There is always a sense of anticipation when news arrives of a new album from Finland’s wonderful Von Hertzen Brothers. Since they began making inroads into the consciousness of music lovers outside their homeland, they have gone from strength to strength with their music becoming increasingly accessible and energetic. They have toured regularly and proved themselves to be a popular draw, whether playing small clubs or on the stage at Download, and they always send the crowd away happy. Red Alert in the Blue Forest is their eighth album, the first since 2017’s War Is Over, which had seen them make a return to their proggier side, and that trajectory is continued on the new album in so far as it is eclectic and daring in its scope and ambition.
The over-riding feeling of Red Alert in the Blue Forest is that they are hitting the panic button for the survival of our planet. The Von Hertzen Brothers are clearly deeply rooted in the Finnish landscape, environment and in the history of their country. They amply demonstrate their passion for the wonders of the natural world throughout the album, and there is a sense of sadness and almost hopelessness as they struggle – as do many of us – to know how to turn the tide. Well, in their own small way, perhaps writing and recording an album of this quality and commitment might help strengthen the resolve of those who care. At the very least, anyone can listen and marvel at the range of moods and styles on display, the quality of the songs and performances, and be inspired and grateful. This is without doubt the best album the Brothers have produced so far, and it will feature in many end of year lists if there is any justice left in the world. Yes, it’s that good.
Day of Reckoning bursts out of the traps with their signature high energy style, and it could be no-one else. The storyline has a sci-fi flavour, but could be read several ways, and makes for a prophetic statement of intent. It segues nicely into the extended piece Blue Forest, and immediately this sounds completely different from what many people would expect of the band. It builds slowly, with a hymnal quality, and an air of faint menace, but with an insistent electronic pulse underlining the urgency of the fate of the Blue Forest. There’s a definite hint of Steven Wilson in the song as it incorporates modern sounds and textures within a progressive rock landscape, together with the dark mood and contrast between the delicate and savage moments. It’s a fantastic piece of work.
The Promise has a folky feel, with its semi-chanted vocals and mainly acoustic instrumentation, and again there’s an underlying sense of foreboding. It acts as a perfect prelude to the first single released from the album. At seven minutes, it’s a long single, but what a masterpiece. All Of A Sudden You’re Gone is another slice of melancholia, built around a simple piano motif and beautifully enhanced with delicate guitar, eventually developing into an anthem, with Mikko’s voice soaring into the Scandinavian night. Whoever has suddenly departed, this is an epic tribute to their soul.
After these first four gems, I half expected a couple of more ordinary tracks, doubting the band’s ability to maintain such a high standard throughout. Wrong. Peace Patrol is an epic, with two distinct sections. The first is a high energy bouncy piece of more typical VHB which then collapses into a brief monologue.
To hand over her land, her oceans, woods and air.
When man played God, their freedom led to trouble
To a real self-destructive affair”
The band pick up a slow march over which an emotive sax solo gives way to a guitar solo Dave Gilmour would be happy with. It’s epic and stirring stuff, the second half elevating the entire piece into the stratosphere.
The brothers’ deep connection with Finnish culture, history and folklore, together with the sense of place in the landscape imbues almost every song. Pirates of the Raseborgian has a prog sea shanty vibe, whilst Söderskär is an introspective piece celebrating one of the many small islands in one of the many archipelagos of Finland. Northern Lights is self-explanatory, and shimmers with the transcendent vision of the Aurora Borealis translated into music. It even begins with what is apparently the actual sound of this phenomenon. Who knew it made a sound? Again the song builds in momentum to a glorious conclusion, full of wide-eyed wonder. It’s that sense of wonder coupled with the darker feeling of loss, or potential loss, which is the cornerstone of this album, and makes it the most important of their career. As the final sign off Disappear There hints at the end of things and fades like a dying bloom, we are left lamenting this emptiness whilst revelling in its beauty. The Von Hertzen Brothers have pulled off a stunning victory in both warning of the imbalance of our natural world, and celebrating the beauty which could be lost. To do that with 70 minutes of music is quite something. Listen and wonder.
01. Day of Reckoning (4:39)
02. Blue Forest (9:06)
03. The Promise (5:20)
04. All of A Sudden, You’re Gone (7:13)
05. Peace Patrol (10:00)
06. Pirates of the Raseborgian (4:57)
07. Anil (6:45)
08. Elbowed (5:16)
09. Northern Lights (7:39)
10. Söderskär (3:46)
11. Disappear There (4:52)
Total Time – 69:27
Mikko von Hertzen – Vocals, Guitars
Kie von Hertzen – Guitars, Vocals
Jonne von Hertzen – Bass, Vocals
Sami Kuoppamäki – Drums
Robert Engstrand – Keyboards
Max Lilja – Cello
Klaara Pyrhönen – Violin
Janne Toivonen – Trumpet
Tero Toivonen – French Horn
Juho Viljanen – Trombone
Record Label: Alternative Distribution Alliance (ADA)
Country of Origin: Finland
Date of Release: 18th March 2022