NEGURA BUNGET "Voice of the Land"

By Dr. Abner Mality

Transylvania. The vast majority of us know it as the home of Count Dracula. And that's about it. But Transylvania is a real place. Part of the larger country of Romania, it is dark and mountainous, with deep forests, deeper lakes and high meadows. Transylvania is real...and it has a voice. That voice speaks through Negura Bunget.

Negura Bunget is the most well known musical force coming out of Romania. For many Western fans, it's the only band they know from this land. When Negura Bunget started in the 1990's, they were harsh and evil black metal. That sound remains within their core but they have become so much more. Embracing the folk heritage of Transylvania, the band has now become a kind of sonic representation of their homeland, creating soundscapes that evoke those dark forests and rugged mountains.

Negura Bunget has just embarked upon their most ambitious project yet, a "Transylvanian Trilogy" of albums linked with art and video that explores different facets of their homeland. The first part of that trilogy, "Tau", is now available and is a musical travelogue of some of Romania's most bewitching country. It was high time for me to make my way to the ancient province of Dacia (Roman name for Transylvania) to speak to Negru, grand shaman of Negura Bunget. Prepare to enter another land and time!


WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: “Tau” is the first album of your “Transylvanian Trilogy”. Would you say that the entire career of Negura Bunget has been preparation for this moment?

NEGRU: I think our whole past as the band brought us to this moment… but at the same time there’s a lot more to come after it. This musical and visual trilogy is a big step forward for us as a band and it is by far the most extensive project we have ever done. We felt it is our duty to present a personal vision upon these lands and their past, which inspired us and made us who we are.
WC: “Tau” deals with the nature of Romania? How did you select the locations that you wrote about for the album? Did you personally spend time in each location to soak up the “feelings” there?

N: We felt the concept of Transylvania is so vast that we split its meanings in a trilogy. The first part of the trilogy “Tau” is about the nature and landscapes of the land that melt into a personal vision. The second part will focus on the human element – on ancient traditions and customs that may still be “alive” in these lands and the last part of the trilogy will be about the spirituality that made these lands immortal. For “Tau” we selected a few places we feel strongly connected to personally. We visited over the years a lot of beautiful places from our country but we found more layers of interpretations as we went deeper into our research. I pretty much spend a lot of time in the Retazat Mountains, Fagaras, Apuseni, Cheile Nerei National Reservation, Bucegi, Bigar Waterfall, Lacul Dracului (Devil’s lake), Taul dintre brazi (the small lake between the fir trees), Detunatele rocks…  these are just a few places with a special vibration that transcend time and space. Working for this album allowed me to re-connect with some of this places I knew over years, discover some new connections and even some new places. Of course it would have been strange write about places we are not familiar with.

 WC: Is the Romanian countryside still intact or is it in great danger? I can’t imagine the years of Communism helped to preserve it?

N: Yes, we have some wild countryside left around here, but unfortunately the so called “civilization” resulted in a very hard deforestation of some areas. You’ll be amazed to realize that during communism, things in this direction were much better. Not because of a love for the natural element, but because things went much slower then, not like the rush for riches we have these days. What we love about our lands is the fact that there are some isolated places where you can see old ways still preserved in a natural manner in active communities.

 WC: Of all the places you write about on “Tau”, which one affected you the most? How would you describe how that place makes you feel?

N: It is difficult for me to choose one particular places… but if I have to choose, it would be a place called Fereastra Zmeilor (Window of the Dragons), in the Fagaras Mountains. Each time I visit that place , its energy veils you like a deep mystery that escapes your sane mind and yet your soul recognizes  these dwellings. It is like a window between two worlds. Almost all the time you observe this directly, like one side of the mountain can be warm and sunny, while the other covered is clouds and darkness. It just transcends you to another dimension being there.

WC: Are the other albums in the “Transylvanian Trilogy” pretty much thought out or have they yet to become “solid” in your minds?

N: We had the whole trilogy concept layered before we started working on the first part. But of course when you start working on the details new elements develop and we’ll continue a similar path for the following parts. The “problem” might be that we have by now too many ideas, and some require a lot of work to bring to reality.

WC: Very few bands are so strongly identified with their homeland as you are with Transylvania. Are you considered “spokesmen” for your homeland by other Transylvanians?

N: I think there quite a few people who see us as representing the Romanian metal scene, and the concept of Transilvania, partly because there are not that many bands performing outside Romania as much as we do. And we try to take that seriously.

WC: It’s been quite some time since the previous album “Virstele Pamintului”. Was all that time necessary to formulate “Tau” or did you use it to relax and “find” yourselves as a band?

N: I’d say it was a mixture of different elements that made us take a rather long time to come up with this album. On one hand we had some intense live activity. In the years after the release of “Virstele Pamintului” we played more gigs than in all our history before it. Developing the whole Transylvanian Trilogy was not an easy thing also. It has numerous layers that we had to pay attention to, we spent a lot of time in the studio also. But it was all worth in the end.

