In 2006, Romania’s Negură Bunget released one of the all time great albums of black metal with Om. The much harsher, but equally impressive Măiestrit (a re-recording of an earlier album) followed in 2010. But, soon after, a major split within the band occurred with Hupogrammos and Sol Faur parting ways with drummer Negru to form Dordeduh.
Negru decided to carry on the name with new members. A rotating cadre of session musicians followed, and a stable lineup eluded the revamped Negură Bunget. A nadir was probably reached with 2015’s Tău, an album that was characterized by a lack of identity.
That now brings us to Zi, the third original full-length album released by Negură Bunget since the split. Simply put, Zi is easily the strongest release of original material by Negură Bunget since Om.
Zi is a quiet album. Blastbeats and harsh vocals, genre tropes of Negură Bunget’s black metal roots, only make cursory appearances as the album focuses on melody, traditional Romanian folk instruments and atmosphere. Negură Bunget have a long history of incorporating quiet, native Romanian folk elements into their music, elements that, for example, elevated Om to greatness.
With Zi, these elements become the main focus as harsher moments take a back seat. The results are refreshing and cohesive with excellent songwriting and atmosphere that dispels any sense of disjointedness, a major issue with the subpar Tău.
As mentioned, Zi is a quiet album with introspective moments of acoustic guitar, keyboard effects, a few spoken word interludes in Romanian and traditional instruments. Female vocals wonderfully appear in the album closer, the epic “Marea Cea Mare,” an album standout and a masterpiece of melodic, ambient pagan metal. Ovidiu Corodan’s bass is strong throughout the album, but takes on a prominent role on the closing track.
What makes Zi really shine is the album’s cohesiveness. Melodies, folk instruments, and atmosphere weave together to produce a very memorable listening experience, elevating it to lofty heights, indeed. Time will tell whether it joins Om as among the best albums from Negură Bunget, but, for now, Zi is epic pagan metal at its finest.
(released September 30, 2016 on Lupus Lounge)