Wolfheart – “Wolves Of Karelia” (Napalm Records)
Battle Helm Rating
Formed by Finnish multi instrumentalist Tuomas Saukkonen (Dawn of Solace, ex-Before the Dawn, ex-Black Sun Aeon, ex-Bonegrinder, ex-RoutaSielu, ex-The Final Harvest, ex-Jumalhämärä, ex-Rajavyöhyke) in 2013, Wolfheart have since released 4 prior full length albums, toured Europe and North America, and played a breathtaking array of festivals including the Dark Troll Festival (GER), Nummirock (FIN), Rock Harz (GER), John Smith (FIN), Gothoom (SVK), Wacken Open Air (GER), Rockstadt Extreme Fest (RO), Brutal Assault (CZ), Bloodstock (UK), Summer Dying Loud (PL), Iberian Warriors (ESP),70000 Tons Of Metal (US), Nordic Metal Cruise (SWE) Ragnarök (GER), Rock Fest Barcelona (ESP), Gefle Metal (SWE), Party San Open Air (GER) and Summer Breeze festival (GER) – wow! Described as ‘winter metal’ influenced by Saukkonens’s own love of how winter looks like, “Wolves Of Karelia” takes us to the Lapland region of Karelia in northern Finland, where temperatures can plummet as low as −43 °C (−45 °F). While there are undoubtedly wolves in that area, this 5th album is actually based on the fierce Winter War of 1939/40 between Russia and Finland. Although vastly outnumbered, the hardened and acclimatized Finns inflicted substantial damage in the harsh climate on the ill equipped Red Army, ultimately thwarting their conquest of Finland. As such, to say this is a deeply moving album is an understatement, and while non Finns might need to brush up on their history, the heartfelt passion and moreover, deep reverence for those who gave their lives for Finland’s freedom is beautifully reflected in the 8 deep and emotional compositions here. That said, Saukkonen has consciously steered the material away from bring political or in any way glorifying war but instead delves into the hardship and human spirit of the war veterans themselves to endure as well as a profound respect for the environment in which they fought. Rooted in Scandinavian melodic death but tinged with black metal and pervaded by melancholia, Wolfheart’s stirring music is an incredible mix of serene atmospheres and shredding axes. Opening somberly if serenely, ‘Horizon On Fire’ soon unleashes a blast beating intensity of Scandi melodic scaling and double bass drumming, while the main riff is nothing short of epic, as are the deep melodies stoked by backing keyboards and orchestrals that really bring to life lyrics like ‘…coldest days of winter you were trained to endure, to withstand the fierce nature…’ in an immense barrage which you simply cannot withstand! Riff chugging like a machine gun, ‘Reaper’ continues the onslaught along to Saukkonen’s powerful roar as the fast Scandi guitar melodies continue along with the keys taking almost gothic proportions while the slow, epic main riff once again is simply overpowering in its sheer beauty, making its magical contrast one that truly makes this number. Adding a somber piano to dramatically back the plucked acoustic folk guitar on ‘Eye Of The Storm’ with its lighter keys and soft woodwind pipe, this instrumental brings not only a rustic contrast midway through the album, but moreover a calming peace that perhaps goes straight to the soul of those who had enough of war in their lifetime. Not so ‘The Hammer’ with its thundering drums and reference to ‘…the hammer of the north..’ in the Finnish Army’s ability to push back the larger Russian force, as reflected in the fast black death blast beating contrasting superbly with slow grim passages and some very stylish neo classical soloing although the huge, epic chorus of ‘…never surrender…never retreat…the last defender…’ truly chokes the gills with unashamed passion, especially when the piano adds its gothic touch, ending in the quiet melancholia of gentle acoustic guitar and heart breaking violin. Truly unforgettable, “Wolves Of Karelia” is a release of immense proportions.