Par le Sang Versé is one of the most thoroughly entrancing and gloriously vibrant metal albums I’ve heard in years, regardless of sub-genre. It seizes ancient folk traditions and hurls them forward into the modern age, but without letting go of the intense devotion to the centuries-old well-springs of inspiration that gave birth to this record. I do think it’s impossible not to be moved in some significant degree by this fervent music, and likely that most listeners will simply be swept aloft and carried away, as I’ve been.
I wrote the preceding paragraph as part of an introduction to our premiere two weeks ago of a single song from this new album by the French medieval black metal band Véhémence. Since then, my conviction has only grown stronger that this record is a rare and marvelously multi-faceted achievement. At the time of that previous premiere, three other tracks were also available for listening, but today it’s our great pleasure to present a stream of all the music in advance of its February 18th release by the French label Antiq Records.
Antiq portrays the album is “an immersive and blazing experience”, with lyrical themes inspired by sagas of chivalry, providing an hour-long journey through a “medieval-fantastic universe” — and all of that is true. Abundantly layered with a broad array of instrumentation, both modern and ancient, and featuring a similar contrasting hybrid of vocal expressions, the music weaves with rich colors a great tapestry of human endeavor, both exalted and humble, mythic yet also grounded in ancient soil, nourished with spilled blood and watered with tears. The sounds are joyful, capturing the buoyancy of whirling peasant dances, and they also channel visions of dramatic panoramic grandeur and epic tragedy. The album is a beautifully conceived and meticulously executed work, thrilling in the moment and lasting in the memory.
While the main strands of the music — its millennia-crossing instrumental ingredients, its varying emotional themes, and its melodic contrasts — recur across the album, the sequencing of the songs helps to create an album-length experience in which interest never flags. “Épopée – Par Le Sang Versé” makes for an incredibly stirring opener. It feels like we’re on the back of a runaway stallion flying over sunlit hills and racing through valleys shadowed by oaks. Clear guitar tones, which then buzz, blaze, and gleam unfold over an extravagant drum and cymbal pattern, clattering and booming. The song is vibrant, bright, and heart-swelling, though lined with melancholy — and it burns with vehemence through the added texture of harsh, incendiary vocals. There is a clean singing voice in the mix as well, carrying the chorus melody in a way that’s moving and memorable.
In addition to being a thrilling introduction to the album as a whole, “Épopée …” reveals Véhémence’s skill in crafting variations on an initial melody through the skirling sound of the guitar, creating in this track something like a cross between an anthem and a rousing folk song. The drumming remains extravagant, even as it bolts through changing patterns, adding to the music’s explosive passion. Through the whole album, the drumming continues to be jaw-dropping in its impact.
“La Sorcière du Bois Lunerive” explodes from the beginning in another surging race, propelled by blasting drums and torrential riffing — creating a mood that’s more frenzied and pained than the opener, but still blazing in its emotional intensity. And then the music suddenly shifts into a bright medieval acoustic guitar harmony, and when joined by the metal instruments, the song begins to dance in a whirl and spiral upward like a gyre of flame, the riff sounding like a bagpipe, accented by an ecstatically flickering solo. A bridge leads to an inspiring clean vocal harmony, followed by the frightening gasps and snarls of the harsh vocals and a darting acoustic guitar melody backed by a head-moving drum rhythm and the shimmer of alluring ambient sound. At last, the music soars again, as both the guitar and the drums power through electrifying variations of sound.
Through these two tracks, Véhémence introduce us to most of the main ingredients that make the album so distinctive — but not all. “L’Étrange Clairière: Partie I” creates a dramatic change in feeling and volume, presenting a moody but sorcerous instrumental of acoustic guitar, fiddle, a deep thumping drum, and perhaps a tambourine — and the long second Part of the song, while again involving metal instruments, seems to channel a mood of anguish interwoven with the usual strands of flame. As the galloping pace of the song relents, the melody drags, moans, and weeps, augmented by tortured howls. It’s a new kind of resonance in the music compared to what has preceded it, but there’s still more to come — spoken words over strummed acoustic guitar and vibrant percussion, a sparkling melody layered with flute, whistle, and voice, and a final torrent of racing sound, with strident, even maniacal, voices and a glorious yet agonized guitar lead providing a crescendo of remarkable, heart-bursting power.
