Epic, unique prog metal from the Brittany region of France! On their long-awaited debut album, “Le Dernier Rempart”, French epic metallers HERZEL not only champion vocals that are sung in their native tongue but they unleash a concept born straight from their native region of Brittany. Influenced by U.S. metal stalwarts Manilla Road, Warlord, Queensryche, Heir Apparent, Omen and Virgin Steele, etc. Cool & Epic.
Hi Thomas! The story about Herzel is very curious and very much linked to the region of Brittany in France, isn’t it?
Thomas : Yes it is. In the band, we are all born in Brittany and have strong links with this region.When I came back from Chile in 2012 after a one year student exchange, I felt the need to express my identity and culture through a new band.
You decided to use the Breton language in your songs and it sounds good although most people won’t understand a word
Thomas : Actually, our songs are written in French. The word “Herzel“ is the only Breton term you will find in our lyrics. I personnally did not have the chance to learn Breton at school and my bandmates neither. It’s not too late and it will be for sure a goal in my life. The Breton language is disappearing (some people use the term “dead language“), because among new generations, not so much young people learn it for a lot of reasons I won’t detail here. In my opinion, a language is not only a tool to express yourself with people around you but also a testimony of your cultural wealth, inheritance and diversity. The difference is a force and this world seem to forget it. There is a lot to say about it…
I do agree with you about that. Herzel means resisting or braving, how or why did you choose it?
Thomas : I chose the term Herzel at the very beginning and wanted a Breton word as a band name. I opened the Breton-French dictionnary and it was the first word I saw. I read the translation which said indeed “resisting, braving, facing, confronting“ and thought it would match perfectly with the philosophy and concept of the music I wanted to make. I asked several Breton speakers around me what was the meaning of the word in order to have a different point of view and they had difficulties to find a direct translation but they all agreed on the fact that the power contained in this word was very strong. I loved that.
Herzel was formed in 2013, it’s been hard to get your debut album out in the streets?
Yes, the band was indeed formed in 2013 and all started with the introduction riff of the song “Nominoë“ I wrote and made listen to my dear friend Ion. He loved it and then Kevin, Mo and Gurvan joined the crew. In 2014 or 2015, Olivier from Impious Desecration Records, who became a close friend after that, discovered a very raw recording of this first track from a rehearsal session that we had then put online, on our facebook band page. He liked it and said he wanted us to release something through his label. We released the demo and were very surprised about how it was acclaimed and as it sold out quickly. Maxwell from “2 Guys 1 TV“ contributed a lot to spread our sound through his youtube channel. For us, the most important was to play what we liked and particularly to play some gigs locally. We took a long time to create new tracks after that because we all have a job and/or are involved in other bands. We are also very self-demanding as we need each song to be satisfying for us before working on another one. Six years between the demo tape and the album release is quite a long time but it was necessary.
Any change in the line-up since the beginning?
Thomas : Kevin went to Ireland, where he found a job. We hopefully found a session second guitarist during that period. His name is Tony : he is a great guy and a close friend of Gurvan. I think that without him, Herzel would have split up before the release of this first album. He appears as a guest on our track “La Flamme“ on the album, on which he plays a nice guitar solo. It is our humble way to thank him. He will always be a member of Herzel.
I suppose before this debut you have played some gigs around, in fact you have a demo of 3 songs from the early days of the band
Thomas : Yes, we played several local gigs in Brittany, but also in the rest of France and abroad. After the release of our demo “Unis dans la Gloire“, we were invited to some very nice venues such as, for instance, the Pyrenean Warriors festival, in the South of France and organized by the members of the French band Tentation (with whom we played several gigs). We were also went to play in Germany (The Riddle of Steel Festival, one of the very best for Epic Metal lovers) and in Greece (Into Battle Festival, a great festival in Athens where we discovered some underground and bigger bands you cannot see often on stage). We have some great memories there, people were all very friendly. Even considering we had nearly no available material to listen to and that I was singing in French, people gave us a chance coming to see the gigs. People came without preconceived ideas and were curious to know more about us, and I think this is a great chance for every underground bands today. This was something very exciting and entertaining for us.
The cover artwork has a nice flow of underground and epic release
Thomas : Thank you. Flog (Diver) is the mastermind of both our demo and debut album artworks. He is a close friend and has the real capacity to understand what the band looked for while keeping his own stylistic signature. This is what makes the difference between a good and a great artist in my opinion. He took the time to listen to the songs, read the lyrics before letting his inspiration flows. FYI, he did some great other artworks and logos for bands and labels. For us, he is also a member of Herzel as we could not imagine other and better artworks for our material.
Let’s talk a little about the lyrics, because it’s also curious that the album has something like two parts, one of them conceptual, right?
