Negură Bunget returns with the second installment of its Transylvanian Trilogy. Coming on the heels of 2016’s Tau, ZI continues a celebration and exploration of this veteran outfit’s roots. Focusing on the lives and traditions of Transylvanians, the material is deeply informed by an appreciation of humankind’s connection with nature and how a community continues to enhance that delicate bond. Throughout the record, though you may not always know it, the band touches on events such as funerals, the breaking of the soil and the life cycles in which humans find themselves, whether from child to adult or hero to outcast.
In some ways, these are ideas that Negură Bunget has explored before, concepts that are at the very core of the outfit’s existence. Formed in 1995 under the name Wiccan Rede, the group has created a series of highly-acclaimed and darkly imaginative releases ever since. One of them, Om (2006), is routinely praised as one of the greatest black metal albums of the decade. The group’s greatest fan base has traditionally been on European soil, though that seems likely to change as a tide of interest has grown in North America.
Tau, the first entry in this Transylvanian Trilogy, didn’t just capitalize on the promise the outfit has evinced from the beginning, it reaffirmed the commitment Negură Bunget has not only to its music but to the spiritual essence it praises. The difference between this collective doing that and others who have tried to convey the same idea is the difference between conviction and shtick. This isn’t a group that’s committed to its native country only when it goes on stage, this isn’t a band that’s trying to set itself apart by exploiting stranger elements of its homeland. This is circle of musicians who believe each word and each note of what they convey here and beyond.
Musically, Negură Bunget juxtaposes elements of traditional Romanian folk music with black metal, adds a dose of ambient sounds here, acoustic passages there. There is beauty to be found in all these settings and in the harrowing heaviness that comprises a major portion of this release. The penultimate “Stanciu Gruiul” leans heavily on the group’s indigenous roots, demonstrating that you don’t need distortion pedals or black metal vocals to be heavier than hell itself. Though, when those elements finally rub elbows with the traditional sounds, it’s done so with a seamlessness that will have the listener hitting the rewind button to marvel at what they’ve just heard.
Though more than a few metal acts with a penchant for the darker realms incorporate doses of native music in their compositions it’s rare that many do it with as much panache as Negură Bunget musters in the final minutes of the opening cut “Tul-ni-ca-rind”. The moments that rely on the patented idea of heavy (those guttural vocals, those distorted beyond reality guitars) work best because they’re juxtaposed here by those folk roots and the stillness and unspeakable beauty that comes through them. That’s also the case for “Gradina Stelelor”, which features exactly those kind of passages alongside spacey grooves that would make the post-Syd/pre-Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd wince in envy.
The nine-minute “Brazda Da Foc” carries the listener through an equally majestic and cinematic journey that leaves one breathless for all the terrain covered within the confines of the track. The closing “Marea Cea Mare” gives us more to meditate upon than just the ending of an album or the finale of the second part of a trilogy. It reminds us of the reverence that music can inspire in the listener, not just for the music that whirls by but for the world that inspires and allows the music to be created in the first place.
As some have recently noted, black metal isn’t about a specific brand of music. It’s about individuality, about the spirit of the non-conformist pursuing a dream against the odds. Negură Bunget reminds us of that here and on all its releases. If ZI’s might and promise are any indication, black metal might also come to mean a genetic appreciation for Negură Bunget, its artistic integrity and its fearless brilliance.