Interview – Herzel from Bretagne: ”We got our language, our culture and of course our music.”

”…we can easily work more than a year on one song.”

Herzel released one of the very best and finest metal albums of 2021. Bara Metal put the album, the debut Le Dernier Rempart, on the top ten list, and the year-end list of Metal Archives’ 225 voters gave it position 24, a great achievement especially for a epic heavy metal band singing in french and french only. Bara Metal managed to interview drummer Ion Phillippon about the song writing process, the pros and cons with lyrics in french and details about the album.

If I listen to a french speaking heavy metal band – how will I understand that it is Herzel? What makes you unique, what is Herzel’s sound, according to you?

– Well if I have to describe our music I would say that we are very influenced by US metal from the 80’s, like Queensrÿche, Fates Warning, Manilla Road… and also by prog bands such as Yes, Marillion, Kansas and finally and maybe the most important, celtic rock or prog bands and artists. Especially when it comes from our region, Bretagne. If you listen to Dan Ar Braz, Alan Stivell or Glaz you will easily understand our influences. So I think this mix made our music pretty unique in France. For us it was obvious to compose our music this way, and we will continue like this.

Do you consider yourselves to be a heavy metal band from Quimper, from Bretagne or from France? Maybe all of them?

­– Yes, we can say all of them. From Quimper for sure, as for us it’s a very important town, most of us were born here and now we are all living and working in the town or very next. Bretagne is the part of France were we live, it’s a celtic country that was independant from the kingdom of France a long time ago. We got our language, our culture and of course our music. As we all grew up in families where music were very important, we really want to witness some stories and legends from Bretagne in a band that mixed heavy metal and celtic music. As Bretagne still now a part of France, and as we sing the songs in French, of course we are part of French heavy metal scene.

Yes, singing in french is of course a part of your identity, and I really enjoy it. Thomas is a great singer! But still, how come you chose this within an international metal community where English is dominant?

– When Thomas first got the idea to create Herzel and came to talk to us about the creation of the band and the compositions, there were no doubt that it would be in French. First of all we all like a lot the classic metal bands from France like ADX, Blasphème, Sortilège, High Power, H Bomb and so on, and also Thomas is a very good writer.

What are the pros and cons?

– We never imagined Herzel in English so there were no pros and cons for us. But now that we can take a step back. Since the band has existed since 2013, I could say that singing in French really boost our visibility in the underground community and made us a pretty strong fan base in France. Now we have a new generation of heavy metal bands singing in French, Tentation, Sacral Night, Meurtrières… and that’s really cool !

What is the creation phase of a Herzel-song – is it a one man composition, or do you all work together composing and combining riffs and melodies?

– For the two songs of our demo, Nominoë and Unis Dans la Gloire, it was pretty chaotic, as it was the debut of the band, we tried to create the songs all together taking some ideas from Thomas, Kévin and Gurvan, that is our singer and the two guitarists.

– For the composition of the album it took us a long time as we love to work on our songs until we find the perfect alchemy, we can easily work more than a year on one song. As we all work, and some of us play in other bands, we do rehearsals like one time per month.

– To return on the process that we have now, Thomas came up to us with different ideas, melodies, rythm line and sometimes the singing. We play them all together and try to find the best way to combine them, or to change the speed, the tone, until we are all satisfied we still try to find the best way to play the song.

– For the album we compose the songs between 2015 and 2020, so it was like one year per song, it could seem like a very long time but it’s the way we did it for this album. Now we are starting a new process of composition for new songs, it will be a little different as Thomas, Gurvan and Kevin will now work together on the songs before we play it during a rehearsal, maybe things will come faster or not, we’ll see.

The bombard is fantastic, it sounds so medieval and eerie, suits the atmosphere perfectly. Who came up with the idea to use this instrument?

