Just about a year ago the Finnish prog rock band Von Hertzen Brothers had released their Best Of collection, and now the fifth studio album is released, which has been eagerly awaited by the fans. The influences mentioned in connection with the album have been varied, from the Finnish Schlager singer Kirka to Black Sabbath, and even though the brothers had been thinking about moving more into the direction of AOR / pop rock, the prog monster in them apparently woke up at some point and made this album complex and interesting.
The first single Flowers And Rust was released in February, along with a very cool video in the true VHB style. On the album, it´s the second track and certainly one of the more easy ones to approach, even though it did take me a few listens to fully appreciate the nuances. This applies to the rest of the album, too. Nine Lives requires and deserves proper listening. The first half of the album is a bit more fast-paced than the rest, providing a good dose of momentum to carry through the whole run time. From the very first notes of the opening track, Insomniac, the VHB sound is recognizable and pulls the listener into the strange and creative world of the brothers. They have combined their signature style raspy guitar sounds with everything from music boxes to monastery bells. The songs have layers upon layers of details to discover, and on the first listen there are some exciting surprises.
Take for example the opening of Coming Home, which sounds for a brief moment like something The 69 Eyes would do, down to the throaty and dark vocals. Then you realize it´s Kie von Hertzen who rocks like there´s no tomorrow. For the rest of the song there´s no question as to the identity of the band performing the song, it´s pure VHB with a hypnotic chorus and quirky details to the arrangements that are sure to get your attention.
Once you´ve recovered from that surprise, you seem to be pulled into the world of King Crimson´s 21st Century Schizoid Man again, as the opening of Lost In Time is certainly related to that old prog classic the band covered on their collection album. Some seriously heavy mood swings in this song!
Separate Forevers - like Down By The Sea from the album Stars Aligned - is a slow, philosophical and ethereal piece, in which Mikko performs all kinds of high notes. It´ll be interesting to see how this song works in the live set, if it´s included at all. After the calming effect of Separate Forevers, the album rolls into a more sedate rhythm, with some fantastic vocal harmonies the brothers are so brilliant at, and even some breathing space for the band´s excellent drummer Mikko Kaakkuriniemi, thanks to the fact that he doesn´t have to beat his drums into pulp during the final tracks. World Without, for example, is a piece with a mantra-like lyrics and an almost painterly sound world.
As the album winds down with the beautiful, softer tunes of Prospect For Escape, you should be feeling there´s beauty and love in this world - and that you´d definitely want to listen to it all again. For me Nine Lives is a skillfully constructed entity, with a clear arch of drama and carefully considered balance between harder rock and chill out pieces – as if the first four tracks were for Saturday evening and the rest of the album for Sunday afternoon.
If I have to be a nitpicker, I might perhaps say that the slower songs do sound quite alike. I feel like the first four tracks on this album have an immediate feel of "personality" as distinctively separate pieces. The last third of the album is perhaps just a bit more level, lacking distinctive highs and lows. But having said that, I do have to add I am thoroughly enjoying this album. I´m sure it will get criticized for being "artsy" and "strange", but that just happens to work for me. I strongly feel the presence of modern prog rock on this album - and can´t wait to get my hands on the Special Edition version with three bonus tracks. The extra songs may do interesting things to the dynamics of this album.
Anyway. Go and buy this version, once it´s out. You´ll have a wonderful trip down the prog lane with it. And you won´t be underestimated as a listener. You will be required to really listen, which is great.
2. Flowers And Rust
3. Coming Home
4. Lost In Time
5. Separate Forevers
6. One May Never Know
7. World Without
8. Black Heart’s Cry
9. Prospect For Escape
Mikko von Hertzen - Vocals & guitars
Kie von Hertzen - Guitars & vocals
Jonne von Hertzen - Bass & vocals
Juha Kuoppala - Keyboards
Mikko Kaakkuriniemi - Drums