Herzel
Le Dernier Rempart

HOLY SHIT YOU GUYS. We need to talk about this.

As I’m sure you’re all well aware, the world of metal is often filled with dominating trends – a band will grab everyone’s attention and a specific subgenre will start blowing the hell up as record labels scramble to find the next best example. As a result, you often end up with an overflowing, mixed-bag pool of bands playing the same general style of music to varying degrees of quality, originality, and authenticity – ranging from inspired, can’t miss gems, all the way down to soulless, carbon-copy filler that offer nothing new or exciting. Just going through the motions.

As I’m sure you’re also well aware, the whole New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal thing is one of the latest examples of a subgenre going absolutely fuckin NUTS. Spurred on by the likes of Eternal Champion, Dark Forest, Vulture and a whole slew of other Priest-and-Manilla-Road-loving bringers of classic heavy metal, it feels like we’re reaching that apex before things might start getting really oversaturated. But it’s at that high point where you’ll very often find the most compelling and inspired work, as proven by recent output from the aforementioned Eternal Champion, Megaton Sword and others who have dropped some absolute juggernauts as of late. But right when I thought we’d hit that peak and things were about as good as they were gonna get, a little-known French band called Herzel has come out of seemingly goddamn NOWHERE and smashed me in the face with a note tied to a brick that reads “PAS SI VITE, CRÉTIN!”

Le Dernier Rempart is the best Traditional Heavy Metal record I’ve heard in a long, LONG time.

The thing is, this isn’t necessarily a genre where things like “innovation” or “originality” are really to be expected – for the most part, setting yourself apart really just comes down to execution and songwriting – two things that Herzel are absolutely stellar at doing. But to buck the trend, they’ve even managed to throw their own flair on these classic sounds really do make them a unique entity in the NWOTHM scene. But before I get to that, let’s get to the basics: Herzel are here bringing the world a progressive, catchy-as-all-fuck brand of medieval-flaired, Mercyful Fate-meets-Cirith Ungol heavy metal with a not-overwhelming dose of Prog and a few Folk and Power Metal nuances thrown into the mix as well, and it’s both crafted and played with such an upbeat, jovial sort of delivery that is so goddamn infectious. The only downside truly to be found is that the band has made the bold decision to write the entire album in their native tongue of Breton (being of the French region of Brittany) – which makes my overwhelming desire to sing along with this thing, uh, difficult. Look, if this was plain-old French, I’d legitimately consider doing some Rosetta Stone just to properly jam along with these fellas, but a seldom-used, ancient regional language like Breton? It ain’t happening.

Despite the language barrier, the vocal delivery from singer Thomas Guillesser is bang-on, armed with an impressive range capable of hitting the occasional King Diamond falsetto that, thankfully, is not used to excess, but is used to give songs real highlight moments (the vocals on the last half of “La Flamme” are a an absolute DOOZY). And the language itself give the vocals a really unique character – at times almost giving them somewhat of a Japanese anime theme kind of feel (check out when the vocals come in at the 2:15 mark of “L’épéé des Dieux” to hear what I’m on about, I swear I’m not crazy).

Behind Guillesser are a pair of outstanding guitarists in Gurvan Lardeux and Kevin Le Vern who spend the entire album trading off extremely well-crafted and inspired riffs I’d put on par with anyone in the game, and their dual-attack solos are second-to-none. “Maitres de l’ocean” and “L’ultime Combat” are absolute clinics, with the latter boasting some of the best melodies I can remember hearing in quite a while. The two are backed up by the very sure hands of bassist Mordiern Le Dissez and drummer Ion Philippon, both of whom do a fantastic job of keeping pace with the intricate, meandering song structures and movements. Philippon is more than capable of keeping things simple and clean to back the busy guitar work, but is ready and able to bust out some killer early Power Metal-inspired double bass when called upon. The rhythm section really works extremely well together to hold a solid-as-steel backbone while the guitar and vocals carry on with their fireworks.

And then there’s the unique folk elements – namely the really cool guitar/reed interplay on “Le Dernier Rempart,” featuring the whimsical sounds of what I think (?) is a Bombard, a distant cousin of the Oboe (don’t mistake me for some kind of well of knowledge for obscure baroque instruments, just a well-seasoned Google looker-upper). It’s a really neat break in the action and I really appreciate the band bringing these kinds of cultural influences to the world of metal. I hope in the future they utilize these even more on future recordings (the instrument only making appearances on the title track and the closing moments of final track “L’ultime Combat”) – as they add such a unique and welcome character to the band’s sound.

This album isn’t a contender to make my year-end list; it’s already locked in. It’s just a matter of how high on my list this ends up. I haven’t put a record on repeat this much since Unleash The Archers dropped Abyss last year, and I loved that thing like it was my own child. Le Dernier Rempart just hits all the right notes – from the clean, not even REMOTELY overproduced production, to the cool, striking album art, to the stellar musicianship and unique songwriting, Herzel has absolutely knocked it out of the damn park. It figures that Cruz Del Sur Music (or specifically, subsidiary Gates of Hell Records) would be the ones to give these guys a home, and I for one am ecstatic that they have. Guys, DO NOT let this album get lost in the overwhelming sea of Traditional Heavy Metal. This album, and this band deserve your full attention. A modern masterpiece.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
March 31st, 2021

Comments

  1. Commented by: F.Rini

    Steve- thanks for telling me about this band a while back. This album is excellent and very memorable. Great influences on this album. In-depth and thorough review.


  2. Commented by: Steve K

    Hell yeah Brother! I mean I know I shouldn’t be surprised that a Cruz Del Sur band is knocking it out of the park like this but this one really felt like it came out of nowhere!


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