VON HERTZEN BROTHERS + Ethyrfield, @ KK’s Steelmill, Wolverhampton – 19th May 2022

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Reviewed by Paul Quinton

This was the last gig on the Von Hertzen’s UK tour, their first since the War Is Over tour in 2018, this time in support of their rather fine new album, Red Alert in the Blue Forest. As the main room at KK’s was booked for other purposes, this gig was moved to the much smaller Lounge, which was pretty full even when Ethyrfield took the stage.

Previously known as ‘New Project’, ETHYRFIELD’s first mark on the scene was in winning the Rock The House National Under 19 competition a few years ago, followed by guitarist Ben Cornish appearing on Sky’s ‘Guitar Hero’ series, where he was mentored by Tony Iommi, no less. Like the headliners, they’re one of those bands that are quite difficult to categorise. Yes, they’re a heavy rock band, but they have so many facets to their music, heavy, melodic, sometimes they have echoes of Soundgarden, early Rush (bassist Zach Cornish’s t-shirt was a bit of a giveaway), even the Doors in some of Zach’s vocals, and there are genuinely progressive elements in the songs. The song ‘Serenity’, for example, and for me the highlight of their set, goes through several moods, including a more reflective guitar solo, before the band come in for the big finish, is proper progressive metal. Even when they do focus on the heavier elements, as in ‘Wishbone’, they can still add something different. This was a really impressive set from an excellent young band, who are quite capable of doing great things in the future.

Usually if you tell the uninitiated that you’re off to see the VON HERTZEN BROTHERS, the first reaction is ‘who?’ and the second, ‘what do they sound like, then?’, which is a surprisingly difficult question to answer. Yes, they’re a rock band, and they have progressive elements, but they’re not prog. They’re not metal, but they can play as heavy as you want if the song needs it, and some of their newer songs have folk elements woven in. They gave us the full range of their music and influences tonight, beginning with a couple of tracks from the new album, ‘Day of Reckoning’, an ideal opener with its slightly eerie opening sequence before the band burst into action, and ‘Blue Forest’. For these, and the subsequent ‘Jerusalem, there was so much happening it was hard to take in at first, and the sound was a little muddy, making it hard to pick out some of the guitar and keyboard parts. But by the time they reached the fourth song in the set, ‘Long Lost Sailor’ it was clear they’d been moving up through the gears so far, because now they hit top speed, and the gig really took off.

Even then, though, for ‘All of a Sudden You’re Gone’, they had the confidence to slow things down, before winding up the intensity again. This song, a thoughtful and elegant ballad, dedicated to all those who’d suffered loss through the lockdown, is superb, one of my favourite songs from 2022 so far, almost matched by ‘The Promise’, one of the songs with a folkier element, almost reminiscent of Page and Plant in their ‘Unledded’ phase. A word, too, for ‘Northern Lights’, with its electronica opening, and the band slowly adding extra elements, layering the song as it went along. I have no idea what time signature drummer Sami Kuoppamaki was laying down here, it sounded fiendishly complicated, but, as ever, his drumming was terrific throughout the set. Like Kie Von Hertzen on lead guitar, he’s a fine player who should be more widely appreciated.

While the new album was understandably featured heavily in the set, there was plenty of time for some old favourites. A fast and furious ‘You Don’t Know my Name’ was a shock to the system after the melancholy beauty of ‘All of a Sudden…’, ‘Sunday Child’ was its usual majestic self, and Mikko felt no need to coach the crowd in the vocal parts as he had at some of the other gigs on the tour, and ‘New Day Rising’ and main set closer ‘Coming Home’ never fail to induce mass leaping about and furious head nodding in the crowd. The sole encore was the epic and impassioned ‘Peace Patrol’, with Kie’s superlative guitar solo. At the end there was a nice touch when the band insisted that Ethyrfield join the on stage for the final bow, not exactly passing on the torch, but deserved appreciation for a young band on the rise.

You can easily overdo the superlatives for a gig like this, but when everything clicks, it’s hard not to. The set list was exactly right, the band played superbly, the crowd were totally into it from the opening notes and made for a great atmosphere, it really was something special. They’ll be back in the UK next year, probably including an appearance at the Steelhouse Festival. If you get the chance, go and see them, bands as good as this are a treat to be savoured.