NEGURĂ BUNGET are now unveiling the video ‘Brad’ (“fir tree”) as the first single taken from the Romanian black metal pioneers’ final album and conclusion of their “Transylvanian trilogy”, which is entitled “Zău” (“Old God”). “Zău” has been slated for release on November 26.
“Zău” is the legacy of drummer and mastermind Gabriel “Negru” Mafa, who tragically passed far too early at the age of 42 years on March 21, 2017. This album has been completed and respectfully created upon Negru’s original drum-track recordings by the last line-up of NEGURĂ BUNGET.
NEGURĂ BUNGET comments: “After the tragic passing of Gabriel ‘Negru’ Mafa we all felt compelled to fulfill his legacy according to his ideas and wishes, which meant that we had to complete the Transylvanian trilogy”, writes the band collectively.
“Working on this album, we all felt Gabriel’s guiding presence among us. We all knew the details directly from him because as the very organized person that Gabriel was, he had written everything down. The drums that you hear on ‘Zău’ are played by Gabriel as he had already recorded the pilot for the album before his passing. The rest of us just contributed with our parts as usual, although it was a difficult time and process for all of us. We missed the musical and philosophical debates with Gabriel. In the end, we succeeded to complete his work. The title of the third part of the Transylvanian Trilogy ‘Zău’ means ‘Old God’ in Romanian but it also designates a wonder. This album focuses on Transylvanian landscapes, mythology, and spirituality. ‘Brad’, which translates as ‘fir tree’ represents the most cinematic track of this album. The symbolism of the fir tree in Romanian traditional culture is vast and complex. For example, it can represent immortality and the circle of life as it accompanies all the important stages: birth, marriage, and death. Our friend, the artist Daniel Dorobantu created the stunning video for this song.”
Martin Koller adds: “In many ways, ‘Zău’ is unlike most other albums”, writes the label’s founder.
“We felt it important that this record would be released in the 25th anniversary year of Prophecy Productions as it somehow felt that this would add to the special tribute we intended it to be to the late Gabriel ‘Negru’ Mafa. He spoke so many times about the Transylvanian trilogy and how much it meant to him that we knew, we had to get it right. It was so very important to Gabriel, it had become very important to us, his label family. We want to honor all those years of friendship and fruitful collaboration with this posthumous release. We are therefore beyond grateful from the bottom of our hearts for the band to be able to finish what they had started with Gabriel: A stunning testimony of the innovative power and musical creativity of Negură Bunget. We also want to express our deep gratitude towards everybody else, not at least Gabriel’s wife Alina, who helped in the making of this amazing record and its artwork. We are glad that we will make it happen before this year is over and we sincerely hope, you will come to love ‘Zău’ as much as we do.”
NEGURĂ BUNGET presents their breath-taking swansong “Zău” to the world. This captivating, deep, and multi-layered final part of the Romanian’s “Transylvanian trilogy” was hanging by a thread.
When the creative mastermind and driving force behind NEGURĂ BUNGET, drummer Gabriel “Negru” Mafa suffered a terminal heart attack on March 21, 2017, his tragic passing seemed to dictate that his grand vision of a metal-anchored musical interpretation of Romania’s beautiful landscapes, traditions, and myths, as well as his homeland’s spiritually, was doomed to remain as unfinished as Beethoven’s 10th symphony.
Yet the veteran musicians that had been with Negru in the final incarnation of NEGURĂ BUNGET‘s ever-changing line-up were not prepared to give up let his vision slip into unheard obscurity. By sheer luck, Negru’s drum tracks for “Zău” had already been laid down and recorded before the band’s final tour. All the sketches, demos, and rehearsal room recordings that they had been working on were painstakingly gathered, and each band member respectfully filled in the gaps in the same way as they would have done with the remaining co-founder of NEGURĂ BUNGET still alive; in utter dedication to the original idea.
The result of this labor of love is “Zău”, the stunning culmination and climax of NEGURĂ BUNGET‘s musical evolution and the “Transylvanian trilogy”. On this album, the traditions of black and dark pagan metal have been completely fused with elements from Romania’s rich musical heritage. Rich textures and epic cinematic passages make way for fragile and tranquil moments to be superseded by furious outbreaks. Just like the ever-changing nature of Romania’s Banat and Transylvania, “Zău” captures the colors and moods of the turn of the seasons in these lands and brings ancient legends to life.
Formed in the city of Timișoara in the Banat region of Western Romania in 1995 by Negru and guitarist, vocalist, and keyboard player Edmond‘ Hupagrammos’ Karban, NEGURĂ BUNGET‘s more traditional black metal roots already showed some hints of the rich, sensory experience that would follow. Initially released on cassette, the 1996 debut, “Zîrnindu-să” was a whorl of Negru’s tumbling, cymbal-crash percussion, Hupagrammos’ part feral, part awe-stricken vocals, and his scrabbling, tremolo-picked riffs.
