Wolfheart
Wolves of Karelia

As I once said (not very long ago!), Tuomas Saukkonen is one goddamn busy dude.

To me, Wolfheart’s first two releases, Winterborn and Shadow World, were absolute masterpieces – epic, emotive and creatively diverse albums the breathed new, inspiring life into a subgenre that was abandoned and left for dead, and put them nearly on equal footing with countrymates Insomnium as the modern day leaders of melodeath.

Unfortunately, Saukkonen’s dogged work habit started to muddle things a bit. Only a year after the release of Shadow World, Wolfheart released (*checks spelling*) Tyhjyys, a seemingly rushed, uneven affair that didn’t feel like a finished product. Less than two years after, they followed up with Constellations of the Black Light, which featured a couple strong tracks but was, again, an incomplete, not-quite-fully-formed affair. It started to feel like maybe Tuomas had stripped all the meat off the bone, and there was just nothing much left to chew on.

So when I heard that Wolfheart was getting set to release another album, less than two years removed from Constellations and just months after Saukkonen’s Dawn of Solace release, I really thought the odds were high that it would be an uninspired, dog-tired effort that wouldn’t have much bark, and almost no bite. I was ready to take ‘Ol Yeller out back and… uh… send him to that farm upstate.

But as it turns out, maybe that brief distraction away from Wolfheart to concentrate on the Dawn of Solace release was just enough to give Tuomas the break he needed to recharge the batteries and inject some real life back into the old girl, because Wolves of Karelia is a goddamn revelation. 

To start, Wolves of Karelia sounds fucking HUGE. I think Constellations… and (*KEYBOARD SMASH*) Tyhjyys saw the band searching for a bigger, more burly sound, but both fell short end ended up feeling flat as a result. Wolves, on the other hand, achieves an almost blockbuster, Dimmu Borgir or Shade Empire-level of robust. And the balance between the dark and light, the brutal and melodic is just so much more on point this time around, as showcased right out of the gate on “Hail of Steel,” kicking things off with a soaring, epic melody backed by thunderous, war-like drums that hint at some of that bouncy, full-body groove that made tracks like “Strength and Valour” and “Zero Gravity” so infectious on their first two albums. Saukkonen and Co. then launch into a neck-snapping, blackened blast beat assault before unleashing a catchy, grandiose chorus that just pulls you in and makes you want more.

And thank the gods, the band obliges. “Horizon on Fire” starts like a collective breath before an oncoming storm, and exhales with a typhoon of guitars and drums that feel alive with organic fury and movement from one verse to the next, coming together with another melodic and evocative chorus that leaves a big mark. “Reaper” changes the pace slightly with a bouncier, more ground n‘ pound approach that, again, is marked by another soaring, instantly memorable chorus (this one in particular being one of the best on the album). Aptly titled, “The Hammer” rounds out the first half of the album with a real bruiser, serving up the kinds of heavy, galloping riffs that made tracks like “Valkyrie” (one of Constellations… few bright spots) such a big hit with fans.

After a brief respite to clear away the debris on the ALSO aptly titled “Eye of the Storm,” “Born from Fire” rekindles the flame and hits you with a more plodding, deliberate attack that rumbles along like a horde with marching orders. As such, following track “Arrows of Chaos,” is the battle awaiting them at the end of that merch – a big, axe-swinging, Amon Amarth-ian track that serves as an appropriate crescendo to the epic buildup laid before it. And what’s left after that epic battle? Well, “Ashes,” of course – providing the album with a really somber, emotive ending that closes the book on what truly is an exciting, breathtaking tale.

It took me a long time to fully wrap my head around this one. Every time I thought I’d had it figured out, another little nook hidden in the fold would pop up and surprise me with a new level of depth. I’d step away from it, only to come back later with a whole new perspective on what’s going on here. There’s just so many little things the band does right – little flourishes like the thunderous war drum accents on tracks like “Horizon on Fire,” “The Hammer” and “Ashes” – that I just fucking LOVE and serve to give this album a real presence and scenery. It’s kinda like a more focused and (in my probably unpopular opinion) successful version of Insomnium’s Winter’s Gate. I wasn’t ready at first to put this on the same pedestal as Winterborn or Shadow World, but as time went by, the more and more my love and appreciation for this album grew, and I’m very nearly ready to call this their best effort yet. Ask me again in another week or two – it might be album of the year by then.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
April 27th, 2020

Comments

  1. Commented by: GWW

    Good review. I think Constellations is a bit better than that but very good nonetheless.


  2. Commented by: Erik T

    Dug into this yesterday. really good return to form


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