– The bombard is a very important instrument in Breton music, as it’s a specificity of this celtic part of Europe. We got a traditional band called Bagad that mixes bombard, scottish drums and bagpipes musicians. I’ve been playing in a bagad for 20 years and the other guys in the band have also been pretty in touch with this kind of traditional music with their family of friends. So it’s an instrument that we all know very well. But we could say that the idea came up from our bassist, Mordiern, the musician who play the bombard on the album is also his brother, Ronan, he is a professional musician. The way we compose the album and we imagine our music lead us the fact that it was really important to add a traditional instrument on it, but not too much.

…and who wrote the melody on Le Dernier Rempart?

– It was Ronan, the bombard player, who sent us the melody. We worked on the arrangement, and then he came during the recording of the album to add his part. It was really cool and he did it so great, we are really happy about it and will be eternally grateful to him. We had the honor to play for the first time a gig in Quimper, and for the occasion he came with us to play on stage, it was so great.

Will there be other and more folk instruments for future releases? And is the bombard from now on your signum, always appearing on the future albums?

– We were talking about it and yes we think so. We will never go too far and change our style to pagan metal or stuff like this, it will always be to add an atmosphere or complete an idea about a melody. But instruments like Irish flute or uilleann pipes can maybe find a way in our music. It will really depend on how we compose our new songs, it has to add something, we will not do it if it has no musical interest.

What did the covid-19 situation mean for Herzel?

– It’s easy to answer – it really fucked our recording. I recorded the drums in February 2020 and then the other instruments were planned to be recorded at the end of March. But the first confinement totally stopped us. We had to wait until June/July to the record the rest. So it cost us a lots of time and the album finally came out in March 2021. We don’t play a lot of gigs so it didn’t stop us in that way, we were actually not composing any new songs so it also didn’t affect us that way.

The greatness of the songs on the album never falters – they all have high quality. How come? Did you throw away a lot of not so good songs? Did the six years between the demo and the album give you a good amount of time to make the material this perfect?

– As I told before, we work a lot on the songs, and yes, for example there is one song that we composed, and played live in 2017 and then we never played it again. We like to take our time to find the best transitions, the good length, …So for some people it could be a very long time, six years resulting with an album with five songs and an instrumental, but for us it was the best way and we don’t regret it. Also, the songs can be played a little different from the recording during our gigs.

Could you give an example?

– Not playing the same riff at the end, not the same numbers of riffs or changes of speed. As we continue to play every song – they are not that many haha! – during every rehearsal, we like to change it a little with the vision we have at the moment.

By the way, I noticed a live video from 2017 where you played Maîtres de l’océan – are the songs of the album that old?

– Yes, the songs can be pretty old, we played for the first time L’épée des dieux in 2015, I think La flamme was 2016 and Maîtres de l’océan in 2017. Haha! As I told to you, we can say one song per year!

I especially enjoy having the bombard come back in the end of the album – was that a last minute studio idea, or was it planned like that before you entered the studio?

– Absolutely you have it, it was a last minute idea and what a good one. I really love the end of the album and I think it could be very cool to play it twin guitars at the end of the song when we play it live. Maybe we will try it the next time we meet!

So, what is the coming ten-year-plan for Herzel? Two-three albums? Touring? Bigger record companies? Going to the US?

– First of all, compose new songs and take the time for it. We are still in contact to play some gigs or festivals. Playing at the Riddle of Steel in Germany and the Into Battle in Greece was one of the greatest experience we ever had! So we will maybe focus on playing in places and festivals that really fit to our music and if possible out of France. It can sound very basic, but it’s always very great to meet new fans and make new friends, in France we play a lot so we want to travel a little if possible. But it also depends on our works and private lives, so a tour is a difficult thing to imagine, but maybe a one week tour, who knows. For the moment we are really happy with Gates of Hell/Cruz del Sur, it’s really cool to work with them because they are very kind and passionate about epic music. Of course it would be a dream come true to play in US but we are not big enough, we’ve been in contact with one person for a gig/tour but nothing serious for now.

Torbjörn Hallgren

Find more about the band here, in this link.

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