Since they started in 1995 Romanian act Negura Bunget have trodden one hell of a rocky road shedding around 25 members in the process. It’s enough to finish off many an act but sole surviving member Negru isn’t having any of it. He regrouped with lots of new players in 2013 and set off on an unswerving path planning things in his head for the future. Not content with playing the odd show and releasing a bit of music here and there he had a far greater scheme of things which has seen the band nearly continuously on the road whilst laying down the foundations for a trilogy of albums. The first of these Tău was delivered in 2015 and we are now at the middle part Zi with the third of this multi-platform of albums planned for 2018. It really is an epic tale and one that is steeped in higher meaning as the artists behind it have dipped once again into the traditional Transylvanian people and their connections with nature and spirituality. No doubt if you seek it out (and it is probably explained more fully in the finished product) you will be able to track specific narrative within the musical. Naturally Negura Bunget have begun representing it in visual form too. Having been sent this digitally on the release date getting the framework explained by Negru after the 1st album came out (interview link) I am forgoing that side of things here and concentrating more on the music. Grabbing the disc with movie, videos and bonus songs will no doubt be a thorough and illuminating experience though.
We are steeped in a feel of pre-history from the very 1st notes of ‘Tul-ni-ca-rînd.’ Instruments are traditional and far from the expected norm. Tulnic horns are blown and there is the percussive knock of the Toacă as chanting builds up. It’s a completely otherworld and mystical experience going into a shamanic trance far beyond mere music. A mighty roar is unleashed and guitar, bass and drums crunch in, there’s no shortage of depth to explore. The folk and traditional aspects have truly taken over as we encounter the soft and gentle trill of pipes and plucking of strings on ‘Grădina stelelor’ and we are taken on a mesmerising trip to the ‘Garden Of The Stars.’ The black metal bombast has not been completely forgotten and suddenly we are flung into a flurry of bruising drumming and a more rigorous movement urged on by gruff and hoary vocals. Somehow though it is a return to the maudlin melody of the acoustic parts that are the ones that are absorbed more fully, the group have certainly transcended their more Wiccan roots. The 6 tracks have plenty of time within their framework to unspool and transport you off to far flung places. There is little in the real way of urgency here on numbers like ‘Brazda da foc’ moving from progressive lushness into rhythmic drum flurries and gazing far and wide in their construction. Be prepared to lose yourself completely within them. Even vocally things are far from what you may expect with whispered parts flowing off their native tongue and adding to the mystical vibe of it all.
Just as you wonder if the band are determined to deliver a bit of a hippy album ‘Baciul Moșneag’ delivers its most volatile and driven movement as it bites in and rears off full of blistering beats and wilder vocal parts. It would be interesting to experience the whole of this live, perhaps the band will gear up to this and do so with the whole trilogy in epic fashion on completion and at least here there is plenty of opportunity to head-bang away. There’s even some jaunty lead work to play air guitar along to before the track settles back down with some cold and icy underlying synth and chanting at the halfway mark. Fathoming out the huge array of instruments utilised here is part of the fun especially as many are pretty much unique to region. It’s what sounds like the dulcimer taking into ‘Stanciu Gruiul’ a real folk laden part with clean and harmonic singing. A medieval focus seems to be at play along with the pipes and woodblock and it’s a pretty jubilant and upbeat number allowing you to bounce along to it and beat your chest in appreciation. The final and epic journey is into the realms of The Great Sea as ‘Marea Cea Mare’ soothes and has us drifting off on its gentle flow. Adding some beguiling and ultimately chilled female vocals to this provides yet another twist and dimension as the band explore what could even be termed as post-rock territories and are allowed to sprawl and meander along.
We can only anticipate what is to come in part three and how things will progress. Ultimately Zi is an immersive experience, one that seems unfettered by modernity and rooted deep in the past. It does have that aforementioned ‘hippy vibe’ at times and may leave the blackened vanguard behind but that would be their loss as ultimately this is a wonderful and fascinating world to explore.
(8/10 Pete Woods)