Thomas : The album is indeed split in 2 parts, the first part consisting in 2 songs(“Maitre de l’Océan“ and “La Flamme“) dealing with historical facts taking place in Brittany. “Maitre de l’Océan“ is a song about an Epic naval battle between Venetes and Romans, where the intelligent military strategy of the Jules Cesar will once more prove itself. “La Flamme“ speaks about Jeanne de Flandres, a fascinating character of the succession war in Brittany. Her surname was “The Flame“ because she destroyed her ennemies burning their camp while making diversion. The second part consists in a fictional history written as a Trilogy, about Herzel, a hero full of symbols… The first song deals with his tragical and mystical birth. The second track tells why and how he will deliver Brittany with the Sword of the Gods. The last song works as a conclusion, ending quite enigmatically the Trilogy in an “Ultimate Fight“. Is Herzel not simply the hero every Breton has in the depth of his/her soul ?
Cool from beginning to the end. To define your sound we could recall bands such as Heir Apparent, Warlord, Medieval Steel…, any special influence for you?
Thomas : Great choices, we love these bands. Classic heavy metal and power Metal with the bands you quoted, obviously. Personnally, I have always been into the more “proggy“ side with bands like Queensrÿche, Fates Warning, Crimson Glory, Screamer, etc. I also love classic and neo-prog bands like IQ or Marillion. I think you can hear a bit of these influences in the album. More, compared to the songs on the demo for sure. But we also all love the raw and “anthem-ic“ structures you can find in Epic Metal bands like Manilla Road or Manowar. Powerful choruses where you want to raise the fist in the air and sing along. But overall, our sound is highly influenced by Celtic Folk/Prog music, more particularly by the “revival“ bands from Brittany like Tri Yann, Dan Ar Braz, or the 90’s and 00’s bands like Glaz and Seven Reizh, just to name a few.
When did you start composing Le Dernier Rempart and how was the process?
Thomas : Le Dernier Rempart is a collection of songs we created after our demo. We recorded the drums in Le Novomax studio, in Quimper, at the beginning of 2020. Just before the first lockdown. We recorded the rest of the instruments in Gurvan’s “home studio“ after the first lockdown and before the second one in France. Gurvan made a great job taking over the management of the recording. It was a big and serious task that took some long hours of work at home and the rest of my bandmates and I are so thankful to him.
Any special song in the album for you?
Thomas : Not really. I think all the songs sound quite different and my biggest hope would be that the people who enjoyed the album will have a different choice as “favourite song“.
What are the main differences between Le Dernier Rempart and the demo songs?
Thomas : Firstly, the sound is different, hopefully… as the demo was very raw and sounded like it was recorded in the 80’s. But that’s what a demo if for and should sound, don’t you think ? As previously mentioned, I think the music but also the lyrics and concept are more ambitious. We took some risks by proposing something we considere different, while keeping our identity and roots.
Good compositions and a charismatic sound, I think they are qualities that can make Herzel stand over the average sound
Thomas : Thank you, it is a great compliment. To be honest, I would even prefer some reviewers to hate our sound and music rather than reading they think it’s “not great, not bad, just average“… I think a lot of young bands today just try to be a copycat of their idols. There’s also a public for that and it’s not critic, but just something we don’t relate to. I think the greatest thing for a new band is to create a kind of unique sound. Obviously, you will always hear a bit of this and a bit of that. But if the global result is something different, I think it was worth it.
I would not be surprised if sooner than later we could see Herzel in a Keep It True fest, I think you are quite the type
Thomas : Keep it True is the paradise for heavy metal lovers. We are inviting to play during the Warm Up Show on the next edition in 2022. Opening for Helstar is something totally crazy for us. We can’t wait to be there !
Oh yeaaaaahh!! That will be something to remember, for sure. Rob Halford has often stated that Metal is in good health nowadays although there will not probably be ever again such big bands as in the 80s, true or false?
Thomas : Absolutely true but ..who cares ? The 80’s were the big era for heavy metal bands. The genre was new and trendy and, even if there were plenty of underground bands at that time, there were not as spotlighted as today‘s underground bands thanks to the worldwide access through the web, for instance. To sum up, I don’t think everything was great in the 80’s, nor do I think everything is bad today.
How are you dealing with the pandemic, Thomas?
Thomas : Trying to be safe and keep our family safe. We are all in the same shit … so let’s be patient and try to be as positive as possible and then we will enjoy even more what will come next.
Any plans for the short term?
Thomas : Not really for the moment, we are looking forward to the release date.
Thank you very much for your attention, if you wish to add something…
Thomas : thank you Metalbrothers ! I hope everyone will enjoy this album as much as it was for us to create and record it.