Negura Bunget - Vîrstele Pamintului
Code666 Records
Progressive/Folk Black Metal
9 songs (59:06)
Release year: 2010
Negura Bunget , Code666 Records
Reviewed by Charles
Album of the month
A short disclaimer: Let’s say before we start that I have no intention of getting into the politics surrounding the acrimonious splitting of the core Negura Bunget lineup. Suffice to say, that this is an entirely new assembly formed by the drummer, Negru, after the rest of the band left a short while ago. In the event, this is the lineup that has kept the name. Which of course, is a double-edged sword. You get the kudos of having been behind the universally-adored Om, and you also get the pressure of having to follow it despite being a very different band.

So I suppose the first thing to say about Vîrstele Pămîntului is that it does have various similarities with its predecessor. This is still black metal- loosely defined- which wholeheartedly embraces and explores musical landscapes ranging from the folky to the progressive or ambient (although here the emphasis is far more on the first). Richly textured acoustic passages with mournful sung vocals, long periods of eerie ambience, intersperse and surround their emotive, pastoral black metal sound. The band have always been keen to bring in folkish instrumentation, and not in a cartoonish way, like any number of corny acts we could name, but in a way that adds powerfully to the mysterious, otherworldly feel of their music.

But, there are significant differences. Immediately, opener Pamint has you expecting something much earthier and more organic. It is a supremely atmospheric piece of acoustic folk replete with sinister, authentic instrumentation, reminding me of some of the creepier tracks from Visor Om Slutet by Finntroll, or a Drudkh interlude from Blood in our Wells developed into something really chilling. In a way, first impressions are correct; before it ends, the track kicks suddenly into a more traditionalist, pumping black metal rattle before dying away into the gorgeously icy ambient chill that opens Dacia Hiperboreana. So, the same diverse sweep of influences is often here, but whilst Om seemed to voyage without return into spacey experimentalism, this keeps one foot permanently in something more down-to-earth.

Once you get to gallopers like Tara de dincolo de Negură six tracks in, you’re definitely starting to really feel the heavier, more classic, black metal sensibility. This particular tune features hammering tremolo riffs and evil screaming with a real classic-Emperor feel to it, in a way that would have felt quite out of place on Om. But don’t let this lead you to believe that the band have stepped backwards into their musical past. In a way this is more traditionalist, but it’s a quite wonderful synthesis of blackened clattering and richer, more diverse tones. Opening with a novelly-combined reverberating horn and sinister churning bass line, it accelerates suddenly and powerfully into a classic black metal ghost train. But there are really striking ideas that twist the tune into something which you really can’t put your finger on: the overlaying of acoustic guitar strumming muddies and mystifies the sound in the best possible way. It cuts out into the most plaintive, folky lead guitar serenade, which again accelerates into a black metal canter augmented by haunting string synths. If this is a confusing description of the song (I’ve only described half of it), then that probably reflects the fact that it feels like you are really being taken on a journey by the band. Its ever-shifting nature remains enigmatic even during its most rampantly frostbitten passages.

So listening to this, it’s easy to imagine Negru as getting itchy bass-pedal feet during the recording of the more ethereal, gentle passages of Om. If I had to sum it up, Vîrstele Pămîntului has a similar approach to making music- the same meditative spirit lurks in the creepy, pipe-led ambiance of Jar for example. But rather than being an all-out assault on the unknown, this one reins things in, throwing in a shovel or several of earthy, old-school black metal and heavily emphasising the antiquated folk sounds. Incidentally, those two elements are here interwoven more symbiotically than I’ve heard achieved by any other band- you stop thinking of black metal as a form of rock and roll, and start thinking of it as a folk tradition. If anything at times it resembles to me a far more adventurous, eclectic and darker Obtest. Whilst the “heavy” moments on Om were always infused with post-rocky weirdness, here there is a more straightforwardly raging, immediate character to them. They lurk amongst the other things going on like a wild animal emerging to tear up any memory of the subtler elements when they emerge. But it’s testament to the strength of this album that they retain an inventive and rich character that gives us continuity, rather than all-out change from its predecessor.

There is too much going on here to dissect any more of the tracks here, of course. It isn’t as diverse, as untamed or unpredictable as Om, but in its darker, earthier character it is similarly compelling.

Killing Songs :
Tara de dincolo de Negură, Chei de Roua
Charles quoted 90 / 100
Other albums by Negura Bunget that we have reviewed:
Negura Bunget - Zău reviewed by Goat and quoted 80 / 100
Negura Bunget - Tau reviewed by Jared and quoted 85 / 100
Negura Bunget - Maiestrit reviewed by Goat and quoted 86 / 100
Negura Bunget - Zîrnindu-să reviewed by Dan and quoted 95 / 100
Negura Bunget - Om reviewed by Goat and quoted 97 / 100
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