WC: Was there any major difference in the way “Tau” was recorded and produced from past Negura Bunget efforts?

N: I don’t know if  it's major, but it was quite different this time. We tried to follow a more natural approach, from performance, to recording, mixing and mastering. We didn’t use samples, experimented a lot with analogic effects, had an analogic mix-down in the end… We had our good friend Mihai Neagoe (MTZ) as producer, but he was more like he was another member of the band. He even recorded some vocals on the album. It was a great job to put all the pieces in order, then our friend Alin Luculescu did the mastering … it was all a team effort, a lot of work, but quite fun also.

WC: How did you get Rune Eriksen and Sakis Tolis to contribute to “Tau”? Will they return in the future?

N: We knew Rune for quite a while, we played before with Ava Inferi and did a whole tour with Twilight of the Gods. Pretty much the same with Sakis, we played with Rotting Christ for the first time in 1999 and we were again on tour with them last year. It was an honor for us to have them on the album, and I think a cool experience for them as well to be part of it, as they were very receptive to our invitation. I don’t know… the result of our endeavor sometimes surprises us too, we’ll see what the future brings, but rest assured that lots of surprises are yet to come on the trilogy.

WC: I know bands don’t like to be labelled, but it’s very hard to describe Negura Bunget as anything other than “Romanian music”. Of course, there’s folk and metal, but I also hear prog rock and even free jazz. Is there any one term you use to describe what you do?

N: Indeed,we don’t like to consider us in a certain category or style but if you like for “TAU” I think maybe soundscape would describe our intention.  

 WC: Man seems to be losing touch with nature and the past more all the time. Are you concerned that technology is destroying the things you love the most?

N: It seems that modern people have lost the connection with nature but lately you can notice an increased interest for preservation and tradition. I don’t think technology is the enemy here but the intention behind it that belongs to humans. Human minds may create beautiful things but also destroy. It is crucial to know what is important and meaningful for all of us, know ourselves, find our places and purpose in life, and then act in accordance with that.
WC: Are there any bands from Romania and Transylvania that you could recommend? Is there a thriving scene there?

N: There is a metal scene in Romania and a lot of new bands are reconnecting with traditions and folklore but there is still more to be done. I could recommend to you some bands like Thy Veils, The Egocentrics, Exit OZ, Sebastian Spanache Trio, Methandone Skies, Mere… These are all bands from Timisoara, our city.

WC: How difficult is it to duplicate the music of Negura Bunget live? On “Tau”, there’s a virtual army of all kinds of instruments being used. Do you cut a lot of that out live or do you bring additional musicians with you? Or do you use backing tracks for some of it?

N: The live performances will have a strong visual aspect also and we intend to bring a lot of the instruments we used on the album. Luckily for us we have Petre Ionutescu that can play live pretty much any kind of traditional and wind instrument. So the live experience should be as always pretty close to the album one. Of course, we sometimes have logistical difficulties bringing all the instruments with us on tour, especially when we have to fly, but we are also used to figuring out solutions for the problems in front of us.

WC: Any plans to visit the United States?

N: Yes, actually we have been working for quite a while on a US tour for autumn this year (September/October). We’ll circle again the whole country from East to South, West, middle and then North, including Canada. This time we also reserved almost a third of the tour time for some natural exploration, as there are many places we’d like to explore over there (Zion Canyon, Arches, Yosemite…). We’ll do the tour with Grimegod from Romania plus Dynfari from Iceland. Quite an eclectic combination again. We’ll should announce the whole tour in the upcoming days.

WC: There have been major changes in personnel of Negura Bunget over the years. Does the core philosophy of the band remain the same? Or is it really a different band now?

N: Negura Bunget was always a reflection of the strong conceptual identity behind it. All the individuals that were part of the band made their personal contribution to the music and enriched the conceptual side also, but ultimately that was always the strongest influence. If anything, that side developed and got stronger and stronger with the passage of time. We are always true to our feelings and we have a strong identity of who we are and I always know where we are heading to.

WC: What 3 people from history would you have dinner with, if you could?

N: I’m a rather shy individual, so having dinner with some big figure would be rather intimidating. I would have however liked to see a lecture by Carl Gustav Jung, hear Maria Tanase (a well-known Romanian folklore singer) perform or witness the livelihood around the ancient capital or Dacia – Sarmizegetusa Regia.

WC: What was the last CD or release you got just because you wanted to hear the band?

N: It was Tenhi, in a very special book edition done by our Prophecy Production.

WC: Have you ever had any “Spinal Tap” moment where things went wrong that you could share with us?

N: Sure. On the last European tour for example we had a track list for the concert, but I accidentally started playing another song on the backtrack & metronome. As I was the only one with in-ear monitoring I was also the only one who knew which song that was. And of course it was an old song we rarely played, so it took a while until the rest of the band caught up  with which song that was. But we played on, and somehow managed to get it right in the end.

WC: Last words for the fans?

N: Thanks a lot for the support! Open up to our vision, and make it “your” (TAU also means “your”).