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Posts Tagged ‘Negura Bunget’

Negură Bunget, Vîrstele Pămîntului (2010)

Romanian black metal mystics, at it again

Well, as you may well know, there have been some shake-ups in the Negură Bunget camp since 2006’s magisterial Om, leaving only Negru, the drummer, of the original members to carry on under this name.  I don’t particularly care about whatever disagreements led to the split, and have already suggested elsewhere that thankfully this drama never quite reached the farcical levels of the Gorgoroth drama.  The real question, of course, is, How does this stack up next to the visionary Om?

To this humble listener, the results are a bit of a mixed bag.  The core sound and intent of the band seems relatively unchanged, inasmuch as these Romanian lads are still banging on after a rather mystical, folk-ish take on black metal, heavily incorporating various non-traditional instrumentation into their potent and heady blend of magic.  Drudkh remains a none-too-shabby point of reference, as do American stand-outs Agalloch and Wolves In The Throne Room.  This, perhaps obviously, is all for the good.

These songs benefit greatly from the inclusion of not only some excellently non-cheesy keyboards, but also various folk instruments such as flutes (or pipes; it’s a bit hard to tell), horns, and a tasteful selection of extremely taut drums and other percussive sounds.  If you recall some of the wood-sticks-being-banged-together percussion from 2002’s ‘n Crugu Bradalui, you’re on the right track.  Negură Bunget’s take on folk-ish black metal is a highly melodic sort, with the melody typically quite wandering, and generally carried by tremelo guitar.  The core of the sound, however, is highly textured, which is most frequently accomplished by overlaying both acoustic and distorted guitars for maximum classiness.

On another positive note, the production here is generally quite clear, which allows for all the different components to be heard; you won’t really be left guessing as to when you’re hearing keyboards versus when you’re hearing “live” folk instruments, and the bass, especially, is given prominence at some key moments when it demonstrates some wonderfully deep oscillations.  The only complaint about the production, really, is that occasionally the drums sound a little off; the cymbals, especially, sound to these ears somewhat clipped, which I suppose is probably better than an overly splashy cymbal sound, but was still somewhat distracting.

One of my primary concerns in the transition to this new line-up was that the vocals of long-time mainman (and, frankly, ridiculously-named) Hupogrammos Disciple’s would be sorely missed.  Thankfully, though, the harsh vocals of new vocalist Corb are wonderful.  They are hoarse, deep, and impassioned, and recorded clearly enough that I imagine if I spoke Romanian, I’d have no trouble following the words.  At times, they remind of Sakis’ latter-day vocals in Rotting Christ.  Unfortunately, the few times that the band turns to clean vocals do not fare nearly so well.  On “Chei de Rouã,” in particular, the clean vocals are distractingly off-pitch, almost veering onto the Urfaust or Circle Of Ouroborus axis (which works with those bands, by the way, but not so much here).

I’ve mostly been positive so far, and truth be told, this is still a very good record.  Nevertheless, there are several details which keep this from reaching anywhere near the transcendent heights of Om.  My biggest complaint, really, is that the album never really gets any momentum, and when it does pick up a little bit of steam, it is arranged in such a way as to be almost self-defeating.  Too many of the songs are in the mold of a classic slow-tension-building-to-a-cathartic-outburst design.  Individually, this works very well, but because this happens again and again, listening to the album feels like the band is trying to begin the whole thing over again with each new track, rather than proceeding more organically from one song to the next.

Essentially, one of the reasons that Om came off so masterfully is that not only were the individual songs excellent, but the songs were written and the album was sequenced such that it still felt more or less like separate movements contributing to a greater whole.  On Vîrstele Pămîntului, most all the individual songs are excellent when listened to in isolation; strung together in this fashion, though, they seem far too much like brief flashes of something that could have been stitched together differently to produce a greater cumulative effect.  This leads not only to the problem of too many slow-building tracks, but also to the fact that many of the songs fade out too quickly once it seems like they’ve finally hit their stride.  This results in some rather awkward transitions.

