Syn Ze Şase Tri is a Romanian band hailing from from—no joke—Transylvania, and whose material I had the pure luck to discover by my naïve dedication to trying to review everything that ever landed in my mailbox back in the early days. The band’s first record, Între două lumi, was the victim of brutal mastering job which rendered the mp3s I received in the promotional material unlistenable. Still, when I received the band’s sophomore platter, Sub semnul lupului, I remembered the impression I had in spite of the terrible promotional copy I had received; that of a band “doing something old in a remarkably hungry and exciting way.” I was gratified to see that I had remembered correctly, and pleased to hear Syn Ze Şase Tri branching out—particularly on the back end of the record, by introducing novel elements into their music and pushing it beyond the shadow of Dimmu Borgir, as it were.
Stăpîn Peste Stăpîni is not, however, a clear continuation of the epic back half of the band’s sophomore release. Instead, it feels more like a reversion to the mean, and this was clarified for me by the album’s opening. Introduction “Din miez de munte” is a classic orchestral black metal mood-setter, but superfluous, especially as the real opener, “Starjerul Timului,” is also a slow build before breaking into a tremmy riff straight out of the Annals of Orchestral Black Metal History. This disappointment gave way, though, when the album broke into “A Vremii Rinduiala,” and the song started out with Heidevolk-like clean vocal harmonizations and Istapp-like melodic black metal; majestic and memorable.
The opening of the record exemplifies the fundamental conflict at the heart of this album: the differentiation of the old and the new. On the one hand, there’s a strong similarity between the basic form of what the band is doing between the orchestral bands of the 1990s—particularly Old Man’s Child and Cradle of Filth—and the band’s more novel ideas. For example, the opener “Starjerul Timului” is similar in form to “Recerea Mistica” and “Faurul Muntilor,” which all share a tendency towards verse-chorus-verse song writing with too much focus on the repetition of a single, thematic riff and these songs feel like filler. However, all three of these tracks have great orchestral breakdowns which absolutely shine in contrast to the banality of the main themes. “Faurul Muntilor,” for example, is one of the two places where epic clean vocals soar out of nowhere to rousing effect, creating an excellent emotional peak.
It’s in moments like that, when Stăpîn Peste Stăpîni pushes its way out of this box, when it gets truly interesting. “Rascrucea Timpului,” the record’s highlight, is a subtle and slow song with Nileesque machine gun double bass under slow riffing before finally speeding up and evoking the sound of early Thyrfing and Moonsorrow. The band’s use of acoustic guitars in “In Gerul Iadului,” as well as the aforementioned track, reminds me of Old Man’s Child‘s brilliant “Black Seeds on Virgin Soil,” but develops a novel sound and close listening even demonstrates that the band uses them in builds to add layers and texture in the later part of the album. “Al Din Ochi De Apa,” another of the top-tier songs, even demonstrates that when the band uses the ‘traditional’ formula with great riffs, they can have a similar effect. While the song maybe is too deferential to its main theme, the second-half introduces a scalding trem-picked riff worthy of Taake‘s earliest material.
The battle between progression and tradition plays out, unfortunately, in a too-dense audio landscape which hampers some of the most interesting bits on the album. Similar to the band’s sophomore record, Stăpîn Peste Stăpîni really hits its stride on the back half, and here it becomes obvious that things are just too loud. The record doesn’t peak, but the tracks fight for what little head space there is. Harmonized vocals end up low in the mix and less effective, and it’s tough to continue to build emotional louds when the “build” is “built” upon an already “built buildedness.” Put differently, the busy production distracts from what are some of the album’s most epic moments because the layers detract where they should add.
All of that said, Stăpîn Peste Stăpîni is still a pretty good record across the board. I admire the band’s continued effort to put together a sound that is unique, and the fact that they’re still flying the flag of orchestral black metal when it would be so easy to hop on the Behemoth/Septicflesh bandwagon. Instead, Syn Ze Şaze Tri‘s sound is firmly rooted in ’90s black metal, but keeps threatening to burst out of its cage. I feel like it’s only a matter of time before these Transylvanian black metallers throw off the shackles of black metal orthodox and push their inventive writing to the next level. But until they do that, they’ve got a solid record littered with outstanding ideas for you to bang your head to.