I’ve said before that I’m a latecomer to the charms of black metal, and I’m trying to educate myself. Romania’s Negură Bunget has been on my list of bands to check out, but I decided to wait for two new releases that were forecast for this year. Those albums — Măiestrit and Vîrstele Pămîntului — have recently become available, though the bands that produced them are not entirely the same.
Up until the spring of 2009, Negură Bunget consisted of drummer Negru, vocalist/keyboardist Hupogrammos, and guitarist/bassist Sol Faur (all pictured above). At that point, the latter two members left the band (and are now involved in a project called Dordeduh), and Negru recruited new artists to continue creating music under the Negură Bunget banner.
The first of the two new releases, Măiestrit, is a re-recording of the band’s 2000 album called Măiastru Sfetnic, and the new production was completed in 2009 by the three original members of the band. The second album is the work of Negru and his new bandmates. Today we’ll write about Măiestrit and tomorrow we’ll come to Vîrstele Pămîntului.
We haven’t listened to the 2000 recording of Măiastru Sfetnic, but Negru explained in a recent Decibel magazine interview (May 2010 issue) that the new release is both an enhancement in production and a re-imagined interpretation of the music, prompted by the band’s complete dissatisfaction with the 2000 album.
Obviously, we can’t comment on the previous release or contrast the old with the new. But considered as a stand-alone effort, Măiestrit is completely captivating in its emotional power and is one of the most impressive albums we’ve heard this year. (more after the jump, including a track to stream from Măiestrit . . .)
Once more, we’re faced with the difficult task of describing in words what must be heard to be understood and fully appreciated, and once more we feel pretty fucking inadequate to the task.
The main tools of the trade are not new (though folk instruments occasionally can be heard, even to our uneducated ears) — tremolo guitar washing over you in fully enveloping waves of sound, drums that alternately pound and blast, atmospheric keyboards, and vocals that have the sound of wolves howling, their piercing cries echoing roughly off the forest wood. But what Negură Bunget has created with those tools is far from typical.
The largely instrumental music is elemental, organic, and deeply soulful. The images it brings to mind are dark, but they are more natural than supernatural, more rural than urban: The ominous gathering of thunderclouds across a meadow at dusk; the fall of icy rain from a wintry sky, soaking through inadequate clothes to the skin; the piercing whistle of red-eyed raptors swooping down on black wings from their mountain roosts; the stampede of wild horses; the mournful tramp of villagers about to bury a child; a swirling folk dance by torch light that builds in speed and intensity with the music.
Yet, images of something supernatural occasionally do come to mind — but not the images of human-created fantasies (e.g., demons and the damned). Instead, something more primeval and elemental — the surge of a dark power welling up from the earth, nature’s hungry arms stretched wide to gather up its due. And so, in this music is a sense of menace as well as sublime melancholy.
We have no idea whether these kinds of images mesh at all with what the band intended when it recorded Măiestrit, and you may feel something altogether different. But we’re pretty sure you will feel this music. It’s damned easy to get lost in it.
The album includes partially acoustic versions of two of the songs, which are new to this 2010 re-imagining. Stripped (for the most part) of the tremolo guitar and the vocals, those two songs become lush, prog-metal meditations — dark dreams that provide a fitting conclusion to this powerful collection.
The entire album is now available as an mp3 download at Amazon. Here’s a sample track: