So, as it turns out, all that worrying was largely for naught. After the bickering between the Negru and Sol Fraur / Hupogrammos camps, the former’s continuation of the Negura Bunget name (more a brand now) was ultimately a good decision. Vîrstele Pamîntului was a daring and worthwhile follow-up to the classic OM, an album that the former lineup could as easily have conceived and performed as the new one did. Even early hints of Sol Fraur and Hupogrammos’ Dordeduh provide hope that the split will now be giving us two great bands. Even if it still feels a bit funny continuing to call this band Negura Bunget, the music sure as shit sounds great, and stop-gap EP Poarta de Dincolo is no different.
In general the new material finds the band in much the same mode, continuing their legacy as if the rift and lineup shifts had never occurred. Remaining is the textured poly-instrumentation, the naturalistic production treatment, the harsh, desperation-drenched vocals, and the multitude of blackened and atmospheric riff stylings. In fact, Poarta de Dincolo seems even more a product of the older days than Vîrstele Pamîntului. Whereas the latest full-length incorporated a few new elements into the band’s historic-folk-prog-black metal, as well as a more free-form compositional approach, the first three tracks of Poarta de Dincolo could easily be outtakes from either n’Crugu Bradului or OM. “Hotar” provides the heavier side, focusing on a dynamic build that culminates in a few massive moments of tremolo riffs and blast beats. “La Marginea Lumii” follows in more subdued fashion, mixing in black metal with soft sections of flute, horn, the band’s signature staccato guitar taps and closing keys that sound almost like whale song. (Listen for it; I can’t get the analogy out of my head actually.) Even the third track, the tad-too-long ambient piece “Frig In Oase,” appears to be an extension of the interludes on OM. It is a testament to the b(r)and’s skills that these songs – especially the first two – succeed despite their overwhelming familiarity.
It isn’t until the closing title track – also the shortest of the bunch – that Poarta de Dincolo hints at a possible progression for the band. From the moment the intro riff sets an off-kilter mood everything about this song has a certain freshness to it, and at only 5-and-a-half minutes, it also (quite successfully) crams many of the Negura Bunget trademarks into a far more compact package than fans are used to. A compact, damn near accessible package. But just when the clean vocal chorus (which is far more understated in comparison to say, “Cunoasterea Tacuta” from OM) makes that accessible vibe a little too big, the track dives into aggressive mode and builds towards the blast-frenzied climax.
Overall, despite having some fresh elements in its title track, Poarta de Dincolo really doesn’t take Negura Bunget anywhere new. You know what this fan says about that? So fucking what. We’ve all become a bit spoiled by their continuing innovation and invention, so it’s just fine if we allow them a brief moment of respite in their journey to constantly expand the realms of black metal and enhance the serious respectability and class of “folk” metal. Longtime fans probably already have this pre-ordered, but potential new fans should see Poarta de Dincolo as a Negura Bunget appetizer: a tasty and easily-digestible way to see what all the hype is about.