Negura Bunget - _Om_
by: James Montague (
Negurã Bunget's fourth full-length album is one I've awaited with a certain degree of apprehension. Having brought their unique brand of raw yet complex, melodic and spritual black metal to its zenith in the year 2000 with _Maiastru Sfetnic_, they then started to pull in several directions, integrating progressive and neo-folk touches with varying degrees of success. While 2003's _'n Crugu Bradului_ maintained the band's level of excellence, it did contain seemingly interminable ambient passages in its last movement. The _Inarborat Kosmos_ EP released last year went even further down that path, with some pretty awful vocal experimentation to boot.Although some evolution is necessary in all bands (except Darkthrone, where it is most unwelcome), I did find myself wishing the band would play to its strengths a little more. In Negurã Bunget's case I'm referring to the galloping blasts, the multilinear guitar fuzz and the howling vocals that mesh perfectly into grand crescendos other bands can only dream of. The Romanian trio always seemed to be channeling their music from a higher plane -- would their progressive tendencies bring them crashing down to earth? The press hype was of some concern: _Om_ is described on the Code666 website as "a concept-album dealing with Purification, part of a Ritual to transform the listener into an evolved individual". Hey, I'm a black metal fan -- I don't evolve! Thus with some trepidation, I gave _Om_ a listen.First impressions were not the greatest. One thing was immediately apparent: the obsession with intros, outros and ambient passages was still very much alive, as the album opened with your typical black metal intro (three minutes of doomy keyboard effects and screams). Then, after one song, another goddamn four minutes of doomy keyboards. The second real song involved plenty of neo-folk experimentation with traditional instruments, accompanied by some off-key and horribly offputting guitar work that definitely should have been left on the cutting room floor. From that point onwards the album seemed inoffensive enough, but my treasured Negurã Bunget climaxes were few and far between.Things certainly improved on subsequent listens. _Om_ still lags behind previous Negurã Bunget releases in my estimation, and the aforementioned criticisms were easily remembered for this review as I still maintain that three of the opening four tracks on the album contain vast passages of filler and ill-conceived experimentation. But they happen to orbit a magnificent song, the epic "Tesarul De Lumini". From a lengthy, noisy yet meditative passage of guitar noise rises a soothing melody, soaring carefree until the black metal demons tear through the scene, grabbing the listener with some extremely energetic blasting and inhuman vocals projected from all angles. This splendidly immersive song ebbs, flows and pulses along for thirteen minutes, making me forgive much of the surrounding mess.The latter half of the album is of a generally high standard, containing neither the highs nor lows of the preceding material. Some death metal influences are heard as Negurã Bunget mixes a surprising degree of grunt with their more harmonic signature style. Plenty of traditional instrumentation is employed -- flutes and wooden blocks lending an earthy touch while the keyboards seek out ethereal realms. As the music diversifies, so too do the vocals: the usual Burzum-like howling is interspersed with deep growls, whispers, spoken word and an unprecedented level of clean chanting.There's certainly a hell of a lot going on with _Om_, making it an exceedingly difficult album to judge and analyse for review. I've sat through it close to twenty times and still have trouble deciding whether it's a groundbreaking black metal achievement or merely an inconsistent mishmash of ideas that shows occasional flashes of brilliance. The album has been released in a massive digibook package with an accompanying DVD that contains three music videos plus a visual presentation and interview with the band that may shed some light on the musical ideas and spiritual concepts behind their work. However, this DVD wasn't available with the promotional package, so my feeble interpretation must suffice. At the very least, rest assured that Negurã Bunget are a unique entity in modern music and that _Om_ is an original and intriguing album.
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