It’s time for a new harvest of fantastic Romanian bands that you might not have heard of. Niche musical pioneers and experimenters keep releasing intriguing projects consistently in this twisted part of Eastern Europe, and if anything is worth praising about Romania, it’s this artistic tenacity that keeps breaking through. This is a gloomier list than the previous one, highlighting more progressive metal, psychedelic, sludge and dark ambient, so if you’re into jagged or jarring, keep your ears open! The list is alphabetical, I’m definitely not trying to make a top of any sort here.
AM FOST LA MUNTE ȘI MI-A PLĂCUT
This is probably the most well-known band on my list, judging by the Post-rock Listeners’ Choice: 50 Best Releases of 2017, where their sophomore album, titled S-a Rezolvat. Nu Se Poate ranked on the 18th spot. It’s no surprise – their style is refreshing, blending a bit of theatrics with a lot of bite, and a healthy iconoclastic attitude. Humor is often the beating heart of this music, even though it’s a covert, self-parodying sort of humor which is difficult to unveil to anyone who doesn’t speak Romanian, as most of the clues lie in the track names, and the band name itself. The band seems to have a real knack for making music with a familiar and lovable blend of angst and slacker calm. S-a Rezolvat. Nu Se Poate is truly their best work so far, and I really hope they keep finding entertainment in their tongue-in-cheek approach to post-rock, because the music that comes out makes their fun contagious.
A dark electronica one-man project from Timișoara, Armies has low output and high impact. The music is as minimal and as puzzling as a Moebius strip, changing subtly, layering in unpredictable gradients, weaving a sterile, seductive and unsettling atmosphere. There’s both urgency, and vast stretches of space in this artist’s EPs, a feeling of towering dynamic range, and an anachronistic vibe as well, a sort of echo of ‘80s sci-fi conceptual thinking. I’ll just say this – Infographics EP would have made a better soundtrack to some scenes in David Lynch’s “Dune” movie. Armies sounds much more like Arrakis than Toto ever managed to.
Asemic is an instrumental progressive metal band from Bucharest, and they’re relatively new on the scene. Their debut album was released in the fourth quarter of 2015, and it’s a remarkable first offering, with some of the most creative and elastic drumming I’ve heard in any Romanian band. Since Luminescently came out, the band have only released one other track, which is the enthralling “The 48th”, a lush composition blazing through multiple genres and moods, from jazzy breakdowns to ravenous math-rock riffs, and copious amounts of synth landscaping in between. Definitely a band to keep an eye on.
Truly this band ought to stand out more. It’s the only example of swashbuckling progressive metal I can think of anywhere, never mind Romania. From the operatic magnificence of Ayreon, to the mind-bending spice of The Mars Volta rhythmic complexity, these guys are doing synchronized swimming in turbulent waters. Looking for a trans-dimensional fantasy concept album that pulls no punches and is simply ecstatic with the joy of playing around with every trope? “of infamous credentials” is definitely worth exploring then. Too bad it’s the only one they’ve put out so far. It’s been over four years since its release, but with such intricate songwriting, a long development cycle is to be expected.
THE BIPOLAR DISORDER PROJECT
A unique one-man project from a unique individual, this is a sort of live distillation of one person tackling successive psychological and spiritual hurdles, and condensing the experiences into remarkable songs. The Bipolar Disorder Project has only released a split album with Romanian avant-garde band Hteththemeth (of GBOB fame, and of which he is also the main songwriter), and a series of sporadic singles on its official YouTube channel. However, each of these singles is like an act in a play – generous expanses of musical development, steeped in melody, variety and highly stylized complexity. One of the most conceptually clean and intriguing acts in Romania now. Steven Wilson would be proud.
Imagine amplifier tubes glowing menacingly from the eye sockets of a grinning wolf. Cardinal bring forth such imagery with effortless proficiency. These people sound like high ranking clerics in the church of the humbucker pickup, hallowed be its name. Not interested in chasing complex riffs, Cardinal do few things, but they do them very well. The garage rock vibe they exude is quite refreshing, and there’s enough meat on these tracks’ bones to pummel you into stoner bliss from the first track of the record, keeping the onslaught going relentlessly.
THE DIGNITY COMPLEX
By now you might be thinking to yourself “so Romania progs, and ambients, and stoners pretty well… but does it djent?”. Yes, dear reader, it very much does. The Dignity Complex is a shining example of forceful deathcore and djent, but more importantly, of the fact that increasing numbers of Romanian artists are putting a lot of thought into their music, letting it percolate and evolve at its own pace, and unleashing only the most polished work into the world. This is the general vibe I get from The Dignity Complex – a group of angry, talented individuals with an excellent flair for the dramatic, and most importantly, very self-critical. Accede is a very lean album, very aggressive, very hungry, but still expertly calculated and with masterful control over its energies. Delightful.
There are really very many one-man projects in Romania nowadays, and I can see why – so many of these artists are quite capable of delivering epic composition and layered recordings all on their own, that having a band really starts to feel redundant. Goddess falls squarely in this strange category of one guy managing to sound like a power trio. It’s angular psychedelic rock, grown around spires of groove, apt to make toes tap and heads bang almost involuntarily. It’s smooth, fast flowing, and heavy, both relaxing and exhilarating, in well-dosed segments of each. Some of the most enjoyable and carefree music on this list, and with five releases on Bandcamp, there’s plenty of it! Now you know!
Another project connected to Axial Lead and Am Fost La Munte Și Mi-a Plăcut, this versatile act will introduce you to some of the best-produced prog-metal in Eastern Europe. But it’s not just the quality of the recordings themselves, it’s the excellent compositional acrobatics that make Karmic Thread stand out. Breathtaking superimpositions of textures and style, spectacular twists and turns, all brought together in one coherent flow. This album truly is no small feat, although it’s quite concise. It’s also very tantalizing on a meta level, as it shows what Vlad Enescu does when he treats music as seriously as possible, with none of the theatrics or the irony of his other musical projects.
THE THIRTEENTH SUN
The Thirteenth Sun are perhaps more well-known internationally than most of the other acts mentioned in this list. Their debut album, titled Stardust, came out last year, and it strikes a unique balance between abrasive, progressive metal textures and melancholy, atmospheric space-rock. Blast beats play hide and seek with cosmic synths and vast guitar reverb, vocals glide from harmony to primal rage, quickly but not rushed. Nothing seems forced on Stardust, and that’s a very refreshing thing to say, as there are many pitfalls to this particular genre blend. The Thirteenth Sun moves with elegance, and carves its own path. Enjoy!