Originally written by Erik Thomas.
My first exposure to Romania’s Negura Bunget was 2006’s OM. From then I was hooked, waiting four years for a new effort. However, as with many bands, personal issues and creative differences caused a rift between founding members Negru, Sol Faur, and Hupogrammos, leading to a split which left Negru as the sole original member. For many bands, that would be the death knell. Instead, Negru forged on, gathered a collective of musicians that shared his ambitions and could implement his vision of folk-driven, epic, atmospheric black metal. And that’s exactly what he delivered with the band’s most recent effort, Vîrstele Pamîntului (loosely translated to Land of Ages or Ages of the Land). Released earlier this year to critical acclaim, the ambitious effort (some versions even shipped with actual dirt from Romania) showed that Negru was not only able to continue Negura Bunget’s legacy, but also expand on it, telling sweeping tales of shrouded Carpathian mountaintops and stirring natural beauty. Not content with a just a new album, Negru also delivered a reworked version of the band’s 2000 sophomore album Maiastru Sfetnic, making 2010 a busy year for the drummer. However, he was willing to take a few moments to answer a few questions about yhis turbulent but productive era….
MR: Rather then ask the whole history of the band and stuff to start the interview, lets get to the real meat of the interview up front. What happened between you, Sol Faur, and Hupogrammos that caused a seemingly acrimonious split after 15 years and 9 releases of working together?
Negru: Well, as you say, we had an entire history behind us… and in the end we reach a point in which working together was no longer possible. It was entirely their decision to leave the band.
MR: Was the reworked version of Maiestrit the last time you guys worked together on material? or is there any material on the new album that is left over from you guys working together?
Negru: No, Maiestrit was the last material we worked on together. The new album was composed entirely in the new line-up.
MR: What was the process in deciding to redo Maiastru Sfetnic? Before your split with Hupogrammos and co., were there any discussions to redo other albums like the debut Zîrnindu-sa or ‘n Crugu Bradului?
Negru: We pretty much wanted to do this album right since the original release came out and we felt completely unsatisfied with the outcome. We had no talks about re-doing any other album.
MR: Were there any legal issues as far as naming rights and such for Negura Bunget? It does not seem to have risen to Gorgoroth levels, but close possibly?
Negru: No, there were no legal issues involved in this. It was quite a simple situation… they decided to leave, I continued the band, and they didn’t like that. But we had no prior talks on this, so as much as it was their right to leave is was mine to continue. The only real problem I had was to really take things one step further after that, which I think we did now.
MR: How did you assemble the new members of the band? What are there backgrounds?
Negru: I knew everybody for quite a while already. We had some collaboration with most of them even with Negura Bunget before, so I thought they were right for this. I’m glad to see time proved me right with this as well. And things are only beginning now, there are a lot of plans to be unveiled soon.
MR: How hard was it to find new musicians that share your vision after working with the same people for so long?
Negru: It is always hard to find people with a similar vision. We had this problem with Negura Bunget in the past as well. So I’d say I was quite fortunate to find them so close and also to able to become 100% involved in the band.
MR: What was the writing and recording process like working with all new members yet trying to retain a sound that is still Negura Bunget?
Negru: Negura Bunget was always something above the individual members that composed the band. There’s a rich conceptual background–and even a small tradition now–so the new members connected each naturally with different parts of that. The result is the new album, Vîrstele Pamîntului, which I see both as a new beginning and an evolution from the previous albums. Working on this album was a different experience, so in order to really focus on it, we did something we thought of doing for years, but never had the chance to make it happen: we went in the wilderness for several weeks and focused solely on composing the new album. It was one of the most intense experiences, and I eagerly wait to do it again.
MR: Let’s talk a little about your past albums, in particular OM – which seemed to be an international coming out party for Negura Bunget. What about that album made it such a breakout, revered album, in spite of three quality albums that came before it?
Negru: I think it was a mixture of different elements… the album itself is of course the most important one, and I just think more people could connect with the music and the concept. There was then the good promotion, both by the label, and by us playing a lot of gigs and festivals, which again got more and more people in direct contact with the music. It was also a bit of luck for sure, ’cause you never know how such things happen.
MR: How would you compare Vîrstele Pamîntului to past albums, notably Om?
Negru: I think is both a turning point and a continuation compared with our previous albums. Somehow is maybe close connected with ‘N crugu bradului rather than OM, but at the same time it opens some new perspectives that we’ll explore further in the future.
MR: How hard is it balancing the ethnic and folk element of your homeland into black metal? At what point do you decide the ethnic elements are being forced into the music?
Negru: This was one of the key balances we always had to keep in our music. Over the years it became easier to feel what is good and what does not belong there. But there’s no receipt, everything has to belong in its right place.
MR: You guys started out in 1995- what were your influences back then when you started? As far as influences I hear, would Moonspell and In the Woods be bands you guys were influenced by as far as mixing folk and black metal?
Negru: We were listening a wide spectrum of music since the beginning, but we always focused into shaping our own path, rather than follow what others did.
MR: So- I imagine there are tour plans for the new album? Any chance of coming to the US?
Negru: We just finished a long European Tour, the longest one so far for us. We are also planning an US tour for the future, but it’s not easy to make it happen…