Still, I don’t mean to give the impression that this is some sort of trainwreck.  As I’ve said, the individual songs tend to work quite well on their own terms, and the overall sound and vision of the band is still admirable, and relatively unique in the world of contemporary metal.  The two purely instrumental tracks on here, “Umbra” and “Jar,” deserve special notice for each featuring some very rich folk instrumentation and achieving an ambient effect that doesn’t also bore me to tears, death, or Nasum.  In fact, in light of these tracks, as well as the two acoustic re-imaginings included on the recent re-recorded version of their 2000 album Măiastru Sfetnic, it struck me that an all acoustic, ambient/neo-folk album by this band could be very interesting.

So, all in all, this doesn’t match up to Om (nor, to be fair, did I ever really expect it to).  What it does do, however, is to continue to weave their dark spell of meditative metal for Transylvanian forests, and I’m still quite happy to come along for the spinning of these heathen tales.

Overall rating: 78%.  Wasn’t broke, but didn’t fix.

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I haven’t yet figured out if there’s a good way to avoid this, but I’m quite certain that I’m far from the only one out there who follows a whole mess of music rather closely, and begins to feel more than a little overwhelmed.  Of course I can’t really speak for the faceless masses of internet blips and pixels, but I imagine that many of you have your own little accounting systems, or organizational schemes for dealing with new music.

Maybe you anticipate upcoming releases by keeping little lists of noteworthy titles on the horizon; or by following a blog or a dozen that tend to report news from the genres you follow; or maybe you download hundreds of gigabytes of music from all the errant spaces of the world and then feel slowly gnawed away by guilt, not because of any qualms over copyright infringement or any such square nonsense, but because there’s just so much of it, and you’ll never ever listen to it all, and so eventually it shuttles its way between a download folder and that much-used twin, the recycle bin; or, better yet, maybe you’re not completely neurotic like I am, and you just listen to some music that you like and have already stopped reading this shiftless bourgeois tripe.  Good for you.

All of this, really, is just by way of prelude to saying that, sometimes it’s liberating to just sit down in front of the ol’ music collection (or ol’ computer, really) and listen to whatever seems to be calling out to you; no real agenda, no obligation, just, y’know, whatever feels right.  Weird, isn’t it, that as a listening culture we (or at least some of ‘we’) have found ourselves in such a predicament?  I guess, actually, it’s probably not that different from finding yourself at the grocery store, trying to pick out a box of cereal but oh, what’s that, decision-making-part-of-my-brain?, I can’t quite hear you over the sound of 17,000 brands of dried crunchy things with sugar.

The petty tyranny of choice meets an over-saturated consumer culture.

Playing the role of desktop Napoleon today, then, here is what I’ve been putting in my ear holes…ere I saw Elba:

Ghost, Snuffbox Immanence

This Japanese folk/rock/psych group can kick out some pretty hot jams, but unlike their countrymen in the Acid Mothers Temple & Melting Whatever Freak-Outs, I actually prefer it when they stick to the mellower side of the rock and roll continuum.  Which they do, on this release, with consummate ease.  Check out Hypnotic Underworld and In Stormy Nights for even better distillations of this magic, which seems more easily wrought over a longer running-time.

Keep of Kalessin, Reptilian

Finally gave this record the first listen today.  Although, to be fair, I only bought my copy last week, meaning I’ve been experiencing far less of the aforementioned gnawing guilt as with, say, the new Nightbringer which I’ve yet to play, or the new Watain, which I’ve only run through once (though, in my defense, goddamn is that thing loooong).  Anyway, something about their last one, Kolossus, never quite sat entirely right with me.  Armada was a massive beast of a record, and Kolossus‘ main fault, I think, is that it sounded more or less like Armada Redux; so, while it was a reasonably satisfying blast of ultra-classy, shined-up melodic black(-ish) metal, it didn’t have any real standout tracks like “The Black Uncharted” or “Crown of the Kings” from Armada.  First listen to this dragon-obsessed follow-up, then, is an improvement on that front, inasmuch as there is definitely a marked change from both Armada and Kolossus; yet to be determined, however, is whether this is a good or bad change.  In my only casual perusals of the metallic corners of the internet, I have seen nothing but scorn heaped upon early single (and Eurovision entry!) “The Dragontower,” and while that track’s first impression was definitely much more that of a pop song grafted onto a web of heavy metal signifiers, honestly folks, it wasn’t that bad, and it’s not as though Keep Of Kalessin have been, until now, your uncompromising bulwark of everything that is true and kvlt in metal.  In other words, ‘Norsk Arisk Black Metal’ they ain’t.

