Von Hertzen Brothers: War Is Over (Mascot Records)
If you use the analogy of Star Wars films, Von Hertzen Brothers's seventh record could be subtitled The Prog Awakens opening and closing with magnificent 10 minute plus songs it sees them rediscovering the elongated classic prog songs of their earlier albums, but with the new stadium confidence they brought to their more recent efforts, much like Episode VII re-discovered the magic of the original Star Wars while maintaining their post Millennial blockbuster styling. Following New Day Rising the trio wanted to invert themselves, strip everything back and except for drums, play all of the instruments and produce the record themselves. “We wanted to re-invent the inspiration and energy in our doing" Kie says and it looks like a successful experiment, they've reverted back to the band I fell in love with on Approach off-kilter prog with 70's pop explorations, they've even drafted in Approach drummer Sami Kuoppamäki to maintain the sound of that early period.
As I said earlier the record opens with the 10 minute euphoric, magisterial title track, all the VHB trademarks are their, Mikko's light airy vocals, the triple threat backing vocals, melodic keys, rocking oddly timed riff, but what stands out are Kie's bringing back searing guitar solos to nearly every song, something that was missing form their last couple of more straightforward records. They don't shy away from their arena rock styling though, the gutsy To The End Of The World is driven by Jonne's bass, first single The Arsonist is one of the records weaker tracks but it retains the albums theme that peace and love which is nowhere better displayed than on Jerusalem which features guest keys from HIM's Janne ‘Burton’ Puurtinen and much like how ELP covered the hymn of the same name this is as much a homage to Keith Emerson as anything else VHB have done, it's and epic track built around keyboards, keyboards and more keyboards, while Who Are You has the ethereal nature.
Mikko spent a month in India writing the lyrics for this record and those influences are obvious on Blindsight and the glorious finale of Beyond The Storm. This record stands as a milestone for the Finnish brothers, they have tirelessly adapted their sound to get a wider audience, this has seen them play festivals and get wider critical acclaim without becoming too stale then on the back of probably their most 'mainstream' record they are now at a point where their fanbase will happily accept them as 'proper' prog band again. 9/10
Grave Pleasures: Mother Blood (Century Media)
Apocalyptic post punk, built on a nihilist mentality but riddled with 80's pop hooks, the record is a fast paced, breathless stab at the heart of all things good but conjures a romanticism for misery. The deep, sexy, resonance in the vocals of Mat McNerney will tickle your lovely bits, like Depeche Mode's Dave Gahan, as the Juho Vanhanen plays jangly angular Telecaster riffs, while the rest of the band thunder along with aplomb bringing the sing along choruses many of the post punk crowd would have killed for, swaddling the music in a Gothic velveteen at times, getting you to dance to its death-rock rhythms before laying more esoteric aural stimulation and some good old fashioned fang bearing punk. The record whizzes by in haze of joyous melancholy as Doomsday Rainbows, Infatuation Overkill and Joy Through Death all juxtapose light with dark, elsewhere though Be My Hiroshima belies the title for what is a thoroughly romantic song a trick repeated on Falling For An Atom Bomb.
I loved the first Grave Pleasures album and before them I was always welcomed Beastmilk with open arms despite them not being in my normal spectrum of listening. The ten tracks on this record fly by at speed probably due to the punk background of the band but they sink in, none are throwaway and need a few spins to really get their teeth into you. I've always had an ear to the obscure and the unique, Grave Pleasures are that, owing as much to Ghost, Danzig and The Doors as they do to The Cure, Siouxsie And The Banshees and even the throbbing electronic preening of Duran Duran they pick sounds, from a very short but influential part of British music history, they are an will always be more Bauhaus and Bowie than Purple and Zeppelin but when the music is this good no matter what you classify it as it's still dazzling. 9/10
10 Years: [How We Live] As Ghosts (Mascot Records)
After the Knoxville alt-metal bands previous album From Birth To Burial it felt as if they were done, founder members guitarist/drummer Brian Vodinh and guitarist Matt Wantland had left the group before it's release for personal reasons and it seemed as if this record was closure singer Jesse Hasek puts it like this "I thought it was our final record because it just didn't feel like 10 Years without Brian and Matt" however roll forward to 2017 and both Brian and Matt have returned to the band, theri return has had a regenerating effect on this band as (How We Live) As Ghosts is probably the most organic vital sounding record the band have done. Working with acclaimed producer Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Alice In Chains, Deftones) he coerced them into coming out of their collective shells and trying new ideas, one of these was stripping back the usually layered vocals of Jesse, who delivers an excellent performance.
The music on this record has number of roots but mostly stays true the bands alternative/post grunge ethos relying on emotive, anthemic, heartfelt modern metal songs with reflective lyrics and a lighter more optimistic feel casting away the gloom of their previous record with a sneer of Placebo and the muscular all for one ethos of Shinedown on Novocaine. I hadn't heard much of 10 Years before this but after doing a bit of searching in their history I can categorically say this is my favourite album of theirs and it should be yours too. 8/10
Set The Charge: Sky Goes On (Self Released)
Have you ever seen the YouTube video series called 10 Second Songs? Basically vocalist Anthony Vincent sings a song and every 10 seconds changes the style, artist or genre of it, some of them are very good indeed, his expressive vocals mimicking the artists he's trying to sing like. He has over 2.4 million subscribers and over 139 million video views, so he's not a flash in the pan internet celebrity. He also has a band called Set The Charge and much like his genre bending videos on YouTube the record has many styles mingle throughout it at their heart they are an alternative rock band with progressive and electronic elements, think Muse, Coheed and 30STM jamming to some Queen and you'll be able to get a clearer picture of their sound, Youngin best shows this with it's vaudeville piano and swaggering drums.
Tell Me has ambient melodies driving it, Right Side Of History is an expansive rocker, with a poppy chorus, Don't Let Them In has a reggae sound to it, while Yes And No is a massive radio ballad that deserves radio play as does Betsy Brown. Anthony has found himself an impressive band for this record all playing their roles he duels six strings with Tom Dicarlucci throughout as bassist Derek Ortiz drummer Frank (Anthony's brother) support with the killer rhythm section. Every song on this record has multiple layers that peel away on each listen, it's a multi tracked, progressive record that features Vincent's expressive vocals and songs that have been crafted for maximum impact, more than just a YouTube sensation Anthony Vincent and Set The Charge are something special and in a time of so many bands doing nothing new, Set The Charge really do try to set themselves apart. 8/10