Top 10 Romanian Rock

This top 10 of Romanian rock songs was created by taking into account all of the following: artistic merit, popularity, longevity, impact, international potential, personal preferences.

Rock music in Romania has a long but uneven history. Due to the cultural masterplan of the Communist regime prior to 1989 much of what can be described as rock has been heavily censored and tempered. This reluctance to accept the Western cultural wave redirected the creative power of some musicians towards a style that tried to plant its roots in the cultural heritage of Romania. When this was not the case, the regime viewed with distrust the "artistic merits" of the bands in question.

Access to Western music was restricted, in the sense that it was not encouraged and rarely allowed due to political reasons, which do not make the subject of this article. Many bands must have felt the need to mimic what they could barely listen to.

Anyway, time flowed and so did the blood of the country's first president executed on the first day of Christmas. This sacrifice was the gateway to democracy it seems. The years that followed began to turn darker and darker and few rock bands adapted their lyrics to contemporary issues. One of those bands was Holograf with their hit "Banii vorbesc" (Money can talk).

Some groups tried to carve their niche and hope for the best while most began to change, to adapt to a friendlier and softer sound. Liberty brought access to information and everyone could now compare Western bands with local ones, meaning stiff competition. Bands that were born in the last years of communism were particularly successful, for example Timpuri Noi (New Times) and Cargo.

The overall aesthetics of the music can either be Western based or traditionally inspired, this goes for lyrics also. Our top ten contains three songs linked in part to Romanian spirituality (might have overdone it), Spitalul de Urgenta with Dansul Ielelor (The Dance of the Iele, a type of Nymphs), Celelalte Cuvinte with Lupii (Wolves) and Cargo with Ziua Vrajitoarelor (Day of the Witches). I could have easily done a top ten with the subjects of either witches or mysterious female forest spirits, the other hugely popular subject is the "haiduci", outlaws, which nonetheless is not represented here.

Younger bands like Kumm, Firma and Luna Amara have their own specialties. Kumm originated as an art-rock project and even if they polished the sound till it went into fusion and alternative they still retained a type of art in their songs that ultimately makes for an extraordinary yet dizzy journey. Firma, one of my favorites, is music with an atmosphere a world inside a world shared with us through the headphones. Luna Amara is the band with "the message". After igniting a revolt in the hearts of their fans with the song "Folclor" they released a jewel of a debut album, not knowing the language might not give you the same impression even if their angst can easily be felt.

#10 - Iris - Trenul fara naș

Iris released their debut album in 1984 after being previously presented in a compilation. The "Train without its Master" dates from that period with the lyrics being writen by the well known Romanian poet, Andrei Păunescu.

Official website

#9 - Spitalul de Urgență - Dansul Ielelor

Spitalul de Urgenta is a band without barriers, this song is one of their few which can be described as serious, most are satirical descriptions of society.

Official site

#8 - Kumm - Bara bara gol gol

Kumm struggled greatly to overcome cultural barriers and gain international recognition. To this end they released songs and albums in English with various degrees of success, what is for certain is that their songs are indeed creative and original. The release in 2002 of their second album "Confuzz" ("confused") marks an important moment in Romanian music simply because of its high quality.

#7 - Luna Amara - Gri Dorian

In the year 2000 Luna Amară (Bitter Moon) was founded in Cluj. Their debut album "Asfalt" (Asphalt) was released in 2004 and quickly gave the band a boost of popularity while also releasing their creative energies in what is an exceptional grunge band. 

#6 - Vali Sterian - Iluzia unei insule

Valeriu Sterian is a well known Romanian folk/rock musician, his artistic activity spawned for almost three decades. He was an important member of "Cenaclul Flacăra", a cultural phenomenon initiated by poet Adrian Păunescu.

#5 - Holograf - Banii Vorbesc

In the moral void that soon developed in a country faced with the difficult transitory road from a communist "democracy" to capitalist freedom there was a band prepared to lend a helping hand. In this song from 1992, from their deep observations of the world it's made clear the fact that money is the new world's one and only pillar. I don't agree but nonetheless it made top 10.

#4 - Celelalte Cuvinte - Lupii (Wolves)

Celelalte Cuvinte are recognized for their excellent rock songs but don't have the same public presence as other similar acts as Iris or Cargo. Armageddon is their fourth album, a unique doom metal masterpiece (for the country).

#3 - Firma - La Orbire

A band very dear to me which I instantly recognized while accidentally seeing their first music video on TV. I remember how ecstatic I felt while listening to this very song and how sad I was when I had to face hours of mediocre songs in the hope they they will air it at least one more time. They achieved some international success however not very consistent I'd imagine.
PS. Firma was part of a "duo" on this site on 2012, click here.

#2 - Timpuri Noi - Adeline

Basca Abundenței (The Beret of Abundance), the band's fourth album, was released in 1998. An important player in Romania's rock scene, the band succeeded with this album in milking it [ :) ] not only for hits but for timeless humorous pieces also. "Adeline" has some oriental flavor to it that may be interesting to foreigners, I don't really know, but definitely proved a Turkish delight on the home front.

#1 - Cargo - Ziua Vrăjitoarelor

The winner of this top is Cargo with their "mystical" song "Ziua Vrăjitoarelor" (Day of the Witches), a recurring theme in Romanian music, at least to one point. Every village used to have a witch (so is said), usually a widow living at the outskirts, most of the times these women were trained in traditional medicine (plants, herbs, incantations) from generation to generation, from mother to daughter.

Special - Phoenix - Negru Voda

Romania has a national poet, a national composer, a national painter, it also has a national rock band. Phoenix started in the 60's as a beat band but soon reoriented itself to rock songs with folk elements which they have done at a degree that surpasses the "rock" label, it's art. The story of Phoenix is to be told another time, now we will talk about Negru Voda. The song is from the band's first LP, "Cei ce ne-au dat nume" (Those who gave us a name) and is inspired by the ("legendary" ?) founder and first voievod of Valahia. Lyrics in English and Romanian here.

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