It is our mission here at Arctic Drones to shed light on bands that get less recognition than they deserve, even amongst fans of their respective genres. Every week we discover new musicians with fantastic skills and displays of vision, and this overwhelming creative generosity keeps us going and growing. This is why I’ve compiled a list of ten Romanian bands putting their own distinctive mark on the genres we tend to cover here; I feel there’s a genuine movement growing over there when it comes to instrumental music, and that the “post-“ prefix is allowing for fascinating variations I’ve never heard anywhere else. So, in the interest of sharing great music, in no particular order, I give you:
SUNSET IN THE 12TH HOUSE
A particularly interesting offshoot from the well-known Romanian atmospheric black-metal band Negură Bunget, Sunset In The 12th House offers a luscious variety of post-rock, marked by rich textures, dynamic narrative and a gleam of magical thinking. “Mozaic”, their debut album was released on the 5th of June by German label Prophecy records and is available for purchase here, on CD Digipack and 2LP vinyl. It is without a doubt one of the most solid post-rock releases on the Romanian scene, made with a special sense of alchemy and cyclicity. There’s a feeling of stability and structure being conveyed by the music, a geometric elegance which is very satisfying to trace in the mind’s eye. There are moments when the metal roots of the band are very apparent, especially the final track, titled “Rejuvenation”, which sounds more like a Gojira song than the rest of the album, but overall the tension between atmosphere and brutality is expertly handled. “Mozaic” is also available for streaming on Bandcamp. Enjoy!
FINE IT’S PINK
This four-piece band from Iași, in the east of Romania, has been around for about two years, but they’ve been taking it step by step, slowly developing their sound and their skills, and as such, their debut EP just launched a few days ago, on the 1st of June. Titled “Young Burns”, the record is a prime example of the way a little bit of jazz seems to seep into the sound of most of the bands on this list, constituting a major inspiration to a considerable number of young musicians on the Romanian scene. Fine It’s Pink’s special variety of dream-pop adds trip-hop accents, shoegazing moments and emerges as truly confident, powerful and bold. The band is very young and very brave, and I get the feeling they still have a lot of experimenting to do and a whole lot of sources to blend into their ethereal crucible. Oh, and as a bonus, they’re amazing live!
The city of Timișoara remarkable hub of truly contemporary-sounding music being produced in Romania, most of it being centered around cult label Ursa Mică. Paperjam is the first entry on this list out of the small label’s roster – a four-piece outfit with only one EP release, titled “Papercuts”, dating from early 2013. In the meanwhile, the members of this inspired and inspiring ad-hoc collective have been organizing parties in Timișoara, but based on the quality of the material on their EP, I sincerely hope they’re planning on a new release soon, because, the way I see it, their music can stand alongside the titans of the post-rock canon anytime. Although completely attuned to all the key influences of the genre, Paperjam have a certain vintage vibe, synth sounds reminiscent of the ‘60s and ‘80s, a delicately lo-fi approach, which makes their music equally ethereal and organic. I find this to be quite enthralling, and it’s very easy to get lost in their soundscapes, even though the entire record is only about 20 minutes long. It’s not often one finds a post-rock band more inspired by the likes of early Vangelis or Tangerine Dream, than Mono or Mogwai. Well worth a listen!
Probably the darkest entry on my list, TAUUSK is basically the solo project of Răzvan Lazea-Postelnicu, with help from Darius Lăzurean during live performances. If you’re a fan of deep, dark, lumbering drones peppered with scintillating textures, then you will thoroughly enjoy TAUUSK’s brand of extremely viscous sludge/drone metal. Doom, gloom and an oppressive, tense atmosphere are the building blocks of “Hermit”, the second album to be produced by this project, released in December 2014 on audio cassette and CD by Feathered Coyote Records and Cimmerian Shade Recordings respectively. TAUUSK exerts tremendous gravity; their music is like a black hole you can’t turn away from just as it fills you with awe and horror. Cold, evanescent, nebulous, relentless, “Hermit” is very likely to catch listeners in its terrible gaze and to never let go. Behold at your own peril.
Another fantastic hub for post-rock and experimental music in Romania was the Bucharest-based Next Dog Studio, where another couple of acts on this list came to be. Next Dog has since morphed into Studio 148, but the mastermind is still Marius Costache, and his influence is clearly audible as one of the main engines of instrumental and experimental music in Romania. Valerinne is but one of the bands born under his stoic care.
Having released their second full-length album in December 2013, Valerinne is one of the oldest and best-known post-rock/shoegaze bands in Romania. Their releases are all recorded live and exhibit great dynamics and a true knack for creating the perfect balance between pounding rhythms and psychedelic soundscapes. The instruments communicate with each-other in wonderful swaths of articulate, heartfelt dialogue, with successive emphasis on each one, leading to cathartic build-ups and staggering explosions of color and texture. “Arborescent” is one of the best post-rock records ever produced in Romania; I invite you to dive into its lambent waters.
