This week we’re featuring the French group Herzel in Meet The Band. Their debut album Le Dernier Rampart is sung in their native language. Guitarist Kevin Le Vern introduces us to his band.
Chad Bowar: Give us a brief history of Herzel.
Kevin Le Vern: Thank you so much for giving us this opportunity to talk about the band and the album. Herzel was born when Thomas (vocals) was back from a trip to Chile (related to his studies). At the time Ion (drums) and I were rehearsing the songs of another project we had before. Thomas introduced us to the early version of what would later be the song “Nominoe” from the demo Unis dans la gloire . Shortly after, Mordiern (bass) joined us. During that same period we also composed the song “Unis dans la gloire.” Gurvan (guitar) was invited to one the rehearsals we were doing and we had an opportunity to mesh together what was already composed with Gurvan’s melodies.
A little while after Olivier (Impious Desecration Records in Rennes city) asked us if we’d be keen on the idea of releasing a demo tape. We managed to record some drums and witness tracks in a sound school that I was studying at, the first demo tape was out shortly after. During the period from 2015 and today, we have tried our best to remain active and to constantly improve our live shows. The quality of our shows is highly important to us. We continued composing as well, and that’s what Le Dernier rempart is the result of.
Describe the songwriting and recording process for Le Dernier Rampart.
The songwriting and the recording were two separate moments. The composition happened between 2015 and 2020. During this time we modified the songs several times, created lyrics, trying to arrange and set together the group of songs we had as a coherent body of work. As soon as we knew we potentially had enough songs for an album, we started planning for it. It started with the drums in February 2020. As we’re not professional musicians (except Gurvan as he plays a lot live with his other band Amarok), playing with the settings of studio (click tracks, etc.) was sometimes hard for some of us. Recording Le Dernier rempart was a matter of making what we had fit the album format. We recorded some of the guitars at my home studio and then we switched to Gurvan’s home studio to do bass guitar, vocals, traditional instruments and remaining guitars and solos. After that, Gurvan mixed the album and we sent the result to the Boiler Room in Chicago for mastering.
What will be your strongest memory of the recording of the album?
For me it was a few days that I spent with Gurvan at my place; just the two of us, recording, taking a break, recording again, and so on for a few days. It was quite intense but very enjoyable. The first time we had the chance to hear a premix with vocals and all the instruments was quite crazy as well, as we’ve been playing some of these songs since 2015/2016, and it was the first time we could hear the result on a track !
How would you characterize its style/sound?
Musically speaking (people will be the judge of that of course) I think we play something close to our influences (’80s power and heavy metal, Celtic music). But we try to keep things open. I think what Gurvan choose for the mix was perfectly fitted. It is quite a clear production but slightly rough on the edge. In my opinion it was the only valid move possible to put those songs on a record. We didn’t wanted an old school or vintage production which allowed us to not search for any professional studios except for recording the drums (which were done in a small studio in our hometown). We tried doing everything ourselves as much as possible. It’s a pure product from Herzel and nothing else.
What’s the album’s concept?
The first half of the album tells stories related to the history of Brittany (from various periods). The second half is a trilogy telling the birth, life and death of a hero called Herzel. The two parts are joined together with an interlude “Le dernier rempart” which features our bassist’s brother on traditional Breton instruments.
Regarding the trilogy, the listener will be able to read several short stories related to the context of the songs, those will be in the album insert.
How did you come to sign with Gates Of Hell Records?
We were receiving several propositions regarding labels throughout the years. We knew that we’d need some kind of structure if an album was to be released. It happened that Cruz del Sur/Gates of Hell Records, was a label that we instantly thought would fit when Enrico (Cruz Del Sur) contacted us. We listened to some of the bands on their label and we thought, why not?
What are your goals and expectations for the album?
The main goal for us was to make it the best that we could! For now we’re just looking forward to it being released, as some of the songs on this album are songs we’ve played for a few years now. Other than that, we’re hoping to play more gigs as soon as possible.
How did the pandemic affect the band, and you personally?
I guess, for the band, the pandemic really started at the worst moment. We were in the middle of the recording process and only some of the work was done. Even the recording and mixing being finished, it delayed everything for the label as well, especially in regards to production. In general it completely stopped our flow for rehearsal since most places available to rehearse here (Quimper) are closed. Live music in France is completely out as you can guess.
Personally, I was working as a sound technician every weekend in a medium size venue in my city. My work literally disappeared and I had to think about a massive career change in the short term. Musically speaking and apart from the rehearsals, I try to keep my hands on the guitars as often as possible.
How did you get started in music?
It was a very curious beginning! My father was an amateur musician, he used to play an instrument called Bombarde that is traditional from Brittany, and he got me into Celtic music at a young age. I even played a little bit of the same instrument at a time. But it wasn’t until I was around 13-14 years old and I found an old guitar in my grandparents’ basement that I was really interested in playing an instrument. It was broken and way too big for me but it kept me going for a little while. After that I bought my first real guitar and started playing songs and finding riffs in my bedroom. I’ve been playing ever since.
Who were your early influences and inspirations?
Deep Purple and Jethro Tull were two major bands for me, as my dad’s record collection featured a lot from them. Dan Ar Braz, Tri Yann and Alan Stivell were always around the record player as well. I also had a cousin that was into metal and I was a little bit younger than him. He introduced me to loads of bands: Death, Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Necrophagist, Testament… At a young age I’d also spent a lot of time in something we call “fest noz” here, a small evening event, generally organized in small towns, where you can hear and dance to traditional breton music.
What was the first metal concert you attended?
Gojira played in my hometown (Quimper) around 2005, I was 13 years old I think. There was also a local band, Beleg eus fall (black/death metal) that was very impressive! The rest of the lineup included a band called Psykup, but it was never really my thing.
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
Bands like Blue Öyster Cult or Thin Lizzy never really leave my playlist, but those days I’ve listened to a lot of the first Carcass albums as well as the Tabula Rasa album from The Devil’s Blood. I also listen to bands I’ve discovered recently, Wobbler and Jordsjø, whose last albums are great!
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
Our album is out, we hope that the people who were waiting for it will be happy! We’re hoping to play live as soon as possible! Cheers!
(interview published March 20, 2021)
Listen To Herzel – “L’épée des Dieux”