Von Hertzen Brothers // Ethyrfield // Live Review // The Thekla // Bristol

It’s an evening full of promise here on the city’s waterside – all shipshape and Bristol fashion if you wish to coin an appropriate phrase. Bathed in evening sunshine The Thekla’s reflections coruscate shimmeringly in the East Mud Dock waters.

It’s not every day one gets the opportunity to witness two of the finest exponents of progressive metal, on the current underground grassroots scene, ply their trade in the unique environs of a converted hold of a former cargo vessel. This, however, is precisely what is on offer tonight at The Thekla – a venue chock-full of nautical character that has, in one shape or another, been at the vibrant heart of Bristol’s cultural centre for nearly 40 years.

It’s a billing that is well-matched with the roots of both outfits being steeped in progressive metalliferous elements. However similar to the basic premise is there this is a symphonious confluence of two very different interpretations of the theme. The alloying of influences in the respective melting pots produces dramatically contrastive products but with no variance in terms of the sheer quality offered.

Tonight is the first date of the UK leg of the Von Hertzen Brothers’ ‘Red Alert’ tour and it’s a big deal for young Devonian trio Ethyrfield. Although they have been gigging for over five years in this form, and for a good while longer under their previous name, this is their very first nationwide tour. It’s thoroughly deserved as through the organic process of sheer hard gigging and word of mouth recommendations they are catching the ears of influential parties.

There are no visible signs of nerves as they step onto the cramped stage – their Finnish headliners, with good reason, don’t travel light. With brothers Zach (lead vocals/bass) and Ben Cornish (guitar/backing vocals) flanking drummer Dan Aston’s kit, there is just enough room for movement.

A healthy-sized crowd are packed into the hold as the first notes of the mellifluous magnificence of traditional set-opener ‘Sunstroke’ is struck. It’s a crowd formed, as one would expect, in the main by the headliner’s fans and they receive the support very warmly from the very off.

Festival slots at Nozlite in Southampton and Swansea’s Station 18 over the past two weekends have clearly paid dividends as they project a most polished product. With the briefest of greetings from Zach – “How you doing Bristol? We’re Ethyrfield!” – they slip right into the pugilistic heavyweight ‘Free The Dog’. Lifted from their second EP ‘Taurus’ this track represents a bridge of sorts. Metamorphism from their grungier early recordings to their more progressive output on last year’s debut album ‘In Delirium’.

With tumbling beats, a pack of burning-eyed hounds trample all before them. With rhythms stretched beyond the modulus point and sharp riffing ‘The Hunter’ commands attention. Pleasantly contrasting shades of light and dark are applied to the neoclassical prog-metal masterpiece that is ‘Serenity’. It’s clear from the response from the Thekla gathering that the VHB faithful has clearly taken Ethyrfield to their collective heart. The vocal harmonies between the brothers are instinctive as only siblings can be.

As the gathering expands in numbers, Ethyrfield packs the killer blow with ‘Bitter Wishbone’. Bringing a faultless half hour to an impactful finale as the triumvirate let everything fly in a total rocking out sense. Ben, with sincere reverence, thanks to both the crowd and their Finnish headliners as the cheers signal a very well-received set. All have borne witness to a moment of coming; no doubt of it this is the perfect moment for this talented bunch of lads from South Devon to be embarking upon their first tour proper.

This evening’s much-awaited headline act is an evolving work of art fronted by three brothers – Kie (guitar/vocals), Mikko (lead vocals/guitar) and Jonne (bass/vocals) – the product of a Finnish musical dynasty. The brothers’ father and uncle were both accomplished musicians in their own right. Via various separate projects during the 90s the brothers collaborated in 2001 for their first long-player ‘Experience’. 21 years further down the wooded track and so the Von Hertzen Brothers eighth studio release ‘Red Alert in the Blue Forest’ has landed to wide acclaim. Coming some five years after their last album ‘War Is Over’ the set is neatly balanced towards ‘Red Alert’ with five of the eleven tracks contained within on offer this evening.

White spotlights sweep across a darkened stage briefly silhouetting mic stands, keyboards and drums alike as they traverse. The suspense builds tangibly as the low resonating atmospheric intro spools. There’s a hint of the eclecticism that lies in wait with hints of Jean-Michel Jarre stirring. This is not going to be a normal evening for sure. The three brothers along with drummer Sami Kuoppamaki and Swedish keyboardist Robert Engstrand slip onto the Thekla stage.

Out of the wooded glade, The Thekla is launched into orbit above a solar-drenched alien landscape. It’s immense and full-blooded with pin-sharp four-piece harmonies enwrapped about early Pink Floyd-fueled psychedelia. The ‘Day of Reckoning’ has, indeed, arrived.

Transitioning seamlessly into ‘Blue Forest, complete with appropriate stage lighting, the Brothers continue apace. With its deep and complex lyrics – delivered with more than a hint of Bowie – this track grabs your very soul and plummets you down the rabbit hole into a vivid abstractly painted landscape. The forest comes to life tumbling from the artist’s canvas; dark brooding shadows lie deep in the trees.

