Review: WolfheartWolves of Karelia

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The Bear passes judgement over the Wolf.

By now, it’s been well documented that Wolfheart began as Tuomas Saukkonen saw the vast variety of active projects he was involved in had only served to paint him into a corner, unable to spread his wings within any of them, and thus brought upon the end for them all. Wolfheart was the solo project born to take their place, as the only creative channel he would need, a band with which he could do whatever he wanted to. Oh how fickle is the mind of man, how quickly do we forget.

The project quickly grew into a band, and by the time the sophomore rolled out, all talk of artistic freedom had ceased. Of course, it was not as readily apparent then, and Saukkonen may not have experienced it the same, but Shadow World extracted only the core of Winterborn‘s sound, reinforced the blackened influence and pruned the sprawling hedges until a very specific sound that allowed for little deviation remained. Aggressive, blast beat-heavy and clean death metal with an underlining sense of grandeur and an abundance of tremolo riffs as much of Saukkonen’s melodic sensibility was driven through them. Throw in an acoustic intro, an interlude and a brief piano passage, top with exactly one Finnish-sung song, and you’d have any Wolfheart album.

On paper Constellation of the Black Light could have been the record where Saukkonen turned all expectations around, with a 10-minute opener, an all-acoustic song and a heavy, even symphonic, keyboard presence. But the acoustic song ended up as an exclusive single, “Everlasting Fall” brought little new to the table songwriting-wise and as much texture as the use of keyboards may have added, it was stripped off of the rest, leading to an imbalance. Though no album up to this point had been bad, I pretty much gave up on Wolfheart, and on Saukkonen. Let them do whatever they see fit, our diverging paths need not cross again.

But here we are. Wolfheart’s 5th album of exactly the same thing (but not quite) is out, and I have turned on my word. And the why is not a complicated one. By Constellation, Wolfheart had painted itself back into the very corner it was supposed to present a way out from. It seemed to me that Saukkonen had realized this himself and was reviving his old bands left and right. Several “one-off” comebacks with Before the Dawn were followed by a new full-length from Dawn of Solace. The plenty that had once presented the problem was to become the solution. And, I must admit, it seems to have worked.

Working with a diversity of bands and sounds, no matter how little they may deviate from each other, managed where Constellation‘s feeble efforts failed. A concept album regarding Winter War, Wolves of Karelia even tries to make the most of its concept lyrically, and though some of the songs make their subject matter clear, mostly it just comes off as an another metal album dealing with the death, destruction, horror, loss and bravery associated with war, though “Arrows of Chaos” might as well have been an Eternal Champion song. That’s not to say the lyricism is bad, it’s just that so many metal bands make use of historical concepts, but fail to actually make anything out of them, left far less interesting as the actual events they deal with. And that Wolfheart would join this horde is unfortunate, though not surprising. Maybe that’s why the promo material completely failed to refer to any kind of unifying concept or idea running through the album.

What was surprising though, was the dynamic take on the Wolfheart sound that Wolves of Karelia presents. Though made of the exact same ingredients as its predecessor, as early as on the opener “Hail of Steel” the tempo changes and the shifts in focus evoke images of something more living. The keyboards don’t only serve to coat compositions independent of them, but sound like their inclusion was more planned this time, and often act as a counterpart to the guitars, bringing greater variety within songs. “Horizon on Fire” packs all the moves of “Everlasting Fall” into almost half the time, “Eye of the Storm” actually brings the acoustic reprieve midway through and “Ashes” features the most dynamic songwriting Wolfheart has proven themselves capable of, while also placing the keys to a central role on the first half.

Unfortunately, while Wolves of Karelia may be a clear improvement, much still remains of Wolfheart’s old woes. Only a few songs actually distinguish themselves, and most of it doesn’t stick with you once the cannons have grown quiet. A pleasant album to listen to, but offering little in the way of memorability. Saukkonen’s sense of melody remains as sharp as ever, and some songwriting knots have been unbound, but too many songs remain average attempts at the very style he helped establish. Despite all the good moments, now evenly scattered throughout, nothing on Wolves of Karelia calls for a replay. A day as any other, an album as any other. And I’m pointing fingers at the stylistic choices in Wolfheart, not only because of all the memorable music Saukkonen has put out, but because of all the memorable music he continues to put out. After all, despite finally trying to break free of the bands all too prevalent mannerisms, it might just all be too little too late.

3/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell

Wolves of Karelia is now out on Napalm Records, whose Facebook, or home page you may want to visit, and could, perhaps, use directions to Wolfheart’s Facebook page likewise.

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