Von Hertzen Brothers - War Is Over album review

And just when it looked like the three brothers had left us behind… peace is restored and we’re back in the kingdom of pomp, pop and 12-minute showpieces.

Von Hertzen Brothers - War Is Over album artwork

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T he cottage has been in the family for as long as the three brothers can remember. As spring turned to summer, they’d load up the family car, chasing the long days out of Helsinki and into the Finnish countryside. The city was far behind them as they ran through the long grass and looked out on the distant glimmer of the Eastern Sea, freight ships as miniature LEGO bricks, tiny rectangles on the far horizon silhouetted against the light coming up from the edge of the earth.

“It’s where we spent our childhood,” says band guitarist Kie. “We have a deep and personal connection to the place.”

The band returned there this year, out of season for once, and this time took turns to revel in their childhood memories separately: each of the three members working in happy solitude on the songs and arrangements that would make up the War Is Over album.

Working together alone wasn’t the only thing they decided on for this album. They also each produced the songs they brought to the table, though given their intertwining DNA, it’s hard to spot where one brother’s production stops and another’s begins.

War Is Over continues a rich seam of work from the Von Hertzen Brothers after the international crossover hit that was their Nine Lives album and its thunderous follow-up, 2015’s New Day Rising. Of course, before the rest of the world finally caught up to them, they’d been stars in Finland’s firmament almost since their inception.

There were complaints from some quarters that the New Day Rising record had shrugged off the band’s prog notes, and it was hard to argue given its tighter, more focused song arrangements and platinum sheen, but it still contained the Von Hertzen Brothers’ familiar tropes: pop, prog and pomp juxtaposed with the crack-and-whip rhythms familiar to anyone who’s invested in the band – and they’re a band who need to be invested in.

Tellingly, VHB unveil their latest album to the world with a terrific, head-spinning 12 minutes of bottled lightning in the shape of the glorious title track. It feints, dips, rallies and roars on a thrilling vocal and a sustained attack of guitars that feels like you’ve been tied to the bow of a ship and set to sea in the kind of storm that Turner used to paint. To say it’s a trip is to undersell it somewhat. It even ends, quite rightly, with the pop and fizz of fireworks lighting up a night sky.

Of course, being the Von Hertzen Brothers, they can conjure this sort of magic out of the air on what seems like a whim. More tightly structured songs (which is not to say that there’s an ounce of fat on the elongated title track) like the slick rock/pop of The Arsonist and Frozen Butterflies are utterly dazzling in their own way – think of a particularly spirited Foo Fighters if Dave Grohl had grown up in the suburbs of Helsinki. The latter is especially good, not least due to a guitar solo that would give Brian May pause to consider its complexity and tone. Especially good too is the thrumming Long Lost Sailor, which somehow manages to combine 80s radio rock with ABBA’s chiming pop. Yes, really.

It’s surprising, given this latest album, that after New Day Rising, the band found themselves at something of a creative impasse. “We wanted to reinvent the inspiration and energy in what we were doing,” says Kie. “We had a discussion about if we still have it in us, whether we’re still up for doing this.”

Cue a self-produced album, solo songwriting sessions, seclusion and very little outside help, musically speaking. Singer Mikko returned to India – he lived in an ashram for seven years in search of spiritual guidance – to work on the lyrics, which might explain the album’s themes of war and peace, and the quest for the richness of love and acceptance in a sometimes emotionally arid world; the constant striving not to succumb to the fearful ghouls thrown up by modern life.

Of course, as War Is Over proves, there’s beauty growing here too, if you have the wherewithal to find it. After the wonderfully fragile Wanderlust, the album folds in on itself with the explosive and stirring Beyond The Storm reaching ever upwards to a crashing crescendo that echoes the ‘war is over’ refrain from the album opener, completing the circle and celebrating a band that are, essentially, and stunningly, a sum of their parts.

Philip Wilding

Philip Wilding is a novelist, journalist, scriptwriter, biographer and radio producer. As a young journalist he criss-crossed most of the United States with bands like Motley Crue, Kiss and Poison (think the Almost Famous movie but with more hairspray). More latterly, he’s sat down to chat with bands like the slightly more erudite Manic Street Preachers, Afghan Whigs, Rush and Marillion.