Your head might be spinning by the end of that track, but “La Dernière Chevauchée” (The Last Ride) will send it off in yet another direction, creating a mythic and epic musical pageant. Rapid, somersaulting drums and a gleaming, gliding, and whirling melody, together with intense cries, create a sense of angst and tension, a feeling of impending downfall despite its fieriness. As savage vocals return, roaring and shrieking and crying, the music transforms into a transcendent warlike charge of wild and dramatic intensity. As that rush subsides, a grand panoramic melody unfolds, which sounds wounded yet full of pride, a feeling of honor upheld at terrible cost. You can actually hear galloping hooves and the clash of steel near the end, just before a final eruption of thundering drums and rampant melody that waves like a banner in the wind.
In the sequencing of songs we’re given a moment to breathe again after such a breathtaking epic narrative, as “Le Sous Bois, à trois Lieues du Château” presents a relatively brief interlude of birdsong and acoustic picking, of whistle or flute, a contemplative, introspective piece which seems wistful yet hopeful.
And with that meditative interlude, we’re off to the races again, albeit in earthier environs than the fantastical place where “La Dernière Chevauchée” took place. “Passage dans les Douves” is a glorious, fiery, heart-pumping dance whose bright, rippling riffs whirl us up in the air. And again, we’re treated to the dulcet tones of a darting, sun-dappled acoustic guitar melody and the sublime pulse of a lilting flute harmony, before we’re caught up in the dance again, the electrifying guitar melody resembling a devilish reel, like bagpipes and fiddle at an old-country peasant celebration — high up in the clouds.
In many ways, “La Fronde des Anges” draws together all the strands of the music in a fantastic finish to the record, while also introducing a few new experiences. The dulcet tones of an angelic choir greet our ears at first, and then the drums drive, and the guitar skirls and whirls in another glorious dance while those angelic voices continue high above. There are also harsh vocals and blasting drums, joined by a sweeping, melancholy melody that takes us again into epic territory, as well as an interlude of bright chiming tones (I have no idea what the instrument is, but the sound is very cool) over heavy ominous chords. And what’s this?!? A Maiden-esque riff and a head-moving back-beat! That chiming melody persists, but through that accompaniment becomes elevated to something glorious.
“La Fronde des Anges” gives us one final, fiery, whirling, folk-like dance — though it’s those ethereal voices that actually close the album in its last seconds, as if to remind us that everything we’ve experienced has occurred in a place that lives in memory, or imagination, rather than anything of the world we see around us.
I fear the preceding, track-by-track, descriptions have become tedious. I couldn’t resist doing it, which I suppose is a measure of my own enthusiasm for the album, and it certainly wasn’t necessary, since you need no guide in order to find the player below and experience this for yourself. Further, and probably more interesting, insights might have been provided if I had an understanding of the lyrics, but I don’t. All I have is an abundance of strong emotions flourishing in the presence of these songs, and I hope you’ll feel just as fervently carried away.
P.S. Up to now I haven’t compared this music to that of other bands, which I generally don’t like to do. Of course, other bands have also combined medieval musical traditions and instruments with those of heavy metal, and in my own listening experience, comparisons with the great Minnesota band Obsequiae are most obvious. But I’ll further mention that this album also made me think of Panopticon. Obviously, there’s nothing medieval about Panopticon’s music, but Panopticon has also excelled in finding a meeting place between black metal and old folk music — Americana, rather than medieval — and I also find a parallel between Austin Lunn‘s extraordinary capabilities as a drummer and the drumming of Tulzcha on this album (he is also credited with composition, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, and synth, while Hyvermor is responsible for lyrics and vocals).
UPDATE: I have received a full list of performance credits for the album, which I am adding here:
Composition, guitars, acoustic guitar, bass, synths, flute : Tulzcha (Winternehst)
Vocals, flutes, psalterion : Hyvermor (Grylle, Hanternoz, Régiment)
Session members :
Drums : Thomas Leitner (Irdorath, Wallachia, ex-Harakiri for the Sky)
Guest members :
Female guest : Griesche (Grylle)
Nyckelharpa : Erik Val de Rance (undisclosed)
Trumpets, saxhorn and bugle Horn : Lazareth (Ordo Blasphemus, Peste Noire)
Below you’ll find links for pre-ordering Par le Sang Versé in a digipack CD edition (with a 16-page booklet) and as a digital download, along with an option for apparel.