REVIEW: Wolfheart – King of the North

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Finnish vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Tuomas Saukkonen is one busy musician, that’s for sure, as WOLFHEART’s sixth studio album, “King of the North,” is his third release of 2022. The first two came from melodic doom act DAWN OF SOLACE in the form of the full-length “Flames of Perdition” in January followed by its acoustic counterpart, the EP “Notes of Perdition (Unplugged Studio Live)” in May. I guess there really is no rest for the wickedly creative, since the follow-up to the highly acclaimed Wolves of Karelia (2020) was released on September 16th, 2022, via Napalm Records.

The striking soundscape of this album is a very accurate portrayal of their self-imposed winter metal genre. It feels cold and distant, with some rays of sun coming in from the occasional usage of piano, strings, acoustic guitar strumming, choral arrangements, and clean vocals. Otherwise, it’s just storming drums, howling riffs, impressive solos, and harsh vocals, topped off by an icy atmosphere. While on paper this doesn’t sound very inviting or appealing, as a cold winter day that feels frozen in time, ultimately “King of the North” – like the band’s previous five albums – has its charms and seductive beauty. The desolate piano tones that open up “Skyforger” set the stage for a chilly musical adventure through Finnish mythology. This 7½-minute-long epic can be seen as a microcosm of the album, as it offers both harsh and clean vocals, some backing choirs and orchestrations, as well as an ebb-and-flow of fast-paced chugging guitar melodies and bleak instrumental sections. These elements will appear throughout the rest of the songs in various combinations and forms.   

Released as a single, frosty anthem “Ancestor” is a meaty track that moves between crushing blast-beats and a vocal duet with Jesse Leach (KILLSWITCH ENGAGE), which further leads into a fantastic overlap of growls and cleans in the catchy chorus. In the same vein, “Cold Flame” features the vocal talents of NILE frontman Karl Sanders, whose brutal gutturals complement the maliciously groovy riffing and work perfectly in tandem with Tuomas Saukkonen’s vocal style to deliver a head-spinning death metal track. Another heavy cut from this album is “Desolate Lands,” whose furious guitar work and intense drumming ultimately settle into a headbang-worthy rhythm, accented by sweeping strings and crowned by a clean-sung chorus and a fiery solo. “Fires of the Fallen” has some backing orchestrations that add depth and texture to the heaviness that comes from Joonas Kauppinen’s drums and the guitars, while the vocal layering in the chorus circles back to “Ancestor.” Speaking of Kauppinen, his drum sound and his drumming style are the heartbeats of the record, bringing different moods and textures to the music, depending on what the song needs from him, while also acting like an anchor for the rest of the material.

On the more atmospheric and melodic side of things, “Knell” has a haunting piano melody woven in the instrumental tapestry that acts as a counterpoint to the melodic guitar lead, also softening the harsher vocal tones. The intricate arrangements work wonders on this album and are especially evident in this piece. More piano can be heard on gorgeous single “The King,” a driving track that also has a bit of a folk metal vibe going for it. Here, the orchestrations feel more integrated into the main melody, sitting alongside the hefty guitars and robust drums to create a fuller soundscape; Vageliss Karzis’ resonant and warm cleans contrast with Tuomas Saukkonen’s deep harsh vocals, adding a new dimension to the music. Echoing the build-ups of “Skyforger,” closing track “Eternal Slumber” opens on symphonic sounds before showcasing the album’s main strengths – the duality and layering of the vocals, the guitars, the drums, and the orchestral elements – in one majestic display of melodic death metal, perfected to a tee. The added cleans from both Vageliss Karzis and bassist Lauri Silvonen only help to enrich and elevate the music and the sound of the band to new levels, in the same way Pekka Motin helped ENSIFERUM reach new heights with “Thalassic.”  

With “King of the North,WOLFHEART prove once again why they are hailed as one of Finland’s top melodic death metal bands, delivering an album that is complex in its apparent simplicity, with a soundscape that is as rich and beautiful as it is somber and wintry, while also boasting many different influences. All these aspects lead to “King of the North” being quite a varied record, with songs pulling in different directions but never straying too far from the band’s core sound. Add to this the attention to detail and intricate mythological storytelling and you get a sense of how grand this album actually is. Needless to say, excellent “King of the North” is a worthy addition to WOLFHEART’s already impressive back catalog.

Written by Andrea Crow

Tracklist

  1. Skyforger
  2. Ancestor (feat Jesse Leach)
  3. Knell
  4. Desolated Land
  5. The King
  6. Cold Flame (feat Karl Sanders)
  7. Headstones
  8. Fires of the Fallen
  9. Eternal Slumber

Lineup

Vageliss Karzis – Guitars and Vocals
Tuomas Saukkonen – Guitars and Vocals
Lauri Silvonen – Bass and Vocals
Joonas Kauppinen – Drums

Label

Napalm Records

Links

Website     |     Facebook     |     Instagram     |     Bandcamp     |     Spotify     |      Napalm Records