ROMANIAN SCENE REPORT
A dark letter from the land of Dracula
The subterranean metal scene here appeared as a trigger for freedom in the very early 90s, literally with hundreds of bands that wanted to express themselves and offer a fair amount of protest, it worked like an act of individual freedom to play in a brutal band, since the whole metal genre was forbidden by law and people playing or even listening to it being haunted by the authorities back in the days. Of course, there were Romanians listening to metal also in the 80s, there was even a bootleg black market for metal music, with the latest releases of bands like Metallica or Slayer being delivered to those interested through friends from abroad, plane pilots who travelled to Western world or even foreign tourists who “lost” their audio tapes while travelling to Romania for their holidays. But, generally, back in the early 90s, there was no scene with a real infrastructure here, everything was new, there were no clubs, no shops from where people could buy real instruments, no cash to finance big shows, no musical press; everything was compensated by a hell lot of enthusiasm and dedication for a new discovered extreme music genre that most of the people followed not because they really liked it, but because it was so fresh, new and a way to express individual freedom listening to metal, wearing bands’ T-shirts, being long-haired or having a mohawk haircut.
There were so many bands back then, most of them without a real identity, mere copycats of what they heard coming from the free world and generally trying to be as extreme and noisy as possible. Those were the times when I first got involved with the local metal scene here, following tons of bands, ordering rehearsal demo recordings and so on. My faves from those times were definitely Tectonic (almost a cult name in the local scene, playing underground shows in dungeons since the middle 80s, they ended up releasing their only LP “Anomalia“ in 1995), Pansament and especially Altar (with their kick-ass debut “The Last Warning“ in LP format from 1993), all more or less playing thrash metal. Also, after the first extreme metal bands from abroad, the British Anathema and Paradise Lost visited Romania in 1994, followed by Kreator and Iron Maiden in 1995, there was a certain trend to play doom death metal music here, with Gothic and Grimegod being the most valuable names in an ocean of thrash death metal bands, both bands are still active nowadays. Other great bands that I could mention from those times, some of them still active nowadays were Taine (technical thrash or prog death metal in the veins of Death and Atheist – I think I witnessed their stage debut at Metal Fan Festival 1993), Ultimatum (and their kick-ass debut album on tape “Among Potential States“ after one of the best Romanian death metal demo tapes “Cerebral Perversions“), Disinter (the first satanic death metal band here to have a good demo tape “Sunset Beyond the Nectar Sea’s Billows“ in 1995), but also Cronos (with two of my favorite demo tapes from 1994 “Apropierea sfârşitului“ and “Coşmar“, one of the few extreme bands here to sing in our mother tongue) or Mercy’s Dirge (including one of my fave death metal singers, the band managed to come back to life after 20 years and made the effort to re-record their classic demo songs from 1993 and 1995 to offer them to the people in 2018). The last one on this list is definitely a total killer, one of the most hard-working bands from the 90s, playing a twisted type of progressive death thrash metal and keeping the same line-up since the very beginning, I’m talking about Psycho Symphony and their debut album on tape “The Silent Fall“ from 1997. Of course, there were many other bands around those times, but sadly some of them were never able to make it for at least a decent demo record, while most of the others were pure shit or arrogant pricks, or both.
Things changed a bit starting from the second half of the 90s, when the first real underground label focused mainly on Romanian bands appeared in Timişoara. It was called Bestial Records and appeared at the initiative of Negru from Negură Bunget, who convinced the two brothers who had a rock shop in town to start a label, and to be signed with Bestial Records was the wet dream of any Romanian metal band for almost a decade. The most famous band from all the signed ones was of course Negură Bunget, the black metal collective that proved once and for all that, if you believe in your story and you put a lot of trust and effort into it, you can make it pretty big! So Negură beat it and beat it hard, with killer sales of their debut album from 1996 “Zîrnindu-să“ released on tape only and then being the first Romanian metal album to be re-released in CD format by the US label Breath of Night run by the leader of the controversial black metal band Judas Iscariot. A mini-album followed in 1998, this time on both CD and tape format called “Sala Molska“, together with the very first official band merchandise ever released by a band in Romania. Anecdotally, the promo material sent abroad was released as a bootleg tape by the German label Sombre Records and then later accepted as official by the band. “Măiastru sfetnic“ and “’n crugu’ bradului“ albums followed under the same label banner, before Negură Bunget moved for good to release their nowadays total cult album “Om“ under the banner of the Italian label Code666 and the rest is history.The unexpected death of the band’s leader Negru in March 2017 put a dark end to the band, which was then signed by the notorious Prophecy Productions from Germany. Hatred by some, worshipped by others, esspecially in the abroad, respected by most, Negură Bunget is still the only band from Romania that toured Europe in heavy rotation, also the only one to tour USA and Canada not once, but twice. The band also generated a real turmoil in the local scene, with excellent follow-ups, including ex-Negură members who formed bands and continued the journey, the most well-known one being the excellent progressive atmospheric black metal band Dordeduh, including two of the originators from Negură Bunget. Of course, Dordeduh is under the banner of the above-mentioned Prophecy Productions.
