Here's a submission from Bucharest, Romania that surprised me, as submissions so often do. It's a folk rock/metal album at heart, though that description may mislead a little because this isn't yet another collection of drinking songs and the band don't play unusual instruments beyond violins, though there are two of those. I would add "progressive" to the genre, especially once we get past the title track, which is atypical in its simplicity. It feels like a French chanson sung in Romanian by a Tom Waits fan until chunking up with some heavy guitar. It's unusual, sure, but it's also straightforward. It does one thing.
Fata din gradina de aur is where this album really grabbed me because that certainly doesn't just do one thing. It's an eight minute epic that does very little by the book and it's a gem. The vocalist is the same and the crunch not too far different but everything else changes. If it initially feels like it might have also started out as a vocal folk song and it moves into a dance a couple of minutes in, it evolves beyond both soon afterwards, with original riffs driving a section, before a neat drop to a midsection that starts Genesis but adds in Hawkwind and a hummed melody builds into a choral vocal swell. If it starts out as a folk song, it ends up as a football chant, and folk/prog is the glue.
If the goal was to gradually add complexity and depth as the album went, that goes by the wayside after Greuceanu, which is more epic than its predecessor, which translates to the poetic The Girl in the Golden Garden, and more progressive too. Greuceanu is a name, presumably referencing the folk hero who takes on a quest to recover the sun and the moon after they were stolen by an ogre. The twin violins of Alexa Nicolae and Mihai Balabaș take a broader role here, as lead instruments, and they help make for an emotional journey. Every time I listen to this one, I get caught up in it, a ten minute song feeling at once like merely three but also a lifetime. It's glorious stuff.
And there was no way to keep going along this path without following up with a side-long suite in a collection of parts, so Bucium wisely step back and deliver a set of shorter songs instead. The Song of the Sun, Cantecul Soarelui, introduces a guest, Ligia Hojda, who provides a delightful melodious vocal to duet with Andi Dumitrescu, Bucium's regular vocalist and guitarist. This feels less rooted in folk music and more in pop music, though it wraps up very much in both at once. More obviously a folk piece, Harap Alb, or White Moor, brings in Bogdan Luparu instead, Dumitrescu's equivalent in Bucovina, who has a very different voice to Hojda's but one that works well on such a lively song that's driven by violins as much as guitar again.
Vanator is even more lively, with Dumitrescu back at the mike, but again it's the violins that steal the day. Bucium have an unusual line-up in having a pair of violins alongside a traditional rock trio of guitar, bass and drums, but nothing else: no accordion and no hurdy gurdy, just the guest string quartet on the bookends. They have to give prominence to those violins for this to remotely work and they do so, never more effectively than in the midsection to Vanator, which is a frantic hunt by the title character.
The guitars seem to gain prominence in the final two tracks, Road of Serfdom and Nirwana, almost bringing Bucovina vibes to the fore. Bucium never attempt black metal, but there's a strong sense of urgency in both these songs that I'd enjoyed in Bucovina's excellent Ceasul aducerii-aminte album and the tones in play aren't too far away either. It's an interesting approach for an album to really pump our blood as it's ramping down and I'm not entirely convinced that it's a wise one, even with a drop to narration and slow keyboard fade, but it does seem to serve the purpose of having us roll from the last track right back to the first one for a repeat listen.
Thanks to Andi for sending me a copy of this one. I now have another favourite Romanian band and they have two prior albums to discover, Voievozii way back in 2008 and Miorița more recently, only five years ago.