Album review: VON HERTZEN BROTHERS – War Is Over

VON HERTZEN BROTHERS – War Is Over

Music Theories Recordings [Release date 03.11.17]

‘War Is Over’ isn’t so much a concept album as a dramatic prog rock album with associated musical influences, ranging from classic, hard and symphonic rock, to more poppy and synth influences.

There’s plenty of thematic concepts and weighty musical moments which lend themselves to a filmic search for the epic.

The Von Hertzen Brothers are Mikko on vocals and guitar, Kie on guitar and vocals, and Jonne on bass. They are joined by keyboard player Robert Engstrand and an astounding drummer Sami Kuoppamäki .

Every band needs a solid foundation and Von Hertzen Brothers are anchored by the relentless drive, pure energy and imaginative fills of a rhythm section that pushes the frontline players to the max.

As a result the band revels in dealing with the epic. They don’t do things by halves. And if their 7th album ‘War Is Over’ sometimes feels like a throwback to prog rock albums of the early 70′s – the vocal frequently evokes early career Yes for example – their huge layered sound is far more contemporary and draws on any number of influences from Anathema to Eric Norlander and Lana lane.

The album is built round 10 tracks that frequently reach for the epic, but often rely on defining moments within a song.

This is an album that demands both patience and diligence. The more you delve into it, the more you uncover intricate musical puzzles. The sudden bursts of energy and tension resolutions for example,  make tracks such as ‘Jerusalem’, ‘Frozen Butterflies’ and the latter part of ‘Blindsight’ real highlights.

The album as a whole has a proggy feel, but there so much more going on. Each track twist and turn over shifting time changes, stop-start dynamics and sudden keyboard pulses, in a stream of consciousness musical flow that intertwines dream like qualities with a big screen vista.

The real question of course, is whether the band’s sense of grandeur has enough depth to engage the listener beyond the more dramatic moments. And the answer is a resounding yes, almost inspite of the meandering proggy triptych and call for peace of the opening title track.

There’s plenty of drama, interspersed with synth arcs voiced over incredible drum patterns. Sami Kuoppamäki’s battery of percussion and incendiary drum breaks are the lynchpin of an album that flows on the back of melodic waves, and big keyboards from Robert Engstrand.

A word too for Mikko von Hertzen’s chameleon like vocals. He explores contemplative moments and some Pye Hastings (Caravan) style faux falsetto phrasing on ‘Blindsight’ and a high register Jon Anderson (Yes) influence on ‘The Arsonist’. The latter is possibly the most coherent song on the album, a fact that probably explains its status as the album’s lead single.

As ‘War Is Over’ progresses, it’s apparent that Von Hertzen Brothers’ huge enveloping sound does have an underlying linear feel. It ebbs and flows and juxtaposes introspection with a polar opposite musical high drama.

They often tell you that if you get lost in a complex piece of music, you should follow the drummer, which is a useful tip when listening to ‘To The End Of The World’.

It rocks hard and derives its sheer force from drummer Sami Kuoppamäki’s incredible energy levels. It also has quieter moments before a staccato synth break, a feverish crescendo and a sudden time change that transforms the piece into a King Crimson style frenzy, with an uplifting choral feel that glues the whole album together.

‘The Arsonist’ has plenty of bombast, a surprisingly catchy hook and a vocal that once again evokes an early Yes style that is also to the fore on the quiet-to-loud dynamics of ‘Frozen Butterflies’.  The latter track’s immediacy is born of bristling energy surges over a synth layered sound that ends with a sledgehammer finish.

The key to the album as whole, is the combination of intricate dynamics and some thoughtful sequencing. The perfunctory end to ‘The Arsonist’ for example, leaves a pregnant pause that draws us into the subsequent quasi-whispered vocal, acoustic intro and hypnotic ‘oooh’s’ of the mesmerising ‘Jerusalem’.

The synth-led song features special guest keyboardist Janne Burton Puurtinen and goes on to embrace plucked strings, but not before an explosive middle section which gushes forth like a bursting dam.

There’s a contrasting lightness of touch, with crisp cymbal work and a galloping rhythm and featherbed synth pulses on ‘Long Lost Sailor’. The beautifully crafted and well sung minimalist piece leads into the closing ‘Beyond The Storm’, which returns us to the thematic proggy opening as it repeats the titular motif.

The opening guitar part could be Wishbone Ash circa ‘Pilgrimage’, over another innovative, into a military drum pattern, while the string arrangement evokes Paul Buckmaster’s work with Tull and The Grateful Dead.

‘War Is Over’ is a formidable album that demands to be listened to. It’s a brave, noble, ambitious work with real depth. The songs have substance, the music is epic, the lyrics are unashamedly idealistic and the band plays with gusto and technical brilliance.

It’s all glued together by meaningful lyrics delivered with heartfelt passion and an overall vision that gives Von Hertzen Brothers their unique impact. Prog rock never sounded so fresh. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra  

Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00


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