Album Review: NEGURA BUNGET Tau
Like the deep forest fog for which they are named, Romania's darkest metal export has slithered its way through the underground and into the hearts and minds of many of extreme music's faithful following. Not without reason either. Their sprawling, vivid albums have, since their inception in the mid 90's, garnered Negura Bunget heaps of critical acclaim. Sole remaining founding member Gabriel Mafa (a.k.a. Negru: drums, percussion, xylophone, dulcimer, horns) has blown up the band's lineup twice now, once under acrimonious circumstances and once again to allegedly increase their creative flexibility. For fans, all's well that ends well, and as latest opus Tau creeps from beneath the mists of Transylvanian winter this 3rd of March, 2015 (via Lupus Lounge / Prophecy Productions), those who have opened their minds to these Romanians' mystical body of work are going to be in for quite a ride.
On their past works, Negura Bunget has been able to retain quite a bit of the mysterious otherness that black metal thrives on. In a world inundated with Scandinavian and German language bands (not a bad thing in itself at all) the peculiar, unfamiliar intonations of the Romanian language have lent an extra dimension of power to the shamanistic compositions the band has created. On Tau, Negru and company have obtained a musical clarity and precision missing from prior works. Even 2010's Virstele Pamintului, a much clearer recording than we heard on 2006's OM or anything released earlier, incorporated Negru's rolling, battering drum style during the much more up-front black metal parts. Tau is a far more keyboard driven album, which will, right off the bat, probably alienate some more close-minded fans. The vocal arrangements on Tau, particularly the clean male vocal choir, continue the band's trend of being more diverse, enriching, and downright spellbinding. If there is far less discordant pounding going on in the delivery, on Tau the cryptic ghosts of the Romanian past are elucidated more readily, if a bit more streamlined and less noisily. Combined with Negura Bunget's continued use of traditional instruments, the music on Tau launches us deep beneath the forest eaves, reaching into our subconscious and taking root there.
Opening song 'Nămetenie' displays what Tau is all about, with its deliberate infusion of voice and guitars/bass guitars atop shamanistic overlays of keys and drum rolls. Over the course of its ample 10:16, there are both clean and blackened vocals interspersed throughout, with the pace at times getting frenetic, but nowhere near the earthshaking racket of OM or 2003's N Crugu Bradului. 'Izbucul Galbenei' packs a bit more menace, but again the heavy percussive parts and blackened vocals are countered by ethereal keys and atmospherics. The two are married as seamlessly as the elements about which they were composed. Chanting clean vocal choirs are used with careful discretion, highlighting the music without turning Negura Bunget into a Romanian version of Alcest. Some angrier riffs atop Negru's battery close out the song on a decidedly more heavy note.
In considering the song 'Curgerea Muntelui.' the tension-building in use here is both palpable and powerful. Trance-like, even approaching something Wardruna would do, that familiar Negura Bunget horn plays over a rhythmic beat and a choir of male singers. Tickling the part of our brains that remembers the path of our ancestors, it gives way to a keyboard solo Samael or Bal-Sagoth would be proud of. Bridging the worlds of the now and the past, the arrival of blackened vocals adds menace to dreams of ethereal forests. 'Tărîm Vîlhovnicesc,' on the other hand, begins with the clash and clatter of Negru's black metal drumming. Deep, grim crypt vocals courtesy of the one and only Sakis Tolis (Rotting Christ) counter the highly keyboard-led riffing, bringing Bal-Sagoth once more to mind. Again a highly evocative, compelling vocal arrangement of clean choir augments the music, lending mystery to the double-bass attack and truly invoking the atmosphere of changing seasons, changeless mysteries, and the path of transcendence and wisdom through the prism of Nature's majesty.
'Picur Viu Foc' is another progressive pagan journey through dark vales of the mind, held aloft by a strange choir reminiscent of Limbonic Art's more experimental numbers. A cool whistle is employed, adding the feeling of a moonlit forest deep in the Carpathians, along with every ancient secret such a place holds close beneath its eaves. 'La Hotaru Cu Cinci Culmi' will test the wherewithal of ardent black metal fans as well. But with that being said, Negura Bunget is telling the story their own way, and a song like this one depicts a meaning beyond the realms of the waking mind. A sonic dreamscape of horns, tinkling dulcimers and spoken word, it is also rife with drums and distortion. Much like a walk up a forested mountain will yield layers of differing flora and fauna, Negura Bunget too match their music to such an adventure most effectively. Their ability to mesh together such disparate sounds and instruments makes for rewarding repeated listens, and should please fans of both pagan black metal and neoclassical or progressive acts like Solefald or Wardruna as well. Another unorthodox song structure can be found on 'Impodobeala Timpului', which is a jumping, almost rollicking folk anthem that nevertheless gets held down by a grim double-bass, growled vocal section. The dance-around-the-fire beat comes in again, and we are treated to some witchy female vocals, as well as some intriguing guitar work by guest musician Rune Eriksen (Mayhem). Ambitious, daring in scope, it is songs like this which enhance Negura Bunget's overall vision, telling the story of the Transylvanian landscape through sound. 'Schimnicește' is another prime example of a song where atmosphere and voice gives life to ancient mysteries.
With Tau, Negura Bunget may not be blasting the way they have in the past, but their songs resonate with a depth of feeling and progressive panache that should keep them firmly upon the summit of pagan metal. This iteration of the Negura Bunget lineup may not last, as Negru has stated he enjoys donning the collective efforts of numerous musicians to keep his music both flavorful and vast, but as long as these kinds of results come from his efforts, fans should be highly pleased for years to come.