Negură Bunget – Zău Review

The November 26 release cycle brings us a couple of albums by bands we wouldn’t have expected to hear from; Cynic and Negură Bunget. While Kronos will be filling our heads with his thoughts on the former, the latter falls to me. Not because I am a world-renowned black metal aficionado, but rather because I reviewed the latest (truly excellent) release from Dordeduh, and it is natural to draw some comparisons. Following the tragic death of drummer/band leader Gabriel “Negru” Mafa back in 2017, one would assume that was the end of the band. But Negru had completed a number of drum tracks for the final album in the band’s trilogy, and after a period of mourning the remaining band members took up the mantle and fleshed out the songs, and now they present the final chapter in the band’s canon, Zău.

If you’re looking for atmosphere, look no further than the opening seven minutes. The beginning of “Brad,” along with many other parts of Zău, transport the listener back to Transylvania’s dark forests. “Brad” almost feels like a continuation of Zi’s final track, “Marea Cea Mare.” Aside from four minutes of majestic black metal in the middle, the song is a lush, polished, expansive track full of foresty synth, Romanian folk instruments, and entrancing female backing vocals from Manuela Marchiș. This is the template followed throughout, although the other four songs are shorter. Duduk, tulnic, kaval, and nai playing is all courtesy of Petrică Ionuţescu, and it is fantastic. As we all know from previous Negură Bunget and Dordeduh albums, these instruments add so much unique mood and tone to the songs, one instantly knows which band is playing.

Zau plays like a walk through misty, twilit woods. Each track has us looking around in wonder, seeing and hearing miracles of nature both peaceful and threatening. Each song has us setting foot in a glade and seeing pagan rites performed by majestic beings. We watch, mesmerized, before moving on to the next scene. In that manner the album plays out exactly as Negură Bunget hope. Each song on its own could be considered a standout track, although the final two, “Tinerete Fara Batrânete” and “Toaca Din Cer,” hold the most sway over my ears. The former is the heaviest and most immediate (just over a minute of mystique), while the latter, like “Marea Cea Mare” again, features a wonderful percussive two-minute intro that inexplicably fades out before the actual song begins. The instrumental parts of these songs are enthralling.

Atmosphere abounds on Zău; black metal songs do not. The heavier moments are there on every song, and while both the metal and atmospheric parts of the arrangements are compelling, we need MOAR heaviness and less Enya-ness. Remember Made in Heaven, the Queen finale? Many of those songs sounded like they were half-finished, and had bits tacked on by the band post-Freddie. That’s also the feeling here. Negru’s drum tracks for each song are only 3-5 minutes in length; The songs have been pumped up to 7-16 minutes by the remaining band members. One other nitpick: considering this is almost a farewell album to Negru, most of the time his drums are mixed so far back as to be nonexistent. Were these merely scratch tracks the band was forced to use, or are they deemphasized on purpose? Regardless, it takes away from the power of the songs.

Add it all up and we’re left with a captivating but not otherworldly swan song from an excellent band. Zău may not be a list-topping, legendary release, but it is a fitting conclusion to a band that did some amazing things for both Romanian metal and folk metal. Almost to the end, Negură Bunget pushed boundaries and created enthralling, mystifying soundscapes that were deliciously foreign to many ears. If you have the time, play the entire trilogy back to back to back in one sitting and enjoy some truly special music.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320kbps mp3
Label: Prophecy Productions
Websites: negura-bunget.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/negurabunget
Releases Worldwide: November 26, 2021

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