Negura Bunget. That name, while not referring to the exact same group of people that produced albums such as Om, still carries with it a great amount of weight. Regardless of the people in the band, there is a high standard attached to Negura Bunget, and on 2010’s Vîrstele pamîntului – Negru’s first album after the split with Hupogrammos and Sol Faur – that standard was maintained in glorious fashion, even if sometimes felt like a band covering themselves.
The five years since have seen the release of Hupogrammos and Sol Faur’s wondrous first Dordeduh album, a decent Negura Bunget EP, and a lot of talk about NB working on some great “Transylvanian Trilogy.” Ambitious to be sure, but risky for a band that many view as less than complete. The whole thing gave off a Nostradamus-ish stink of bloated egos; of Negru trying to better his former teammates’ victory. With Tau, the first installment has finally arrived, and brings with it a bundle of questions. Would new NB still give off the slight feeling of being their own cover band? Would Tau create great anticipation for its upcoming sequels? Is Negru’s bubble beginning to burst as he continues without his former partners?
Mostly, is it any goddamn good?
Well, the answers to those questions are sorta, not much, not quit yet, and sure. Despite all of the talk of a grandiose trilogy, Tau mostly just sounds like a new Negura Bunget album. The band’s “Transylvanian black metal” is fully present, and with it the typical heap of folk instrumentation (keyboards and flutes and percussion oh my). It reaches back a bit to the band’s early material with a really 90s use of some of the keys (parts of “Tarîm vîlhovnicesc” sound almost Enthroned Darkness Triumphant in this sense), but still filtered through the dense Om formula that made the band a legend. As with past NB works, no one could accuse Tau of being anything less than 100 percent professional; each performance is quite stellar, with the deeper death metal growls a particularly nice addition to the proceedings.
As an album, however, Tau often feels less than cohesive. Of the black metal tracks, about half are just pleasantly “there” (meandering opener “Nametenie” the best example of these), while the others are quite stunning. Chief among the latter is “Izbucul galbenei,” a riffy, hook-driven monster that really calls to mind early releases such as Sala Molksa. But in a truly questionable move, the album loses all momentum by following this song with not one, but two lighter tracks. The band later commits a second act of foot-shooting by following up the aforementioned (and quite nice) “Tarîm vîlhovnicesc” with “Împodobeala timpului,” one of the only tracks in the NB catalog that could actually be described as annoying. With its up-picking and oddball use of horns, it probably comes about as close to Transylvanian ska as you’ll ever see discussed on a metal blog (or anywhere, hopefully).
While this is the only true misstep on the album, it is representative of the bigger issue: that Tau is a largely directionless album. Sure, it’s also largely successful from a pure listenability stand point, but unlike the great works of Negura Bunget’s past, you’ll probably just want to pick out the best tracks and leave the rest behind. Does this failure to meet The Great Negura Bunget Standard mean that the bubble is bursting? Subsequent entries in the trilogy will likely answer that question, but this doesn’t exactly leave one wild with anticipation to find out. Mostly, it creates the prediction that there will be about one and a half truly spectacular albums hidden within three albums worth of material.
Negru might need to hire himself an editor.