For at least one member of Team cackblabbath.online, one name above all the others made the 2013 installment of the Damnation Festival at Leeds University union unmissable. It was in this very venue in 2010 at the short-lived DeathFest that I had my first experience of them live, and it was that start of a love for the band and their music that has led to more than one flight across Europe to see them in the flesh.
Last time was on a beach in Romania at 3am, but that’s another story…
The one immediately noticeable difference this time around, well two differences actually, were the number of band t-shirts on display (there were none at DeathFest), and the number of people who were packed into the Terrorizer stage ahead of the band’s stage time. You always know you’re at a Negura Bunget gig from the array of instruments that start to appear, no one else at Damnation had a 12ft long hunting horn, for example, or a set of pan pipes, or that percussion instrument that consists of a plank of wood hanging from a frame.
Negura Bunget are the project of drummer Negru. There appears to be a constant stream of musicians joining the band, sticking around for a while, then leaving so every time you see them live it’s pretty much a different lineup. The 2013 version are all new to the band (except Negru, obviously) but are all accomplished musicians who share Negru’s deep understanding of the musical and cultural traditions of their homeland.
The set opens, as usual, with the haunting Paminit from Vîrstele Pămîntului. As a black metal band at an extreme metal festival you have to be really sure of yourself to open with a track that consists of woodwind instruments (including the pan pipes) and the hanging plank-ey thing. Other bands can capture a spirit and create an atmosphere through their music, but for me no one can so completely transport an audience to another time and place as Negura Bunget. As the opening track reaches its full blown Black Metal crescendo the atmosphere in the hall is like nothing else.
It’s… It’s… Sublime.
One of the things that separate Negura Bunget from the rest of the bands labelled with the “folk black metal” tag is just how integral the deep rooted traditional elements are to their sound, and how authentic it all feels. I’m pretty sure they could achieve the same sounds with keyboards or samples, but there’s nothing quite like seeing someone actually playing the massive hunting horn…
I bet that’s fun to check in at airports.
Since the departure of long term (by Negura Bunget standards) vocalist / musician Ageru Pământului the traditional instruments are handled by Petrică Ionuţescu, but there’s more to Negura Bunget than the odd, erm, odd instrument. When the tempo is wound up and the guitars really let rip they’re up there with anyone for sheer bang-your-head majesty.
The band are presently hard at work on their epic Transylvanian Trilogy audio/visual project, and the inclusion of new single Curgerea Muntelui gave us a taste of what we can expect from that. Looking around the audience at this point it was interesting to see just how many people had crammed into the hall since the set started, with more and more being drawn in all the time.
Alas it had to end, but as a track to sign off, Dacia Hiperboreana ensured that we went out on a high. Many of the fans in attendance would have gained their first exposure to the band through the Vîrstele Pămîntului album, and it was great to see the set book-ended with two of the highlights from that.
I must admit I went into Damnation 2013 expecting Negura Bunget to be one of the highlights, and that’s exactly how things turned out. They may be evolving beyond the confines of their Black Metal tag but with that evolution comes an almost constant improvement.
The Black Metal purists may not be stroking their beards with anticipation for what is to come, but for the rest of us the expectations for the upcoming Transylvanian Trilogy just ratcheted up a notch.
You can check out a few more photos from the gig here