Domnitor are a three-piece black death outfit hailing from Cleveland, but fronted by a Romanian guitarist/vocalist using the nom de guerre Cneaz. Their demo Duhul Belicos is four tracks of honed yet unbridled onslaught. But what makes Domnitor’s brand of egregiously cruel war metal even more exceptional is the fact that the band draws inspiration for their songs from historical triumphs of Romanian resilience.
Cneaz tells the story of how Domnitor came together in the first place.
“I first met my bass player, Jupan, when I was on tour with my band at the time, Vulkodlak, back in 2012. He put us up for the night after our Cleveland show and we’ve been friends ever since,” Cneaz relates. “Jupan and Hatmanul [Domnitor’s drummer] are true veterans of the extreme metal scene—most notably for their time in Manticore. After I finished my MA, I desperately wanted to get involved with music again, so I contacted the guys and told them what I had in mind. They were obliged to take on the mission.”
As for their name Cneaz explains that “Domnitor” was “a princely title used unofficially by the rulers of Wallachia and Moldova (regions of modern-day Romania and the Republic of Moldova) since the Middle Ages. It became an official title when the two regions came under a common ruler – Alexandru Ion Cuza.”
For Cneaz, who earned his masters in Slavic and East European studies, the themes that Domnitor would be built around were obvious from the onset.
“The music fits the lyrical themes perfectly,” Cneaz says. “There are tons of Romanian-speaking bands that sing about similar subject matter but practically all of them play some variant of folk metal. I thought playing a style more aggressive and raw was both novel and fitting.”
“Honestly, I’m not sure how anyone couldn’t be inspired by the protagonists of Romanian history,” Cneaz continues. “During the time period in which our lyrics are set (13th-17th centuries), the rulers of Wallachia and Moldova managed to withstand absorption into the most powerful polities in existence at the time – Ottoman Empire, Kingdom of Hungary, and the Kingdom of Poland/Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Figures such as Vlad the Impaler, Stephen the Great, Mircea the Wise, and Michael the Brave were pivotal players in a tumultuous time and left a very powerful legacy. Not many people outside of Romania and Moldova know their deeds of heroism and strength – we’re inspired to tell those stories.”
According to Cneaz, Domnitor spent “about six months” working on Duhul Belicos before entering Sound Wizard Audio Studio. Cneaz says that recording there with Marcus Schulte “was the easiest and smoothest recording process of which [he’d] ever been a part.”
Among the three original tracks on Duhul Belicos is an obscure cover. This fourth and final track was originally written by the Romanian hard rock band Transsylvania Phoenix, a name I’m confident very few of our readers have heard of.
“Well, Phoenix is an amazing Romanian band with a fascinating story, which I highly recommend everyone reading to check out,” says Cneaz. “In particular, the choice of ‘Strunga’ has a strong resonance with my vision for Domnitor. Our lyrics aren’t just inspired by historical events themselves but, more precisely, how Romanian historians, writers and poets (particularly from the 19th century) have interpreted those events.”
He continues: “The lyrics for ‘Strunga’ actually come from a 19th century poem by Vasile Alecsandri. The namesake for the poem is a river (and accompanying forest) in Romania, renowned as a haven for the actions of haiduci – outlaws with a Robin Hood persona in Romanian history and lore. Similarly, the lyrics for ‘Stefan la Moarte’ [the third track from Duhul Belicos] come from a poem by Dimitrie Bolintineanu which envision the dying words of Stephen the Great to the Romanian nation.”
A week ago, Redefining Darkness released Duhul Belicos on cassette. Copies remain available, but I wouldn’t sleep on them
“My bandmates have known Thomas [from Redefining Darkness] for a long time. He heard a recording of one of the songs from the demo and really dug it, so we got it set up to do a run of 100 demos. It’s been a pleasure working with Redefining Darkness.”
Looking ahead Cneaz says Domnitor will continue their “assault on the world” with “more violent lessons in Mioritic supremacy!”
From Redefining Darkness HQ: This Friday, for any purchase you make on Bandcamp, Bandcamp will donate 100% of their share of the proceeds to the Voting Rights Project, a program to protect your right to vote and ensure that right is afforded equally to all.
We will be offering Domnitor’s Duhul Belicos at NAME YOUR OWN PRICE for digital download all weekend.