'Virstele Pamintului' - Negura Bunget (8/10)
2006 saw the Romanian black metal band Negura Bunget make their crowning achievement and major contribution to the metal world; the epic 'Om'. Although I cannot (yet) bring myself to call it the everlasting masterpiece that so many fans claim it to be, it is undeniable how much it stirred black metal; no longer was the scene in the hands of the Scandinavians. After the classic Negura Bunget split with some previous members forming Dordeduh, the more recent incarnation of the band came together to release two new albums. One of these was a redux of their second album, and this- the more successful of the two- was of entirely new material. 'Virstele Pamintului' is not quite as cohesive as 'Om' was, but the grand focus on ethnic instrumentation here makes me enjoy the album just as much. With such a folkish influence in the sound, Negura Bunget brings an added dimension to the realm of black metal.
The sound of folk music is nothing new to metal, but there are few bands out there that do the sound as well as Negura Bunget. To be quite honest, far too many of the bands that label themselves as 'folk metal' use the folk sound as a gimmick and nothing more, but Negura Bunget takes these ethnic instruments and makes them a central part of their sound. Of course, the main focus is still on the black metal elements, but there is still enough of an Eastern European flair and atmosphere to make it all sound convincing. As I have said, the songs here do not flow amongst each other as well as 'Om' did, but taken song by song, 'Virstele Pamintului' is a real winner; there is a greater focus on melodies and highlighting the folkish influences of Negura Bunget on this album, and both traits tend to make it a more enjoyable experience.
Things often sound like Opeth here, but without the same sense of repetition, or contrived heavy-to-light contrasts that Opeth builds themselves around. The music Negura Bunget makes here flows very naturally, and like all music I have heard from this band, it takes several listens for the music to really sink in. Some of the synth sounds that the band employs are a little tinny, but for the most part, things are produced excellently, and the pastoral, spiritual vibe of a Romanian village gets through in the sound here. The vocals- much like the music- alternate between abrasive rasps and cleaner tones, and the clean vocals are the more enjoyable of the two. The harsh vocals here are not bad, and even fairly diverse for a black metal album, but simply never truly standout enough to really grab my attention. The clean vocals on the other hand do a much better job of capturing the nuances of the Romanian language, which consequently helps to give an even more atmospheric experience.
A very good album that really exceeded my expectations. I was looking forward to a fairly good album here, but with a slightly less-than-impressive track record with the band in the past, I was not anticipating listening to this like a regular fan of the band. However, while its clear that I may be coming to the Negura Bunget fanhood a little latter than I should have, 'Virstele Pamintului' has corrected me; maybe it is time to revisit 'Om' after all.