Pink Floyd, Meddle

Truth be told, I think I’ll always prefer Wish You Were Here, even though I know for many Meddle is the connoisseur’s Floyd album.  Granted, the second side of Meddle, taken up entirely by “Echoes,” completely owns early 1970s progressive rock, and the album’s first track has that great spooky, driving momentum that I could listen to all day.  “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” still edges out “Echoes” by a hair, though, for long-winded, multi-part prog odyssies, and the rest of the more straight-ahead rock songs on Wish You Were Here are a bit more memorable (hello, “Welcome to the Machine”) than those on Meddle (although the jaunty “San Tropez” is fun).

I think the reason I had it in my head to listen to Meddle today was because I had been listening to the new Nachtmystium album, which, I know, I know, is probably coming one album too late for getting in on the psych/freak-y Nachtmystium; seems like for this second volume (which is excellent, in case my snark is confusing the issue), they ought to have called it Black Unknown Pleasures or some such thing, but I digress.

Clutch, Blast Tyrant

Most anything Clutch does is worth your time, but their latter-day records are where I spend most of my time.  Sure, the self-titled album and Pure Rock Fury are pretty much all class, but Blast Tyrant, Robot Hive/Exodus, Beale St, and Strange Cousins are the friggin’ shit.  This album, especially, is just a wonderful combination of seriously muscular blues, some of Neil Fallon’s most bad-ass stream-of-consciousness lyrics, and a bunch of completely fucking righteous RIFFS.

On the subject of those lyrics, see:

“Genesis and Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers /
Gideon is knocking in your hotel while you slumber”

OR, in honor of Dio’s recent passing:

“Holy diver, where you at?
There’s a woman on the hill in a wide-brimmed hat /
With a shotgun, .44 /
And a big bloodhound in the back of a jacked-up Ford”

I mean, GODDAMN if that isn’t some FUNK.

Negura Bunget, Om

As long as we’re cataloging my recent music-related shames, I ought to let it out that despite receiving my copy in the mail a far while back, I still haven’t listened to the new post-breakup Negura Bunget album (the title of which, since I am too lazy to pull up the accurate spelling, is something approximating Virstele Pamintului; or anyway, that’s my closest guess).

I’ve pretty much tried to avoid following any of the acrimony surrounding the split of the core members, with some of them (maybe only one?) continuing on with the name, and others forming a new group, whose similarly Romanian name also escapes me at the moment.  Thankfully, it doesn’t seem like this ever reached the sublimely ridiculous heights (or lows, depending on your perspective) of the Gorgoroth Affair, so when I do get around to listening to the new one, I’m hoping to do so without much contextual baggage.

Still, whenever I do listen to it, and as I’m sure everyone else and their grandmother has noted, it’s going to have some mighty big shoes to fill.  Om is an absolute monster of a record: expertly paced and sequenced, loud and brash when it needs to be, meditative and melodic whenever it wants to be.  I don’t know exactly how to explain it, but something about listening to Om seems incredibly intuitive, like it doesn’t require a long apprenticeship in the dungeons of heavy metal lore to understand this music on a visceral level.

Looking over this list, I was also struck by just how masculine-dominated most of these rock genres are.  Of course, to really do that topic justice would require several tortuous essays and much hand-wringing, so instead I just reminded myself that I was also listening to Arch Enemy’s Wages of Sin (their first record to feature current growler Angela Gossow) earlier today, and that I’ve got a recently-acquired copy of Gillian Welch’s Hell Among the Yearlings in the docket.

But ah, there’s that damnable docket again, and it’s brought its friends, Guilt and Obligation…

Still, hopefully up soon:
– Reviews of the Pyramids & Nadja collaboration and Devin Townsend’s Physicist
A rant about stoner metal, and all its spurious accusations against my listening faculties
– A brief essay on the furniture department of Macy’s

Cheers, &c.,
d

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