Tuesday 29 January 2019

Bucovina - Septentrion (2018)

Country: Romania
Style: Heavy Folk Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 8 Dec 2018
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives

I've been a fan of Bucovina ever since I stumbled upon Ceasul aducerii-aminte, their 2006 debut album, a few years ago. I've lost track of how many times I've listened to that. I happily sing along to songs like Strașnic neamul meu, even though I don't know a single word of Romanian and have absolutely no idea what they're singing about. I often wake up with the intro instrumental that is Valea plângerii playing in my head. It's one of my go to albums from the last couple of decades.

Well, I'm notably out of date. While it did take them seven years to get around to recording a second album, they did get there and to a third and, last year, to this, their fourth full length effort. Clearly I have some catching up to do, but I can start in on that here.

I can't say I like this as much as their debut but then I don't like many albums as much as their debut. I do like it though and I'll be playing it a lot to see if it grows more on me. For right now, it may be telling that my favourite track is a rework of Vinterdøden, their interpretation of the Helheim song that originally showed up on that first album. Maybe I just know it so well by this point that it has an unfair head start because everything else is new.

The good news is that everything I adore about Bucovina is still here, on occasion in the sort of magic moments that I know and love from Ceasul aducerii-aminte. While the only new band member is Jorge Augusto Coan on bass, the balance clearly shifted at some point from clean vocals to harsh and, while they do fit well here, I'm not convinced that they constitute an improvement.

A good part of the joy is the Balkan melodies that are inherent to what they do. They don't simply overlay them with ethnic instruments the way that many folk metal bands do; they incorporate them instead into their riffs and their solos. That means that there's something Romanian under everything they do, whether they're playing fast or slow, loud or soft, death or folk. Does a track like Aşteaptă-mă dincolo (De moarte) kick off with a traditional folk melody? I have no idea, but I could believe it.

Another part of it is the way that I never know whether a song will have vocals until they show up because every single track they record is worthy of being an instrumental. It's just that some merely aren't. Shrug. They work with or without vocals. A third part is the layers; Noapţea nimanui ends with acoustic guitars over a sort of electric drone that's simply gorgeous. I find new joy with each listen because of layering.

The best part of it all, though, is the transitions, because this band is just so tight and effortless. There's a point late on in Din negru (In mai negru) where the escalation to the underlying riff we've become used to under the plodding death/doom turns into a transition and suddenly we're in a slow part with a solo that feels like we just burst out of a forest with some wild creature on our heels and found ourselves wading into a gorgeous hidden lake. This is the sort of thing that I get from Bucovina that I don't get from anybody else, wherever they happen to be from.

My biggest problem here may be that there don't seem to be quite as many of those transitions as there were on Ceasul aducerii-aminte and more of the Balkan melodies are flattened into the standard genre sound. However, there's still plenty here for me to enjoy, even as I ached for more clean vocals alongside the harsh like those on Aşteaptă-mă dincolo (De moarte) or Stele călăuză.

I dug the bombast at the beginning of Stele călăuză and the folk melodies later on. Whatever the song, the instrumental passages are memorable and they're already seeping into my brain, whether they're delicate acoustic pieces, melodic solos or crunchy bedrock. Even if it isn't going to reach the levels of Ceasul aducerii-aminte for me, it's certainly trying to do so and it's getting better with each listen. It's also a lot longer, with almost fifty minutes of music instead of just over half an hour.

For now, I'm blissfully happy that Bucovina are still around and still recording. Now I have two other albums to catch up on.

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