HERZEL: An anthem to Brittany

  Herzel3Herzel is a new band from the region of Brittany in France, and like most good French acts, they use their native language. Their first demo, “Unis Dans La Gloire” was released earlier this year, and we invited one of the guitarists in the band, Kevin Le Vern to shed a little light on the history of Herzel as well as the recent developments in the band in the wake of the demo-release. Juding by the two tracks on the demo, you guys sound so convincing and professional that Herzel simply can’t be your first band. Give us a quick run through of the five members and what you all have been up to before you formed Herzel. – First of all, thank you very much for the support. Herzel is kind of built on the ruins of “Vestige”, a heavy metal with French vocals too, formed by Thomas (vocals in Herzel) and a bunch of friends of ours. This project went on hold, and at that time I was rehearsing with Ion (drums) in another project we still have, Peryton. Thomas stopped by to help a bit and add another guitar. Adding Mordiern (bass) to the project was logical too because he was playing bass guitar in Peryton. That’s how things started. Later Gurvan (guitar) went to a Herzel’s rehearsal and enjoyed the songs we had. We really started playing seriously at that point. Thomas had a very precise idea of how this project should sound, we started with the song “Nominoe” which was from him initially, and adapted it to sound the way we wanted. We directly thought about introducing Celtic influences in our music both lyrics as well as notes, because we grew up with it and it’s part of each of us in different ways, Mordiern’s oldest brother was part of E-leizh and Darhaou, two Breton music bands, Ion is part of one the biggest celtic orchestras in our town, Thomas has been working in Breton beer companies, Gurvan plays and played in various Celtic music projects and finally I started music because of my father who was a bombarde player. A bombarde is a traditional Breton instrument. Most musicians say that they form a band to play the kind of music they enjoy, is this the case with Herzel as well? Please tell us about your relationship to epic heavy metal? – We all have a common point thanks to Manilla Road, Gurvan even covered “Necropolis” in Amarok. Besides that, Thomas came awith the album “Revival” from Winterhawk a few years ago, a band who plays epic hard rock. To me, and to all of us , it was a revelation. But bands like Cirith Ungol, Warlord are also amongst our favorites. I think Candlemass is also a band we all like. Therefore, we are commonly going to some heavy metal festivals like Keep It True, Ages of Metal and Up The Hammers. Every time we have the possibility, we are going to each other houses and spend all night to listen the discoveries of the week. And also Brittany, the region were we live, has a history that is all about heroes, wizards, magical forests and stuff. We might have more knowledge about fantasy or about stories than the real Brittany history. In Herzel’s lyrics, there is always a bit of reality, but also jour imagination and vision of things. What can you tell me about the band name, why did you choose Herzel, and what is the meaning behind it? – Herzel is a Breton word with a very strong meaning: Resist, be a stumbling block, face things, that’s what we want to do with our music. Behind that, to go much deeper, we can say that Brittany is a complete Celtic country like Galice, Eire, Wales and Scotland for example. In French history, Brittany was not only a little part of the nation but a complete civilization with his own history, identity and language. Brittany was conquered and annexed by Franks but didn’t let the strong identity get lost by age. And still nowadays, Bretons are spiritually fighting for independence or just to have their culture recognized as a unique thing. The first post on your Facebook-page dates back to August of 2013 when you were looking for someone to make a band logo and the cover art for the demo. Did you give Flog Diver any guidelines for how you wanted things to be, or did he have full artistic freedom? – Flog Diver is a long time friend, in particular with Thomas who was in a band with him. He knows us well and I think it helped him to target our needs directly. He didn’t have to do several drawings, as the first one was already perfect . And he had total freedom of course. Flog has a strange right feeling about things, if he knows you and have a precise vision of your needs, he can do something really clean. It was like that for us, we just let him listen to “Nominoë” and he came up really fast with the final version of the cover photo. We were all completely conquered by his first proposal. To be precise, it took an afternoon. Often bands release a demo recording on their own, but you have teamed up with the French label Impious Desecration to release “Unis Dans La Gloire”. How did this collaboration happen? – At first, we were just trying to record a proper version of our songs. Just few