2000’s sophomore album “Măiastru sfetnic” was indicating a constant element in NEGURĂ BUNGET‘s nature, the dual and intertwined strands of keeping aspects from each previous album but at the same time undergoing a restless will to evolve and to broaden the musical horizon. Here they slowed the pace, burying Hupagrammos’ vocals deeper into the mix as they became more atmospherically unmoored, while the swells of keyboards were now riper with foreboding and tension.
NEGURĂ BUNGET‘s band name is derived from ancient Romanian meaning a “dark, misty forest”, and it proved to be the defining legacy for 2002’s “‘n crugu bradului” – an album that became the bridge between the band’s orthodoxy – shedding past and unchartered territory into which they would head next. The extended lengths of the tracks offered up tantalising new vistas to explore. The oscillating drones, faint tinkling of bells, and metronomic peals of tremolo guitar suggested transformation was afoot.
The following album “OM” (2006) brought NEGURĂ BUNGET into the international spotlight and put Romania onto the global map of metal. “OM” amalgamated NEGURĂ BUNGET‘s brand of black metal and their Transylvanian roots into a state of symbiosis like never before. Essentially a single, flowing piece demarcated into 11 tracks, it was where native folklore became a prism through which something diffuse yet transcendent emerged. Hupogrammos had already introduced the tulnic, a long straight alphorn, on “‘n crugu bradului”, but “OM” added a new set of traditional instrumentation: the nai pan flute, and the toacă – a hammered wooden board hung from a frame that was traditionally used as a call to prayer – and now one of the most emblematic symbols in the Romanians’ repertoire. Accessing the universal by digging deep into the local, “OM” set the band on a course that finds its culmination in “Zău”. After the recording of “Maestrit” – a re-imagining of “Măiastru sfetnic” that was finished in 2009, an irrevocable, acrimonious split ended the collaboration of Negru and Hupogrammos, who went on to form DORDEDUH with Sol Faur and then bassist Arioch.
Negru continued with a much-changed line-up when NEGURĂ BUNGET re-emerged in 2010 with the full-length, “Vîrstele Pămîntului”. Again, there was a striking level of continuity despite the many changes. Accentuating the more cinematic aspects of its predecessor, traditional instrumentation, luminous, quivering guitar lines, ferocious charges, and keyboards welling up like an ancient mist all played off each other with a devout delicacy. Although NEGURĂ BUNGET released a follow-up EP, “Poartă de dincolo” in 2011, it would be a further four years before the band re-invented itself for the final time – still with Negru at the helm but again with a completely new line-up.
Having explored the lacunae of his native Transylvanian landscape and lore for two decades, NEGURĂ BUNGET drummer, remaining co-founder, and creative force, Gabriel “Negru” Mafa embarked on a trilogy of albums, starting with the following February’s “Tău” (2015), that would form, as he put it at the time: “… a personal vision of what Transylvania means.” Focusing respectively on the region’s natural elements, local traditions, and spiritual nature, the project would extend beyond the albums into DVDs and annotated art books, set to become the band’s definitive statement, about both themselves and their lore-rich homeland.
While the eight tracks of “Tău” were each aligned to a specific landscape, the second part of the trilogy beckoned with lush, expansive dynamics. “Zi” (2016) ranged from lucid tranquil moments to harsh and gnarled parts. On this penultimate album, NEGURĂ BUNGET drew strongly from local musical traditions based on the theme of the spirituality of places.
With the final chapter of the “Transylvanian trilogy”, NEGURĂ BUNGET take several steps back into blacker and harsher dimensions. Yet “Zău” is not losing sight of what became to define the band over the course of their development. As the whirling hammered introduction of the final track ‘Toacă Din Cer’ calling to prayer makes abundantly clear, “Zău” is in fact gathering all the elements that have ever served to define this band. With all the strands finally coming together, the resulting music is so much more than just a summary of its parts. “Zău” is NEGURĂ BUNGET‘s lasting testament and legacy and a fitting tribute to Gabriel “Negru” Mafa, R.I.P., who will live on forever in this music.[The text above contains edited excerpts from an in-depth essay written by eminent UK journalist Jonathan Selzer that is fully printed in the artbook edition of “Zău”.]
2. Iarba Fiarelor
4. Tinerețe Fără Bătrânețe
5. Toacă Din Cer
Gabriel “Negru” Mafa – drums, percussion
Tibor Kati – vocals
Adrian “OQ” Neagoe – guitars, keyboards
Petrică Ionuţescu – kaval (flute), nai (pan flute), tulnic (alphorn), duduk
Manuela Marchiș– vocals on ‘Brad’
Release date: November 26, 2021. Pre-order, HERE.
Video & photo credit: Daniel Dorobanţu
Mixing and mastering by Attila Lukinich