Negură Bunget’s latest album Zi – part two of their self-styled ‘Transylvanian Trilogy’  – is going to annoy any number of kvlt black metallers. Despite it being one of the most evocative paeans to nature’s majesty I have ever heard, purists everywhere will complain for any number of reasons. First, an impressive array of traditional instruments  are brought to bear throughout its forty-odd minutes of haunting atmospheres, making it too folk-driven to be a ‘trve’ black metal album. Paradoxically, this same instrumentation employed in ways that at times make you check for the presence of Einar Selvik  within the album credits, is too avant-garde and entirely too acoustic to place Zi within a straight-up folk metal classification. Opening track, ‘Tul-ni-ca-rind’, for example, could easily be lifted straight off a Wardruna album.
Then there’s the tone that needs to be addressed. Yes, Negură Bunget bring out the heavy weaponry when required, but overall the sonic character tends more to hard rock than gain-heavy overdrive – another reason metalheads may pass this gem by. They would then be depriving themselves of the excellent blackened doom passages in ‘Gradina Steletor’ – that themselves swiftly evolve into very progressive twin-vocal lines – or even the anthemic closing third of ‘Stanciu Gruiul’. Granted, the flutes, horns and block drums may achieve dominance over the guitars and drums in the final mix, but these are mere bit-players in the overall grand performance that is Negură Bunget’s progressive and patriotic vision.
The vocals themselves are another nail in Negură Bunget’s coffin of metal reputation, though: the multiple styles, harmonies and juxtapositions of growled and clean vocal styles may prove too much for many unkempt long-hairs to deal with. Having experienced the transcendent vision this band achieve live earlier this year  with up to five vocalists singing at any one time, I can once again only offer my sympathies to those deluded few that will be denying themselves this unique arrangement. That said, Negură Bunget enjoy an extensive following  despite a musical approach that is archaic, spiritual, introspective and atmospheric – none of which are characteristics that guarantee commercial or social success in today’s materialistic climate.
With only five tracks on Zi it becomes an easy trap to analyse each on for its own strengths – but the truth of the matter is that the album shines not as separate songs but as a holistic entity. It all too easily draws you in and forty minutes later you’re left bereft, wondering where the pretty atmospheres all went. The opening chords of ‘Marea Cea Mare’ alone are enough to transport any listener to a realm of primeval forests, mountains and ancient spirits – even before the main theme or female vocals begin. My joking ‘anti-metal’ references aside, Negură Bunget are making their own musical path – borrowing elements where they please – and in the process forging an entirely unique folk-meets-black audio experience that is immediately accessible as well as rewarding to listen to.
- The Zi mini-movie helps set the scene for this album.
- Incorporating ‘horns, dulcimer, xylophones, pipes, trumpet’ and unnamed ‘traditional instruments’, according to the band’s Facebook page.
- The erstwhile drummer of Gorgoroth’s neo-folk projects. Warduna and Skuggsja might not fall under the metal banner, but this hasn’t stopped him garnering a massive following within the metal community with his historical Norse music.
- Negură Bunget were one of the local headline acts at the 2016 Rockstadt Extremefest in Romania – a report on which can be found here.
- For instance, the band successfully employed a crowdfunding campaign to finance the tour accompanying Zi’s release.