days after, Olivier from Impious, asked us spontaneously about making a demo for his label. He enjoyed our music, and told us that the first time he listen to us, he did it seven times in a row. He then asked us if we were ready and OK to release it. We didn’t search for labels or something like that, but it was just the right time and we jumped on the chance to make a second song and we were just electrified by the idea of releasing something about Brittany. Apparently the tape was printed in 300 copies, do you have any idea how many have been sold so far? – Our label, Impious Desecration Records, is trading with others foreign labels like Shadow Kingdom and Hells Headbangers from the US, Iron Bonehead from Germany and labels in other countries like Peru, Poland and Spain. The demo is not sold out, but we are actually really surprised about the feedback. Ion was at the Up The Hammers in Greece and sold 20 tapes in one hour. The people even recognized him, he was very surprised! What is the purpose of the demo? Are you just testing waters, or looking for a deal with a bigger label? – It’s a really hard question to answer because we weren’t thinking about anything else than just creating epic stories about our culture. We play this music for ourselves first, and we are slowly developing an idea that is becoming clearer and clearer. “Unis Dans La Gloire” is an introduction to what we are trying to do with Herzel. We’re open to suggestions, but we prefer to focus on the music. That’s also why we enjoy being part of Impious Desecration. Olivier took care of everything and that was a real blessing. We are just happy with how things go. The demo is mixed and mastered by guitarist Gurvan. I guess this means that he has some previous experience with this in other bands? – Yes, he usually mixes his own projects at home and he is quite used to it. He has very good habits concerning the recording and mixing of voices and guitars, so that’s quite useful. He also manage all his music himself especially with his project Gurvan and his other band Amarok. Gurvan also has sufficient patience to record us, something that came in handy as Mordiern rerecorded his entire part and we added things at the very last minute. Kevin also work as a sound technician and he is actually planning to record future Herzel-songs with his own setup built part by part through the last months. “Epic heavy metal” is a term that is used quite frequently these days, about a wide array of bands. What is epic metal to you? Herzel1– If it could be described, I would say that epic metal in general is a mix between progressive rock music, like Rush, Uriah Heep and Yes and several different aspects of heavy metal. Kind of a mix between the “die young” sound, lyrics from the prog as well as the power of Manowar riffs with big fantastic and heroic fantasy influences. Manilla Road and Manowar were the fathers of this style I think. To us there are no boundaries in this genre due to the numerous influences, and to us, the term “epic” also apply to the traditional music around here, we consider it epic as it usually tell a story. We talk about stories about field work hardship, but still they are stories. It’s not only metal, because of that we all listen to traditional Britany music like Ar Re Yaouank, especially the “Rond de Loudéac”, some Bagad and also bands like Malicorne that really represent what I just said even if they aren’t Bretons. We are also very aware of new bands like Terminus, Ravensire and Wrathblade, who are keeping the flame alive! Some people claim that you can’t perform epic metal without a special kind of lyrics, often historical ones. Do you see it this way? What kind of themes can we expect Herzel touching in the future? – We think it’s a good way of seeing it. In bands such as Warlord or Manilla Road, lyrics are very important. We think they’re just as important as the riffs. For now we have tried to tell original stories as I said before, but we are working on a much longer and better story. We also think that an epic band have to get a proper identity like Domine or Warlord. You can expect the unexpected! Maybe a concept album, but it’s too soon to tell much about it. All that we can say is that we are working hard on something we are impatient to show. What can you tell me about the lyrics of the two songs on the tape? I tried to run the titles through Google translate, but it didn’t give me much… – Brittany has a very strong history and identity so we decided to talk about an old king of it, Nominoë. To be more precise, the song deals with a battle that took place in “Ballon”, “The battle of Ballon” which is considered very important for Brittany . “Unis Dans La Gloire” is more like an anthem to Brittany and its people who never abandon their ideals and their way of thinking. Brittany is still a strong country were many people are trying to perpetuate the culture, stories, music, arts and so on. We speak from the heart when we speak about Breton people. Is Herzel also active as a live band? Do