Personnel: Tibor Kati (vocals, guitar, keyboards, Theremin); Adrian Neagoe (vocals, guitar, keyboards); Petre Ionutescu (pipes, panpipes, horns); Gabriel Mafa (drums, percussion).
Audio Mixers: Negura Bunget; Mihai Neagoe.
Recording information: Negura Music Studio (01/2016-06/2016).
With ZI, Romania's Negura Bunget deliver the second part of the "Transylvanian Trilogy" begun on 2015's spotty Taü. For the uninitiated, this band originally started as the black metal trio Wiccan Rede in the late '90s. As Negura Bunget, they evolved to develop a highly individual style that employed elements of Carpathian folk music and instrumentation (appended by other musicians in concert) and ambient soundscapes. Their fourth album, 2006's OM, is their ultimate realization and is widely considered to be Negura Bunget's masterpiece. The original trio split in 2009, as primary songwriters Sol Faur and Hupogrammos went on to form the excellent Dordeduh, leaving drummer Negru the sole original member. He recruited new personnel and cut two subsequent albums, 2010's uneven Vîrstele Pamîntului and the first part of this trilogy five years later. Both received mixed reviews and fans wondered if NB were indeed over. Taü relied heavily on traditional folk instrumentation and tried (too) hard to paint a portrait of the Carpathian landscape and its people. It was a noble effort but fell short due to sloppy production and musical concepts that weren't fully formed.
ZI is a different animal. This version of the group has been seasoned on the road and in the studio. Opening track "Tul-ni-ca-rînd" functions much like a classic NB intro, with Petre Ionutescu's horns and pipes moaning and bleating amid wooden percussion and droning chants. It builds in tension and rhythmic force. When the guitars and bass do crash in, it's like hearing Killing Joke's "Requiem" for the first time as vocalist Tibor Kati offers his best Jaz Coleman. The shimmering fingerpicked electric guitars on "Gradina Stelelor" frame a gentle incantation in Romanian that translates as "The earth creates you, the earth raises you, the earth consumes you," before exploding into crushing, buzzing black metal with blastbeats and dirty vocals and changing again into a swaggering stoner metal boogie. "Brazda da Foc" returns to the dark mystic loneliness of nature with the thunder of blastbeats behind pan pipes, tremolo picking underscoring the screaming. "Baciu Mosneag" moves in the opposite direction. It contains a nearly majestic folk interlude where silence and ambient atmospherics are welcome breaks in the assault of riffs, sinister chants, hammering snares, cymbals, and tom-toms. The use of cimbalom (large hammered dulcimer) on the folk dance tempo of "Stanciu Gruiul" gets amplified by the rest of the instruments as the piece winds on. Its Eastern folk melody works surprisingly well amid the clamor and intensity. The 11-plus-minute "Marea Cea Mare" pairs Kati with the glorious female vocals of Manuela Marchis in a doomy, gothic folk-metal jam with shifting dynamics, lush textures, and dramatic sonic backdrops in a hell of a close. ZI is not OM, but it delivers the fantastic production, canny songcraft, expert musicianship, and daring imagination Negura Bunget are known for. It leaves the listener anticipating -- rather than fearing -- where this band will go next. What a welcome return. ~ Thom Jurek