Finnish outfit the Von Hertzen Brothers have always been a band I’ve struggled with. I knew they were good, obviously, but each and every one of their previous albums has missed the mark by varying degrees as far as I’ve been concerned.
This rather uncomfortable situation changes with War is Over, an album where, for this reviewer at least, everything makes sense at last.
Tracks like the quite superb Jerusalem and the title track convey such staggering vision and ambition as to make any serious negative criticism purely laughable. This is progressive rock at its most glorious, yet also at its most devastatingly accessible.
The stunning Frozen Butterflies – which the band call ‘power pop’ with a loveable understatement that does the spectacular nature of the song no justice at all – is the album, and possibly the band in microcosm; show-stopping skill and technique crafted to the nth degree yet still possessing the sort of across-the-board, spine tingling appeal that really does make you wonder why this band aren’t a name in far more households than they already are.
Who Are You delivers the counterpoint to the delirious bombast that’s gone before, being a wistful look at familial relations; however the restrained intensity which the band build and which finally explodes in a thunderous guitar explosion returns the listener to the musical themes explored earlier in a thunderous celebration of musical dynamism that really gets the blood pumping.
Next track Blindsight starts out as what you’d think was going to be a standard issue rocker, almost sounding like filler but which winds itself up into an orgiastic crescendo of lead guitar which justifies the term Skynyrdesque as a descriptor. You will find yourself involuntarily throwing shapes as wave after wave of air guitar inspiration wash over you. Long Lost Sailor is an urgent, galloping excursion in to the poppier side of the VHB; If Frozen Butterflies is power pop then this surely is mid-eighties radio rock in excelsis. Tight harmonies, chiming guitars, hair-raising melodies – they’re all here, by the bucketload, and … Sailor is undoubtedly another standout cut.
Penultimate track Wanderlust is a stark, world-weary ballad, Mikko Von Hertzen’s majestic, emotionally cracked vocals bringing to mind Robert Wyatt in their all their fragile majesty, the sparse orchestration strangely adding a heartstring-tugging force to the song that might otherwise have slithered away.
Closing track Beyond the Storm starts quietly, seemingly operating in classic Wishbone Ash territory; the song builds slowly, dominated by a gorgeous chorus melody and some triumphant lead guitar from brother Kie which really will have every hair on your body standing to attention in honour of the sheer brilliance of it all. The final resolution – a return to the themes of the opening track War is Over, finishes the album with brilliant circularity, and the final strident crack of a snare drum closes the deal with a finality you’ll find yourself defying as you head back to the start of the album to listen all over again.
Von Hertzen Brothers’ War is Over is out now through Mascot Label Group.