Friday 16 December 2022

Bucovina - Suntem Aici (2022)

Country: Romania
Style: Heavy Folk Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 12 Dec 2022
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Hey, my favourite Romanian folk metal band has a new album out, so my holidays are happy ones. I'm talking about Bucovina, whose debut album, Ceasul aducerii-aminte, is way up there on my list of underheard gems. Sure, it couldn't boast the production values that this fifth album has, but it had heart and I absolutely adored its incorporation of eastern European folk melodies into heavy music. I tend to see the band listed as both folk and black metal, though that's never sat well with me. For the most part, I see them as a heavy metal band whose music is so infused with local folk melody that it's just inherent. The vocals were harsher on their previous album, Septentrion, but I don't miss that.

I think I like this more than Septentrion but not so much as their debut, even with a bonus track to take me back to it. This time, it's Napraznica goana, which appropriately translates to Impetuous Chase, and it's a glorious romp. Is that an accordion back there behind the guitars this time? And some strings too? It's the same old classic but with good production and many added textures. It's telling that, while it's my favourite song here, possibly in part because of its familiarity, it isn't so far ahead of everything else as Vinterdøden was last time out.

Tăriile văzduhului thrives on the same sort of effortless heavy folk riffs, as does the title track and Stahl kennt keinen Rost. In fact, the longer the album runs on toward that bonus track, the more I hear the style gradually morphing back towards it. When Bucovina are at their best, it seems like they're not even playing instruments; they're simply serving as conduits to channel the landscape into musical form. Cu mândrie port al meu nume feels particularly effortless here but to glorious effect.

And, if this album contains much that doesn't surprise me, feeling as it does like a visit back home, there are surprises to be found. The first arrives with Rătăcitorul, which starts out acoustic and at a few points drops into more acoustic. It's a natural approach for a band who play so well with folk music but, while it isn't noteworthy kicking off the title track, it feels different on Rătăcitorul, like it's not an acoustic guitar but some ethnic instrument I can't name that has a harpsichord tone to it. It works but it's notable, just as the notably NWOBHM approach taken on Valea regelui works but has to be called out.

The most obvious surprises can be found in Folc Hevi Blec, though, which starts out as an overt pub singalong, complete with many clinking glasses, before launching into the song proper, initially in expected, if unusually fast and punky fashion. However, some of the lyrics are delivered in English, which is a new approach for Bucovina, and, of all things, there's a reggae section in the middle. It was quite the shock to hear thatand I have no idea why it's there. That it somehow works anyway is a reflection the quality of this band and the range that they bring to the table, even within a close framework of heavy folk music.

My favourite song here isn't strictly a song, because it's an instrumental and I feel as if, yet again, I should underline that I thoroughly enjoy the vocals of the two guitarists in Bucovina, Florin Ţibu and Bogdan Luparu, to the degree that I feel that they're the central sound around which all this music is built. However, I adore Bucovina when they're on an extended instrumental break and, on this album, that's Cu mândrie port al meu nume, which feels like a manifesto even before I popped its title into Google Translate and got I Proudly Bear My Name in return. Once more, I have no idea if this is built on particular Balkan folk tunes, but it seems like it could well be, before it reaches a section of spotlights late on for Jorge Augusto Coan's bass and Bogdan Mihu's drums.

Now, let me listen to this as many times as I've listened to Ceasul aducerii-aminte. I can't say that I didn't like Septentrion but it didn't play this well to me or come as close to that debut. I didn't feel the need to keep on playing it, however solid it was. I do feel that need here. So it's another listen for me before I force myself to check out the last album for the week.

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