I got myself involved in a project where we’re writing a digital textbook for guidance counseling studies in the Finnish senior high school level. Being an author with a seriously tight deadline has meant that I haven’t been shooting much of anything. Blogging even less…
But I’ve been listening to a damned fine new album by the fantastic Von Hertzen Brothers and I think I’m going to want to spend a few moments blogging about it (instead of working on the next chapter of the book). New Day Rising was released this past March in Europe and in the US & Canada and it’s super good!
This is the brothers’ sixth studio album and it’s definitely getting them a lot of praise. Well deserved praise, I’d like to add. With the help of producer Garth “GGGarth” Richardson and Randy Staub the brothers have created an album that definitely sounds like them, but perhaps in a bit more straight forward fashion. It doesn’t include all the songs we heard on the pre-listening gig last year (see my previous blog post about it here), which is a shame, but of course totally understandable. The raw material the brothers played on that Magnus’ Day gig was streamlined and pruned into what we now hear on New Day Rising.
The band has been labeled a prog rock band, and even though their previous albums may actually be more prog, there are still plenty of prog elements in the brothers’ music. Surprising hooks, complex rhythms & melodies and so on. I guess the simpler pop-rock songs like Hold Me Up are a sign of the Canadian producer’s influence, a sign of the brothers’ wild ideas being reined in a bit. On a gig in Turku Mikko (the lead vocals, the middle brother) actually told us that Hold Me Up is considered the “universal hit track” of the album. Sure, it’s perhaps one of the “easiest” songs of the new album, which still doesn’t mean it’s a simple one.
“Easy” and “simple” are never good words when trying to describe VHB’s music. What I’ve always loved about the band is that they never underestimate you, their listener. The music has layers upon layers of elements that demand you to concentrate on listening.
On this album, for instance, I find that the staggering work of Mikko Kaakkuriniemi on the drums demands attention. I’m blown away by some of the more complex tracks – the man is a machine! At the same time the brothers have added weight to some of the guitar & bass sounds, as well. And it all sums up to an album that is in part heavier than anything they’ve played before and on the other hand, in part just as quirky and / or serene as ever. The vocal harmonies are also just as smooth as before, which is fab, as that’s definitely one of the most enjoyable parts of VHB’s music.
My highlights for the album are, first of all, Trouble. Which is a song that reminds me a bit of Dream Theater (the opening of the track and some elements of the video) and a bit more of the Queens of the Stone Age song Someone’s in the Wolf. Haunting, eerie, alluring, powerful… I haven’t got enough of adjectives to describe how much I love this song. Definitely number one for me on this album. Check it out!
Other highlights? Well, I do love the quirkiness of Dreams, with lead vocals by Kie Von Hertzen. Seriously, how could I not love a song in which Kie promises to learn how to pole dance to spice things up? Priceless! (Plus the track just happens to have the easiest sing-along bits which have been great fun on the gigs.) Only downside to this particular song was when on the gig in Turku Mikko couldn’t manage the whistled parts, because he was smiling too much. We all got a huge giggle out of it, when he tried to whistle his little tune and failed miserably. And laughed at his own attempt. I think this will teach him a lesson – whistled parts don’t go well with VHB, because they’re just too happy on stage. But I’ll gladly skip any and all whistling in favor of the wide smiles and genuine happiness we all see on stage when the band performs. I’ve been reading the works of Sir Ken Robinson for my book project lately and using his terminology, I think it’s safe to say that the brothers have found their Element in music and their Tribe in VHB. Yeio!
Third highlight that deserves a special mention is the beautiful Hibernating Heart. Once again the brothers have created a song that sounds like it should be listened by the sea. I’m almost forced to hold back tears every time I hear this song, especially on gigs. There’s just something so touching about it. It’s the Down By The Sea or Separate Forevers of this album. Just lovely.
I’ve seen two of VHB’s New Day Rising Tour gigs. One in Helsinki, in the legendary venue Tavastia and the other here in my home town of Turku, in Klubi. Both gigs were excellent, but I have to say the Turku gig was the better of the two.
Tavastia’s gigs (out of which I saw the first one) were at the beginning of the Finnish tour and Turku’s turn was almost a month later, towards the end of the spring tour, before the band headed out to the UK and other parts of Europe. And the difference was noticeable. In Turku the band seemed more at ease with the songs and I guess the smaller venue made the experience more intense for us in the audience. Ok, I’ve got to say I was in the front row for the Turku gig (thanks to having a photo pass but the venue not having a photo pit) and quite a bit further back for the Tavastia one. In my experience the positive energy of the band is best observed from the front, instead of hanging around in the back rows.
I remember hearing Mikko ponder out loud on stage that perhaps they should pay more attention to their looks on gigs. They used to wear random (but cool) t-shirts and jeans, but on this tour someone has clearly made a design decision. For Mikko it means a white suit and for the whole band, white tech. White Sennheiser mics, white drums & keyboards etc. Very sleek.
The set lists for the gigs of this tour have been a delightful combination of all the new songs and some of the best and most beloved old ones. This results in almost 2-hour sets. I’m not complaining, at all. The more the better, that’s how I see it on VHB gigs.
To sum it all up, I’ve got to give the new album a full 10/10 on my personal scale, it’s just that good. And I’m darned, if I can’t see the band in the summer (they’re doing several Finnish rock festivals, I’m trying to get to go to Provinssirock to see them and Muse!), but live in hope that after the summer’s festival season there’s going to be a bit of an autumn tour… Pretty please, broz?
(Photos taken on the Turku gig, with the permission of the band’s manager Virpi Immonen. Many thanks for the photo pass!)