reason and I broke out Sub semnul lupului a couple weeks ago. While it’s still brick-walled at DR6, there is a real difference in presentation, since it’s listenable.
And it’s not just listenable; it’s enjoyable. Unlike their other Romanian brothers in black metal, Syn Ze Şase Tri (which translates into the remarkably dumb “I’m with Triple Six”), have a sound much more akin to the mid-to-late-’90s symphonic black metal movement. Surprisingly refreshing in their approach, these Romanian warriors of evil pull off the orchestral tropes with remarkable alacrity. There are definitely similarities to bands like Dimmu Borgir and Troll, but only in the best sense. The use of orchestration/keyboards is done artfully and plays up the pomp and horror theme, and the flourishes work well—piano arpeggiation on “Sîmbăta apelor” takes me back to Spiritual Black Dimensions, and the vocals moving vacillating between black metal and death metal growls with layered tracks shows off a Behemoth flare that works.
The big problem with Sub semnul lupului—aside from still being brick-walled—is that the second half of the record is so much better than the first. While there are some standouts in the first 5 tracks, specifically the title track and opener “Născut în negură,” it’s when the band breaks into something that speaks more to their roots that they start to differentiate themselves in their sound. “Înțeleptul întrupat,” for example, introduces cool instrumentation and melodic structures that one doesn’t hear often in the black metal influenced by the Viennese Classical era. “Înaripat și împietrit” starts out moody, showing off the band’s understanding of dynamics well, and drops a remarkably melodic and slow track, which is punctuated by the use of recorder on the chorus in an extraordinarily evocative way. The genius of the second half is best demonstrated in “În pîntecul pămîntului,” which does a remarkably sexy pairing of choirs, acoustic guitar, heavy drums, and recorder—which creates a unique and driving sound that I’ve only really heard before on Akercocke‘s remarkable “Axiom.” It works so damned well that I have been back to this track over and over again.
Syn Ze Şase Tri feels like a band on the border of breaking a sound open again. While some of this material is more run of the mill orchestral black metal, the second half of Sub semnul lupului shows off that there are more to these Romanian black metallers than a love of the melodic black metal scene of the ’90s. The image might be cheesy, the name might leave a bitter taste in your mouth, and the mastering leaves a bit to be desired, but the writing and vision of Syn Ze Şase Tri will definitely impress those who like their black metal laced with keys.
Tracks to Check: “Sub semnul lupului,” “În pîntecul pămîntului,” “Înaripat și împietrit.”