Back to Bestial Records, they also released album tapes with the already mentioned Grimegod (doom death – their debut ”Dreamside of Me” became a classic in between the local fans, but I always preferred their previous demo album ”Under the Sad and Silent Sky”), Gothic (doom death – unfortunately ”Touch of Eternity” was released when the band was already over for a while, so it didn’t benefit of any touring to promote it), Deimos (death metal – ”Insane” was good, but I always liked their three-song demo, the sound on that one was above everything that was recorded in Romania until the date), Korruption (death metal – the band was fucking killer live, still ”Slaves of Darkness” kind of sucks sound-wise), Serenity (gothic doom), Kratos (gothic doom) and several others, also Bestial Records started to release tape versions of licensed albums from abroad, bands like May Result from Serbia, Lux Occulta from Poland, Helheim from Norway or Agathodaimon from Germany being available for the Romanian audience. Back to the local bands released by Bestial Records, I kept my total favorites for the end of this passage; I’m talking about the debut album of Dies Irae from Bucharest and their excellent black death metal compendium ”Gargoyles” (1998) and about virtually the best death metal album ever released in Romania ”The Alchemist” (2000) by Avatar from Craiova, an impressive mix of brutality, technical virtuosity and atmosphere, a classic follow-up after their infamous demo tape also released under the Bestial banner ”Holy Infection” from 1997.
Of course, there were several other independent labels which released extreme metal albums, but none got the cult status that Bestial Records had in those times. Promusic Records released the debut album for above-mentioned Taine ”Cealaltă parte”, also albums by Funeral Ceremony (dark black metal), Indian Fall (excellent atmospheric black death metal debut, the band is more or less active nowadays) or Protest (death metal), all in tape format. Beauty of Pain released in CD format the excellent black death metal album of Vokodlok ”Mass Murder Genesis”,which got immediately licensed in tape format by Bestial Records, while my own Axa Valahă Productions released their previous demo tape as a split with the German black metal project Bloody Harvest, together with other demo materials of Romanian bands, like the meteoric black metal band Obscurum Noctis ”Liber Damnatus”, including members of Avatar, but also one of the sickest gore grind projects ever in Romania, Purulente Uretre ”Necrofil” (nine minutes of intollerant porn gore horror, limited to 100 copies and virtually sold-out in less than a month). For a while, in the second part of the last decade, my own Axa Valahă Productions has been the only active label with a real roster, including albums released in CD format for the obscure black metal project Satanochio, the death doom metal band Sincarnate, the Transylvanian brutal death grindcore sickos from Spiritual Ravishment, beside releases of foreign bands like KroW from Brazil, Casus from Germany, Nadimac from Serbia and I was also involved in the release of the only extreme metal material in vinyl format ever released by an independent Romanian label, a split LP including the Polish bands Parricide and Kill at Command.Nowadays the only label which continues the struggle and puts out records with local extreme metal bands in CD format is Loud Rage Music, a label located in Cluj-Napoca, Transylvania, run by one of the biggest supporters of the local scene, Adrian Dan, who’s also the editor of the only still-active printed fanzine here, Slowly We Rot. He released plenty of albums from bands like Akral Necrosis (old school black metal from Bucharest), False Reality (melodic black death metal from Brasov), Gothic (the melodic death metal veterans, a little bit rusty, but stronger than ever), the above-mentioned Indian Fall and their fellows Code Red (this band includes one of my fave musicians who used to be in Tenebre and then in Indian Fall back in the late 90s) or Spectral (technical death metal, definitely recommended for the Obscura and Necrophagist fans). My favorite albums released under the Loud Rage Music banner are definitely ”Sorcery of Darkness” (2015) by Ordinul Negru (a sinister black metal band, including one of the most famous Romanian black metal musicians, involved in tons of projects, and also one of the main composers of ”Vîrstele pămîntului” album by Negură Bunget) and ”Earth’s Necropolis” by The Wake (a Romanian-German black metal project, violent, virulent and catchy as fuck).
Of course, due to the technological progress and the increasing financial possibilities, a lot of bands decided to release their materials by themselves, in both digital or physical formats, but this meant a step-back when talking about the quality of the released stuff, with pure garbage being released sometimes in CD format. Also, the era of the demo materials was gone, every new band debuted with an EP or even with a full-album, with minor feedback from the scene, since they were not prepared and sometimes they didn’t even understand what was all about when releasing an official album. On the other hand, some Romanian bands finally got signed abroad and did it well on the international level, like the already mentioned Dordeduh or the new sensation of the Romanian scene, the dark and gloomy prog black metal trio Bloodway. Some others, like Sincarnate, self-produced their releases, but also got to tour with big names like Nile or Immolation. Generally, there is harder and harder to get to know good local bands into the dirty swamp of mediocrity that the Romanian scene is nowadays, and connected with the low attention span of the public and their high expectations generated by the total access at the music on a global level, things can only move for worst. Of course, there will always be exceptions, but with the lack of a real scene infrastructure, the lack of camaraderie and the never-ending amount of people who would rather talk the talk than walk the walk, the local scene here is generally doomed and the future is dark!
The report you have just read here is based on my subjective opinion about the local extreme metal scene in my own country, please notice that I have avoided mentioning all the pagan metal wave of bands, a genre which I never followed, neither here or abroad. Also, I’m sure I missed some bands, but my mind can be quite foggy after 25 years of metal as a rabid fan, fanzine editor, label owner, metal promoter, booking agent and doing various other related-jobs while touring the world. Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg, a sketch rather than a picture, I hope you enjoyed reading it, thanks for your time!
Mihai ”Coro” Caraveţeanu – Axa Valahă Productions
3rd of July, 2018