Phaser riffage atop a military-esque drum beat announces ‘Jerusalem’. Fearless the pilgrims tread; only looking ahead never rearwards. Behind storm clouds gather, lightning strikes the serrated craggy peaks. Vultures circle but ultimately will go unfed. Across fields and open sea alike the pilgrim’s stride.

Off their fifth album – Mikko noting that this “Is all about Bristol of course!” – the tubthumping ‘Coming Home’ gets the sizeable ensemble clapping throughout. Boisterous guitaring along with foresaying keys drive this epic along in top gear. The returning Nords will seek advancement with the smoke of destruction hanging over their lands.

Colourful petals fall into ochrous ferrous oxide combining with conflagrant sparks to usher force ‘Flowers and Rust’ – winner of the Anthem of The Year at the Progressive Rock Awards 2013 in London. The evocative folk-edged ‘All of a Sudden, You’re Gone’ continues to give demonstrative forging of the expansive undefinable nature of this Scandinavian jewel; a veritable triumph. Trees, devoid of leaf, stretch tall into the grey, foreboding skies. Naked wood pointing towards the celestial bodies above. A shooting star flashes through the heavens; the woodsman knows the pagan gods are close by. The time of departure nears.

The balance of nature is redressing itself; the Finnish lands awaken from their talvi slumbers. As the ice melts and retreats towards invisibility so green shoots begin to shoot with the increasing hours of light. ‘Frozen Butterflies’ soon will take flight. Folk-drenched this track grasps all gathered herein as it builds up into metallic tomes. Bright keys juxtapose with the serious riffage and beat to good effect and are lapped up by the faithful.

The stellar ‘Sunday Child’ is followed by the furious paced Foo Fighter-styled rocker ‘You Don’t Know My Name’ melding a coursing prog flow into the delivery. Darkened denizens of the Underworld scowl as they’re driven back by a dawning of positivity.

With sincere tones, Mikko congratulates their tour support “Give a big hand to Ethyrfield. They were amazing, such talent. The future generation.” Clearly, the youngsters have reminded our headliners of a younger self. Compliment indeed.

The board’s creek and gunnels fill with ‘The Promise’ setting sail with Kie bringing a mandolin to proceedings with good effect. It’s folk, it’s metal, it’s prog? Yes this is the Von Hertzen Brothers! The track navigates a course through uncharted tempestuous seas. Monsters from the deep do battle as they’re forced to the stormy surface. It’s worth checking to see if the Thekla has actually left port or not!

Mikko enquires “So Bristol is by the sea? Well there is a channel right?” before stating “We were pleasantly surprised this song had been played more than the Foo Fighters on a certain major rock station [here in the UK].” This is Levellers fused with Metallica with a distinct nautical sea shanty feel with a Celtic vibrancy!

With subtle movements of classical proportions ‘Peace Patrol’ takes a brooding darkened Joy Division / Cure direction. Driving the beast through tenebrous lands a new day is about to stretch its tendrils of light. Holding his guitar aloft Mikko, at the song end, with beams of light surrounding him, looks like for all the world that he’s going to be beamed off the stage.

The crowd cheer for more and there’s one further number for the masses. Kie screams “We can’t hear you!” before the band returns to the stage to rip into ‘New Day Rising’. Its full sound has Thekla in an uproar! A thunderous climax that out-Floyds psychedelic Pink Floyd at their best and the metaphorical curtain is brought down in terrific fashion.

It has been an absolute pleasure to see the Brothers in action for the first time in nearly five years. Only two questions …. the first from Mikko “When can we play Steelhouse again?” and the second from all gathered here in the hull of Thekla … How on earth isn’t this band playing large arenas?

The May 2022 tour will be the band’s first UK live date since2018. An accomplished live act, Von Hertzen Brothers have performed in 22 countries. Their live shows have been described as a mesmerising, magical and thought-provoking.  The artists they have played with a hint at the breadth and depth of their music and include the likes of Foo Fighters, Neil Young and Biffy Clyro.
The band will headline a tour in Finland before coming to The UK in May. UK dates are as follows

 

Review: Gary Spiller // Photography: Kelly Spiller 

 

Sun 15thMay                        Buckley, Tivoli
Mon 16thMay 2022               Newcastle, TBA
Tues 17thMay 2022              Glasgow, Slay
Wed 18thMay 2022               Huddersfield, The Parish
Thurs 19thMay 2022             Wolverhampton, KK’s Steel Mill

Tickets go onsale at 10:00 AM GMT Friday 5thMarch 2022.
For tickets and further information please visit http://www.vonhertzenbrothers.com/

“Red Alert in the Blue Forest” is a stunning album. The sounds, rhythms and melodies of the album reflect the brothers’ unique upbringing – both musically and personally. Weaving in the mysticism of Finnish folklore and the countryside they grew up immersed in, the album track “Northern Lights” actually features distinct and rarely heard sounds of the Aurora Borealis as captured by Professor Unto K. Laine https://www.vonhertzenbrothers.com/northern-lights/
Musically hard to categorise, drawing on elements of rock, folk, progressive and pop, “Red Alert in the Blue Forest” is an album that is dazzling in its scope.

 

 

“Red Alert in the Blue Forest” will be released through Doing Being Music on the 18thMarch 2022.

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