you perform, or plan to perform any cover songs as part of you live show? – We performed our first live show two weeks ago. That was totally unannounced, it was something that we just did and it was actually pretty cool because there were some friends right before us, backing us up and singing all the lyrics. It was really great and we wanna do it again. We’re actually planning on recording some new stuff for a forty minutes live set with maybe a cover, who knows? Apart from the intro and the two songs on the tape, do you have other songs ready? Are they similar to the ones on the tape? – We’re working on some new stuff, yes. We’ll keep you updated. And yes it’s the same kind of sound that you’ve been able to hear on the demo. We are still trying to perform something better, but we want it to be representative as well. The third song is in the same vein but we think it can surprise some people. We have a strong desire to make something that we could call “complete” and we are working on it, even if it’s also hard to create entirely new stuff. In the thanks list of the album, you mention bands like Manilla Road, Cirith Ungol and Warlord, which are very common influences for a band performing this kind of metal, but also a new band like Graven Rite. Would you name them as an influence too, or is there another reason why they are mentioned? – There is some great new stuff that came out last year, especially within epic metal. And we simply wanted to thank them for keeping the flame alive. Bands like Graven Rite, Terminus, Eternal Champion and Ravensire are bands we would love to play with for an epic night! There are several reasons for attending festivals, discovering bands and talking to excellent guys, like the pleasure of putting a CD with H-Bomb on at 5 am completely drunk and singing “Gwendoline” with strangers. Listening to the material on the tape, and the clean, varm and melodic sound, I am reminded more of Warlord and Medieval Steel than Manilla Road and Cirith Ungol…While the first two have a sound similar to Herzel, the two other sound rougher and rawer. What do you think about this comparison? – We agree on that, but we’re trying to sound our own personal way. There are too many bands that copy and paste Maiden-riffs, that’s not our purpose. Concerning Manilla Road we think they are too unique for just being copied. And even if we would try to sound like them, it would honestly be quite hard. Besides that, Medieval Steel and Warlord use more what could be related to Celtic or austere chords, and we do that too. We are deeply influenced by the traditional music of our region, but at the same time we are big fans of power and progressive metal, stuff like Savatage and Virgin Steele. To sum up, we try to sound as “Breton” and powerful as we are able to. Are there plans to release the demo material on other formats than tape? A 7 inch for instance would be nice? – We would be very happy with that. But for now, there are still some tapes available. Some people told us they’re interested in a reissue, but our plans for now are to focus on creating a live set, and to compose new songs. We would like to have a five or six songs live set to be able to play 35 or 40 minutes. Was it an easy choice for you deciding to sing in French? There are several aspects to be considered, the audience might be smaller, but at the same time it gives the band an identity and adds an exotic element to your sound. Did you consider any of these elements, or were there other motives behind the choice to use your native language? – It actually was easy, because we already like French heavy metal, and it was important to us to tell the stories we wanted in our language. It is more natural and we think that epic lyrics in French sound great. For example, if you really like Sortilège, I think you prefer to listen to the French versions of their songs. The language of Molière is really adapted for telling stories. First and foremost, we play for our friends and people around us, so it was really important that everyone understood the lyrics. In the thanks list, you also mention French acts like H and H and Legend. Do you think it is a coincidence that most of the best French bands from the eighties sang in their native language? Still in the latest years, the best French acts for me, have been the likes of Hürlement, Malediction and Sanctuaire, who all mostly sing in French… – You also have to listen to our friends from Tentation! And to answer the question, we think at that time, in France, people didn’t speak English very well. And the purpose was to be understood by the locals, so… that’s it! We love the French metal acts of the eighties. To name a few apart from the one you named: Steel Angel, Sortilège, H-bomb, Marienthal with the great Pat O’ May, Killers, Titan, Demon Eyes, Orialix, DAB, High Power, Highland Queen, Vulcain, Voodoo Child, Venin, Harfang, Warning, Malediction and Ponce Pilate. https://www.facebook.com/herzelbreizhsteel

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