Romanian and Ukranian bands tend to have a bunch of stuff in common. They are dark and atmospheric, and lyrically, they tend to lean towards more poetic themes, with bands like Drudkh just using poetry as their theme. Negură Bunget are no different. Lyrically and musically they explore folklore, spirituality and connections to nature—in their case the Romanian countryside and the Carpathian mountain range. They also take their time finding the pulse of nature that they want to use to command the albums. It’s been five whole years since their last album, Vîrstele pămîntului, and despite a live album, video and a single here and there, it’s clear Negură Bunget have been working hard on their new full-length, Tău, which will be the first work in a Transylvanian trilogy.
Eight songs wash over you in just over fifty-one minutes. The atmosphere is there. The Wardruna-like drum-circles are there. Keyboards, flutes, piccolos and other Renaissance instruments are there. But unfortunately, it really doesn’t sound all that different or new. I don’t see where the trilogy idea comes into play. Maybe I’m not familiar enough with the lyrical content yet to make that sort of declaration so I disclaim that the statement is made only on the sound. To my ear, Tău seems to be more of a celebration of Gypsy and Balkan musical roots than a tribute to Transylvanian folklore (because I would certainly know the difference).
The expansive, but not overwhelming second track “Izbucu Galbenei” is one of the more serene and heavy tunes on the album. It’s driving, powerful and accompanied by some very appealing growls. We heard some of that mix in the opener, “Nametenie,” but it’s generally lost in later songs like “La Hotaru Cu Cinci Culmi” and “Curgerea Muntelui”—both heavily folk-based. All the Renaissance fanfare is brought out to fill out the woodsy, acoustic sounds and monk-like chanting. It’s not that these tracks are bad, they just jam the wheels of momentum like a science denying right-winger (this is a political reference and not a sports reference).
The band brings back the riff-driven bounce of the second track with “Taram Valhovnicesc.” As it builds, the rhythm becomes jerky and screeching keyboards take over, revealing a heavily Gypsy-inspired orchestral accompaniment with Balkan style keyboard solos. The band doubles down even further on the gypsy influences on “Impodobeala Timpului”—which shows off almost ska-influenced guitars as pan-flutes and piccolos eke out a harsh, grating melody. The track does fall, albeit briefly, into one of the more pleasantly-layered metal pieces before annihilating all sense of flow and dropping into full folk, Gypsy bonanza. While it might seem odd, it certainly reveals the intense musicianship of the band while honoring the roots of their culture.
Overall, Tău is quite an interesting work of art. The way Negură Bunget has chosen to structure the first part of an (assumingly) masterful trilogy shows a lot of chutzpah. They certainly are not concerned with turning off a lot of their potential audience by rolling heavy on the Gypsy music influences—and that takes bravery. Personally, I think it’s great that a band is so heavily celebrating their roots and using those roots to shape the future of metal. It might not end up being for everyone, but it’s certainly worth a listen.