Vengeur – Par Feu et Par Flammes Review

There’s electronic metal, and then there’s this Vengeur record. Superficially similar, Herman ‘Vengeur’ Pańkow’s solo project could hardly have less in common with that subgenre. ‘Witch house,’ ‘dissolved genres,’ and ‘avant-garde’ are just some of their Bandcamp tags. The fact that this is on I, Voidhanger should also give fair warning of its idiosyncrasy. Nothing, however, could prepare me for what would come after I pressed play on Par Feu et Par Flammes. This is a twisted, bizarre manifestation of electronica. And while on the surface, it’s far less ‘metal’ than electronic metal, in essence, it’s far more metal. The only musical elements are synths and piano, and there’s nary a (programmed) riff in earshot. But the fickle time signatures, densely clustered, syncopated musical elements, and lack of identifiable song structures strongly recall the most extreme of dissonant, avant-garde metal. It takes a bit to wrap your ears around, but it’s worth it because there is order in this chaos, and a beauty in the strangeness. In the end, it feels far more substantial, and more compelling, than if it were straightforwardly catchy, and accessible. Master Boot Record eat your heart out.

Listening to Par Feu…is a bit like listening to music composed by an alien. It sits in a kind of musical uncanny valley where things feel just a smidge away from cohesion. Initially at least. Melodies and time signatures change erratically, making many songs impossible to follow in their entirety. Tension is often not released, refrains simply melting away…before sliding back in again, or being lost in a brouhaha of beats and rambling notes. It’s very cool, if slightly confusing. Vengeur do somewhat ease the descent into madness with the carried-across eerie melody of intro “Exposition,” and “I as in III.” The latter is possibly the ‘most straightforward’ cut on the record—perhaps excepting advance track “Liquified Sexualities.” From there, things only get stranger as favor for fickle, confusing tempos and short-lived themes amps up. This is paradoxically made harder to grasp by spliced-in passages of genuine groove and more directed melodies. Just when you (literally) get into the rhythm of things, that rhythm, and that tune have mutated. And just as you give yourself over to the clashing chords and frenetic pulse, suddenly the knot untangles into a sultry, chilling tune.

Despite the esoteric approach, and a structure that mimics, as I’ve intimated, extreme metal, there are recurring motifs. These are more easily appreciable upon repeat listens, but notable from the first, as a discordant meandering of keys and scattered beats form a recognizable refrain. Retro synth cascades (“Liquified Sexualities”), slow-motion syrupy chords (“Covert Sensual (Agents of Eroticism)”), layered key duets (“Imitatory Tenets,” “Fallen Triumvirate,” “The Divine Structures”). Each at points recalls a central theme, and distorts it, or moves away entirely. The stacked tempos and syncopation do sometimes become incredibly intense—perhaps too convoluted for their own good (“Pythagorean Spires,” “Vexation in Vheissu”). Spend some time with Par Feu… however, and their patterns unfurl. Frequently a trap-style beat slides into off-beat crawl (“Fallen Triumvirate”); or frenzied, layered, inhuman confusion (“Vexation in Vheissu”). Slow grooves melt seamlessly into blastbeats (“I as in III,” “Imitatory Tenets,” “The Divine Structures”). Piano stabs jarringly to emphasize the more chaotic time signatures, or glides and flows through scales in strange dances. Often, within the same song. (“Fallen Triumvirate,” “The Divine Structures”). But it’s what happens in between, and around, that’s really fascinating. Because in spite of it all, nothing ever seems random. These motifs, and even the apparently erratic time signature and melodic changes, tie it into one, irresistible whole.

There’s also something incredibly…sexy about Par Feu… . Vengeur wear their heart on their sleeve (and in their cover art) about this, declaring the record “an exploration of religion, sex, love, and solitude.” But the music itself also has a magnetic allure. Pańkow can really play, and his dark, dramatic piano works beautifully in tandem with the synths, whether they’re dueling, dissonant combatants, or spookily harmonizing partners. The restless rhythms and tangled compositions are at times unsettling, or uncomfortable, and this seems exactly their intention. Their combination with the long-anticipated moments of musical release—however fleeting—make this thing hard to ignore.

Vengeur are definitely not for everyone, and you’ll soon know what camp you fall into. For those who can appreciate it, Par Feu…is genuinely intriguing, and stirring. Anyone with a curiosity for boldly experimental, electronic music will be sorry to miss this.

Rating: Very Good
DR: 2 | Format Reviewed: 265 kbps mp3
Label: I, Voidhanger Records
Releases Worldwide: November 25th, 2022

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