Reviewed: [December 2021]
Released [2021 Lupus Lounge/Prophecy Productions]
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Four years after the death of drummer/band leader Gabriel “Negru” Mafa, the surviving members of shape-shifting Romanian black/prog/pagan metallers Negură Bunget have completed what is likely the band’s swansong as a tribute and properly epic sendoff to Negru.
Working with just his drum tracks – which, as fate would have it, Negru recorded before suffering a fatal heart attack in March 2017 at the age of 42 – the band’s final lineup were able to fill in the blanks and flesh out Zău by working from snippets, demos and rehearsal room recordings. They also had Negură Bunget’s previous albums Tău and Zi to serve as guide books, as they were the first and second parts of a “Transylvanian trilogy” that Zău completes – both of which vocalist Tibor Kati, guitarist/keyboardist Adrian “OQ” Neagoe and multi-instrumentalist Petrică Ionuţescu had all played on.
And while they had the imposing task of interpreting Negru’s uniquely grandiose vision, that familiarity has certainly helped them pull things off and craft a fitting final act. And there is a definite feeling of denouement here.
Zău opens with the ethereal sprawl of “Brad” and ever so slowly builds in intensity. The traditional woodwinds, synths and wispy vocals – male and female – that make up much of “Brad’s” 15:53 expanse yield to moments of doomy metallic thunder. But the mournful, almost new agey vibe soon returns and carries over into “Iarba Fiarelor,” with the barely audible percussion ironically mimicking a beating heart.
Eventually, though, the woodland ambience, complete with whistling birds, gives way to the album’s largely doom/death/black metal core. “Obrăzar,” the shortest song here at 7 minutes offers some of the heaviest moments, with its crunching, almost “For Whom The Bell Tolls”-like riffs and martial pace punching their way through the sumptuous keyboard accompaniment.
“Tinerețe Fără Bătrânețe” picks up the pace considerably and accounts for most of Zău’s black metal content, with its chaotic arrangement and offbeat vocal treatments recalling Mayhem at their weirdest. The percussion-driven intro – again with the heartbeat motif – and outro gives the otherwise bombastic closer “Toacă Din Cer” a note of eerie finality over its nearly 12-minute girth.
The long instrumental passages that open all of the songs, and the somewhat muted production when the heavy sections kick in, do take some of Zău’s edge off. And with the album’s five songs averaging 10 minutes each, that can occasionally test one’s patience. But if this is indeed the last and final for Negură Bunget, I guess the surviving members figured they might as well leave it all on the field. And can’t really fault them for that.