Wolfheart – ‘Wolves Of Karelia’

By Fiachra Johnston

Metal: it’s the bread and butter of an entire region’s heavy music scene and, like pop music, can often find itself a rather bloated genre. It’s a style stacked with talent, but equally flooded with bands that seek to reinvent the wheel, only to end up retelling the same story that has come before for over a decade. Still, there are those that seek to coat the genre with a fresh lick of paint and succeed. Wolfheart’s Tuomas Saukkonen and his band of merry miscreants have only been causing sonic mayhem since 2013, but none of its current members are new to the world of music – Saukkonen himself was part of Before The Dawn, Black Sun Aeon, and RoutaSielu before dissolving all three to focus on Wolfheart, a curious blend of death metal and symphonic music they’ve dubbed “Winter Metal”.

‘Wolves Of Karelia’ makes for their fifth full length record in seven years, an impressive feat made more so by the consistent quality of each album across the board. This album has the unenviable role of continuing that trend, but powers through its task thunderously and with ease as the quartet stand to release an album that is both style and substance.

At eight tracks and forty minutes long, Wolves Of Karelia’s runtime seems a little on the short side at first glance, but it’s plenty of time for the album to flesh itself out: ‘Hail Of Steel’ feels like a pilot piece to Wolfheart’s whole style, a slow electric build that explodes into quivering violins. Likewise, ‘Horizon On Fire’ debuts in quiet orchestral fashion before breaking out the nightmarish growls and shredding solos. These string sections – the shrill violins, or provocative acoustic guitars – are the lifeblood of the album, at times acting as the centrepiece to an introduction, at other points quietly working in the background. It’s amazing how so little can have so much of an impact, but these quiet additions make for a truly engaging sound.

As is to be expected, the heavier elements don’t have to play catch up much. The heart-stoppingly heavy machine gun drumming from Joonas Kauppinen is of particular note, technically solid and – while nothing jaw-droppingly experimental – demonstrating immense presence through exciting drum lines without drawing away from the work of his bandmates, providing a solid backbone on which the rest of the musical frame is built. The guitar riffs of Saukkonen and session guitarist Vagelis Karzis, plus the bass of Lauri Silvonen, flesh out the atmosphere further. It creates a seminal metal experience that while willing to lean on traditional sounds, when combined with these symphonic elements creates something magical. All of this is demonstrated in ‘Eye Of The Storm’, a three minute instrumental interlude that demonstrates the symphonic side of symphonic metal wonderfully, before launching into the metal side with the heaviest track, ‘Born From The Fire’. It’s a wonderfully complementary pair of tracks that shows Wolfheart’s ability to enrapture you through these grand motifs and closing with one of the (relatively) slower tracks in ‘Ashes’ simulates the finale of this Nordic epic. It’s a final coming together of every element – acoustic, electric and vocal – that expresses what truly makes this album worth listening to.

Wolfheart play to their strengths on this record, delivering a symphonic barrage that can at times feel overwhelming, but nevertheless is extremely well put together. It’s a bewitching collection of highly focused tracks that mixes tradition with the unorthodox, making for an intoxicating forty minute operatic experience that acts as a high point for Saukkonen and the gang.

FIACHRA JOHNSTON

Three more album reviews for you

COPE - 'THE SHOCK DOCTRINE'

Naked Next Door - 'Swerving Out Wide'

Non Canon - 'Non Canon II'