Treading the line between post-rock and Joy Division-esque angst, Nava Mamă hails from Cluj-Napoca, in the center of Transylvania. An unusual spike in the local musical landscape, Nava Mamă (name translates to The Mother Ship) offer unapologetically melodramatic tracks, delivered with great confidence and aplomb. It’s a rare thing indeed for a band to have such a sense of irony and enthusiasm all at the same time, and I feel their self-titled, self-released debut album is one of the strongest releases to come out in recent years on the local scene. Vocals are usually very subdued in post-rock, either heavily processed (see God Is an Astronaut), or reduced to spoken word samples. Nava Mamă, on the other hand, chose to highlight the added texture that the voice can bring and manage an excellent blend of patient, slowly building instrumental work and quite impressive singing. The four-piece outfit has just put their album on Bandcamp, after its physical release on the 15th of May.
The second band on this list to be released by the Ursa Mică label is Timișoara-based Exit Oz, one of the only bands I know that straddle the boundary between dark-jazz and post-rock. Indeed, the company of The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble is not easily earned, and yet Exit Oz produce music of such emotional intensity and such vast scope that their debut album, titled “Împământenit” feels like evening rolling it, like the cool darkness of dusk has mass and perfume and is being channeled right through your speakers and into your soul. Tracks like “Marele Magician” are the stuff of dreams, and the record is generous with such bounties of amazement. The sharp, physical impact of the saxophone being employed is superimposed to great effect over lush guitars, bold synthesizers and fantastic drum-machine programming. Had I not read it, I would never have believed that the drums on this album are programmed. The production is absolutely top-notch, but it’s the atmosphere that gives”Împământenit” its mesmerizing dark shines. The record was released in May 2014, and I’m already aching for a follow-up. Enjoy!
Environments is the brain-child of Bucharest-based Ștefan Panea, with help from Alex “Para” Ghiță and the afore-mentioned Marius Costache, of Studio 148. A more ethereal, luminous and experimental concept than TAUUSK, Environments is nonetheless very drone-driven, albeit with a far more subdued aesthetic. Kind, enveloping and patient structures rise from the music like water vapor, filling the space with a cool radiance. Their latest release, titled “Fraktal”, came out in March 2013, and is their third album, taking a tentative step away from the earlier records, which were even more abstract and distant. “Fraktal” sounds almost like a lapsus memoriae feels – that tension in your jaws, on your tongue, behind the eyes, as the thing you’re trying to say barely escapes your memory. You feel it’s just in reach – If you could just quiet your thoughts down, filter through the noise, you could just about grab it – but the more you think about it, the farther away it goes. It may not sound like a lot of fun experiencing that feeling through music, but believe me, Environments make it worthwhile. The icy feeling of cleanliness washing over the listener at the end of “Fraktal” is a wondrous thing, and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone seeking to get into a meditative mood.
Another band rising from the ashes of a previous incarnation of Negură Bunget, Dara have spent two years crafting their debut album, titled “Dreptarul Viselor”, releasing it on the 6th of June 2015 via Tomcat Music and Sound. If Sunset In the 12th House steered towards post-rock, Dara have a more aggressive vein and are producing a remarkable blend of folk-rock and post-metal. Staying true to their roots, this powerful four-piece band offers dark and furious music, singing in archaic Romanian and infusing their songs with traces of a sorrow and longing specific to Romanian traditional folk music. Elements of black metal remain evident in the intricate workings of their songs, particularly when the melodramatic keyboards are concerned, but they are hardly anything more than decorative vestiges, adding to the great dynamic range that the band employs. Driven by the plaintive, between-the-notes vocals,Dara’s songs are unique explorations of a deeply Romanian cultural background, which truly makes the band stand out. “Dreptarul Viselor” (title approximately translates to Dream Dictionary) is not yet available for purchase as I am writing, but the band has issued an official teaser-track on their YouTube channel.
Surely by now you must be thinking that Negură Bunget must have been some sort of breeding ground for bands that have very little to do with black metal. Yes, Kultika is another project comprised of some former members of the afore-mentioned influential outfit. In fact, the same two musicians that form the core of Dara – Fulmineos and Inia Dinia – are also part of Kultika. This time, however, there is no folk element, as the focus lies solely on some of the most badass post-metal I’ve ever heard ever since ISIS broke up.
Kultika are unapologetic about their influences, they hide nothing and they fear nothing. There’s a fantastic level of confidence and compositional proficiency in their music, so much so that it’s almost incredible that the only record I can talk about it their debut release. Gloriously titled “The Strange Innerdweller”, this album came out in December 2013 and easily became a cult favorite, supported by its relentless dynamic attack and ferocity. It is a maelstrom of a record, turmoil incarnate, fractured and menacing, clearly sharing the same bloodline as ISIS’ “Celestial” or Cult of Luna’s “Eternal Kingdom”. However, there’s more to Kultika than the sum of their influences – the occasional black-metal vocals and blast-beats have a great deal to add to the mix, and the song structures are some of the most dynamic I’ve ever heard in the genre. Moving from positively crushing sludge to infernal speed in an instant, and then engaging in drone “amplifier worship” is not something most bands can accomplish with such elegance. There’s even a substantial oriental rhythmic element hiding on the record, which is truly unexpected and thoroughly refreshing. By all means, lend your ears!
I hope this mastodon of a list hasn’t scared you off. There’s a lot of fervor on the Romanian musical scene, and I hope I’ve managed to make that evident, not only via the bands themselves, but also through the sheer number of them, their substantial variety and the fact that they’ve all gained momentum during the past three years or so. And if I haven’t included your favorite hidden gem, do chastise me in the comments!