Gabriel “Negru” Mafa (1975-2017)

How do we consider a creative life cut short? It’s tragic mainly for the deceased’s family and friends. But it’s also tragic in the sense of work left unfinished, and ambition interrupted. And this is certainly the case with Gabriel “Negru” Mafa, the drummer and visionary from Romania’s Negura Bunget, who passed away earlier this week. Details around the cause of death are yet to be made public. He was 42.

Along with fellow original member Hupogrammos, Negru formed Negura Bunget back in 1994 originally as Wiccan Rede before renaming the band the following year. And as the band progressed, they become one of the most innovative artistic forces in black metal, pushing the boundaries in a way similar to bands like Fleurety and Solefald. But they also developed a reputation for integrating Romanian folk influences as well, just as bands like Ulver were making these sounds more prominent in black metal.

In describing the band, Negru once said in an interview:

“Negurã Bunget is a black fog coming from a deep dark dense forest. The name tries to picture somehow the kind of atmosphere, both musical and spiritual we’d want to create through our music. It has also a symbolical nature, standing for the inexpressible parts of our ideology. The two words are also from the Tracic substrate of the Romanian language (the oldest one, containing about 90 words) as the interest for our local history and spirituality is something of crucial importance and meanings for us as a band.

Zirnindu-sa is from Ancient Romanian meaning something like turning to black, dying… Sala molksa is even older than the Romanian language. Both words came from Indo-European language, the mother of all modern languages. Its semantic content is in close connection with our Dacic ancestors supreme spiritual value: the immortality.

Maiastru sfetnic is probably the hardest one to put in English. Although is in a more up to date Romanian language the two words are really close to a Romanian point of view. Would be something like a spiritual advisor, magic protector or majestuous counselor in English, though it’s completely different in Romanian.”

Negura Bunget is perhaps best known for the 2006’s Om, but has released other great records like Măiastru Sfetnic and Măiestrit. As you can tell from Negru’s own words, much of his work with the band aimed to bring the listener into a different time and place. Indeed, the use of a seemingly endless array of instruments brings many different colors into the standard black metal pallete. And with a wealth of music left behind, fans have much to explore.

The current incarnation of the band was busy at work with its “Transylvanian Trilogy,” the second installment being last year’s ZI. Hopefully there was some demo work put together so we can get an idea of where the band was headed. For those who knew him or enjoyed what he helped create, he’ll be sorely missed.