This year’s biggest surprise so far may have been when Tuomas Saukkonen released a brand new DAWN OF SOLACE album called “Waves” in January out of the blue, and reviewing it was a wonderful way to start 2020. The project features long-time BLACK SUN AEON collaborator Mikko Heikkilä and some additional vocals by Lars Eikind, invoking the never-fading spirit of BEFORE THE DAWN, BLACK SUN AEON, and, of course, DAWN OF SOLACE itself.
WOLFHEART was born out of the ashes of those bands in 2013 when the aforementioned Finnish vocalist/multi-instrumentalist disbanded these projects to focus on one band. As surprising as it was hearing “Waves,” WOLFHEART very soon announced their fifth album, set to be released a few months later. Tuomas Saukkonen has been as busy as ever – no rest for the wicked, as they say – and “Wolves of Karelia” is here for us now to enjoy.
Following 2018’s “Constellation of the Black Light,” this is now Wolfheart’s second album released by Napalm Records. Their roster includes numerous genres of bands and it’s no wonder that WOLFHEART was a natural addition to this fine list of wonderful names. Saukkonen’s band has been incredibly active, producing five albums in only seven years, and this constant need to create never affected their quality, from “Winterborn” to “Constellation…” all albums are a fine example of how an authentic Finnish melodic death metal album should sound; “Wolves of Karelia” is no exception.
Eight songs, eight stories within one frame. Taking another step into their musical land closely associated with the term “winter metal,” “Wolves of Karelia” embraces the theme of war this time. More precisely, the three months of the Winter War of 1939-1940 between the Soviet Union and Finland. The USSR attacked Finland after they refused to cede the border territories of Karelia to them. Against all odds, the Finnish soldiers repelled the Soviet attacks for three months despite being greatly outnumbered, applying guerilla tactics. The theme of this cold, bloody, and devastating war is thoroughly represented on this record, through “personal stories of local veterans, conveying the tales of what they experienced and survived from their perspectives,” according to the band. It’s not the cheerful, sing-along feelgood way like, for example, SABATON writes about war that makes you feel like, “oh wow, war must have been so cool!” but instead, it represents how dark, somber, and grim war really is. The songs are anthemic, heroic, and at the same time, they are gloomy and utterly grievous. The great wars of the 20th century (and their consequences) live with us to this very day and I’m sure we can all relate to these pieces of events through stories that were told us by our grandfathers and grandmothers.
The first song, “Hail of Steel,” sets the mood with memorable melodies and sharp changes in its tempo, varying between furious drums, uplifting keyboards, and the slightly slower intro and chorus with clean backing vocals that are easy to remember even after the first listen. “Horizons on Fire” emerges into another blasting, cold, melodic death metal track after a slower start with acoustic guitars and keyboards, offering a slower chorus again that’s so easy to love, even after all these years of BEFORE THE DAWN and WOLFHEART. These elements continue nicely with “Reaper” that catches attention with anthemic guitar melodies among thrashing riffs. “The Hammer” ends with a beautiful acoustic segment that flows into a shorter instrumental track, “Eye of the Storm.” “Born from Fire” picks up the fast pace again that’s definitely going to be a real headbanger live if they ever play it. If I’d have to choose a favorite song (I couldn’t) that’d probably be “Arrows of Chaos” because of how aggressively melodic it sounds, providing a highlight and a summary for me of what this solid album is really about. “Ashes” was a perfect choice for a closing track with its mournful guitar melody and the slowly-building structure of the sad atmosphere. If I didn’t have dismal thoughts before today, I have now. Not in a bad way though; this is part of the beauty of the trademark Finnish melancholy.
“Wolves of Karelia” is not an album that’s going to surprise you, but it doesn’t need to. Although it was clearly made with a different approach than its predecessors, the album is an outstanding chapter in the history of WOLFHEART that fits right in line with their previous albums, develops the great arsenal of elements used by the band, and builds on their foundations. That it is a step forward from what was already an immaculate discography alone tells a lot – and enough – about this record.
Written by Árpi Fejes
1. Hail of Steel
2. Horizon on Fire
4. The Hammer
5. Eye of the Storm
6. Born From Fire
7. Arrows of Chaos
Tuomas Saukkonen – Vocals, Guitars
Joonas Kauppinen – Drums
Lauri Silvonen – Bass, Backing Vocals
Vagelis Karzis – Session Guitars