After the death of Negură Bunget’s mastermind Gabriel Mafa in 2017, the remaining musicians have decided to honor his legacy, releasing the last record of the band Zău. Released by Prophecy Production’s Lupus Lounge (focused more on avant-garde black metal), this swansong of Romanian icons Negură Bunget put an end to their 20+ long history. How sad and unfortunate, and how special this record is, a real masterpiece and transcendental journey to an atmospheric musical world.
No one can fight death, so no one can return Negru back to life, awakening the spirit of Negură Bunget from an eternal slumber. So, the lasting band members have decided to finish this project, because it was brainchild of Negru; it was a tough decision, and it took them a very long time to create this record without their leader (and they formed their own band Sur Austru). After some misunderstandings in 2009, Sol Faur and Hupogrammos left the band and created their own black/folk formation Dordeduh, while Negru continued Negură Bunget. After a couple of years, in 2013 he once again reshuffled the line-up in order to focus on more authentic ethnic side, using traditional instruments. And these were the last changes, and four years were enough for the remaining members to understand fully Negru’s inner visions on music and art, and thanks to that, after four years we’ve finally got this hard-won album Zău, the last from “Transylvanian Trilogy”.
Negură Bunget began playing black metal in the 1990s, but then their interests shifted to a more sophisticated domain of progressive and atmospheric music, and of course to the folk side. Their path wasn’t simple or straightforward, and their ability to stay safely in black metal area was also their insurance to preserve this heaviness even after discovering the refined and complicated side of occult ethnicity. There was always a good balance between these two parts – raw and depressively emotional black metal side vs. ethereal and ritualistic folk side. And there’s not even a hint of something optimistic or positively easy, this music is woven from dark experience and cathartic connection to wilderness without prejudice and without condemnation, just a pure fusion of art and nature. The music of Negură Bunget and especially this last record Zău is emotionally exhausting, but at the same time it is blithely clean, like old weary shaman after the successful ritual.
Long ambient intros with the folk background are a perfect way to put the listener into a detached and spiritual state of mind, throwing away all the earthly concerns and mundane feelings. So, it seems like you are not listening to mesmerizing chanting or ambient passages, but the forest itself is trying to make contact with you through these hypnotic intros. Everything is soaked in this magical natural energy of Central Europe, mystical Transylvanian aura. This aura is nurtured by traditional native instruments like nai, bucium or duduk. The black/folk metal parts are really heavy and dark, full of inner struggles, washed away by shamanistic parts, returning back the harmony. The melodies sometimes are primitively catchy, but sometimes through the multi-arrangements these are so deeply entwined, that you are overwhelmed by a tremendous emotional impact. But in this oppressing darkness you are not alone, all the spirits of the forest are here with you, and nothing can go wrong in the company of the wise trees or under the protection of all-knowing mountains.
And though Zău is mood music with occult echoes, it is also very professionally performed – every instrument is elaborately recorded down to the smallest detail. And of course, these Romanian nature elitists don’t follow classical rules in everything, and their own rules intuitively lead them into a realm of progressive glory. Under complicated structures and multi-layered arrangements everything is polished and precise, but it’s not so easy to avoid the messiness and disharmonic impediments (like on “Tinerețe Fără Bătrânețe”). The softest song is the last one “Toacă Din Cer”, even without extreme voice, but with shamanistic rhythm and some noise vibes. The longest track “Brad” is enfolded in ethereal/dream pop atmosphere, thanks to guest singer Manuela Marchis with her angelic voice. So, the album flows on – ambient intros/outros create the occult mood, and metal foundation pierces you with the darkest and lonesome feelings, and in this emotional journey everything insignificant dies away, presenting you your own freedom.
Nothing stays the same forever, the ultimate chapter of Negură Bunget’s history is a flawless way to say goodbye. In a way this music is very complicated and emotionally challenging (as well as musically with all this atypical progression), but apart from all the frightening and suffocating grievances, there is also a relaxing and purified side in it. Zău isn’t just an occult musical album; it is a ritual and spiritual healing itself. It’s not possible to listen to this album as a humming background; you need a concentrating interaction in order to become a part of this cleansing ritual. And after that the magic begins.
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