HERZEL – Le Dernier Rempart (2021)REVIEW

…he heard the sound of tireless wheels, and saw a cart approaching covered with a funeral pall. Wilherm knew it for a hearse. It was drawn by six black horses, and driven by Ankou himself, with an iron whip in his hand, and ever crying as he went: Turn aside, or I turn thee back!” Burns, Oates & Co., Breton Legends

In marvel of beauteous thousand-cape, isle and cliff ridden old Armorica and her storied reign this Quimper-based heavy metal quintet Herzel present their stoic and sprawling debut full-length ‘Le Dernier Rempart‘ as half histoire de triomphe and a brief warrior’s tale; A man of defiance who’d secure and deliver the fabled sword of the Gods a la Durendal, Joyeuse and curtana to the glory of his people. Grand battles, heroic fantasy, and some expected pride in Bretagne herself are fittingly sported as theme for epic heavy metal informed by the great masters of the craft. Yet this is not a mere bout of slow n’ swooning sword n’ sorcery, as the quintet arrive with some great love of Celtic artistry, regional traditional melodies, and early progressive metal that enrich this four years in-the-making record unto an memorable achievement for epic heavy metallian kind circa 2021.

Slow but sure, easing into a glorious march to start, Herzel have presented themselves with the utmost consideration and polish from the moment of public release. Formed by vocalist, songwriter and prior death-thrasher Thomas Guillesser in 2013 and soon making waves within the keep it true epic heavy metal hype-space of the internet with their celebrated first demo (‘Unis Dans la Gloire‘, 2015), the suggested love of early works from Heir Apparent and Warlord made for a stellar introduction to the high standards of the project. On some level I think I’d been in agreement with the critical response and description of that record, I might mention Attack (Germany) as another worthy reference point and of course you cannot escape the influence of early 80’s US power metal today. Herzel are doing it right in terms of songwriting, collaborating in person and volleying ideas within a rehearsal space without a commanding time schedule and this is reason enough for a several year span of time in preparation for a debut recording, though there were some delays in the initiation process circa 2021 due to pandemic outbreak. The polish of the final product is inarguable, the flow of the running order is nigh perfection, and the troupe escape their first ~forty minute foray unhindered by any sense of amateurish or overwrought tendency.

There are a few ways to approach the final product, we could bulldoze it as salty Normans might, insisting upon the French heavy/speed metal lineage of the 80’s unto pretty satisfying results — Demon Eyes‘ ‘Rites of Chaos‘ and Blaspheme‘s ‘Desir De Vampyr‘ do a fine job of capturing the speed metal adjacent boon of energetic triumph that fuels the first half of this record and combined with a bit of ‘Warning of Danger‘-era Omen and early Queensryche we’re bopping at the right speed, chins to the sky with pouty and proggy heavy metal pride. It might pay off to think like a local rather than an invader, though, as this only really describes the bombast of the album-selling opener/debut single “Maîtres de l’océan” and equally fiery “La Flamme”. We’re in need of some specifically Breton brew to figure what the title track/interlude suggests as we push into Side B, specifically regional Celtic melodic influences. Citing modern prog duo Seven Reizh, 90’s Celtic folk artist Glaz, among other classic Breton music artists as sources of color and flavor within their still decidedly 80’s prog-heavy metal framework. Of course this doesn’t distort the continuity of the album, yet the major centerpiece for the album “Berceau de Cendre” presents a side of the band that is sophisticated beyond ‘ready set expectations, slap bass included. Whereas a cursory spin of this album might’ve had me setting their craft next to Meurtrieres or Citadelle the Celtic/prog rocking edge of Herzel is perhaps reason to take them doubly serious now and on future releases.

Though my conversational and largely formal ‘metropolitan’ French training is a crumbling statue at this point, years of Sortilège and ADX records in hand are general preparation enough for the medieval heroic lyrical themes of ‘Le Dernier Rempart’, and for the non-francophone the shattered wall with the warrior’s silhouette behind depicted on the cover (artwork via Flog Driver) should speak well enough to the attitude conveyed. The defiant redeemer recapturing the sword of the gods unto a great battle should appeal to folks seeking Breton pride as well as heavy metal power fantasy (for good) well enough and of course it counts that Herzel‘s story is told via some of the most engaging melodies on an album rife with glorious heavy rock sized ditties. For my own taste the album could not have succeeded without matching the energy of “Maîtres de l’Océan” and for the sake of being succinct, “L’épée des Dieux” certainly does and “L’ultime Combat” pushes even a bit further. The consistent value of a heavy metal album that’d charge out of the gates, build up strength in revelry and succeed via a giant row in culmination is high for my own taste, ‘Le Dernier Rempart’ lends itself remarkably well to repeat listens thanks to its inherent Maiden-esque qualities, speedy gallops and expressive melodic narrative. I don’t know if I’d want them to go whole-hog on the Celtic/Breton rock fueled moments in the future yet I feel the minds fueling Herzel know better, with the presentation of admirable taste on this pristine debut as strong evidence of a reign defined by its great impact. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (90/100)

Rating: 9 out of 10.
TITLE:Le Dernier Rempart
LABEL(S):Gates of Hell Records
RELEASE DATE:March 19th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Epic Heavy Metal,
Heavy/Speed Metal

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