Finland is a country known for their long, cold winters. Wolfheart is a band that captures their nation’s wild and wonderous weather in their dramatic and dynamically dark sound. The group’s appropriately named debut record, Winterborn came out in 2013 and they have consistently been conveying the majestic magic of Suomi ever since. Now this four piece is getting ready to release their sixth full-length, King of the North (Napalm Records) where they dive even deeper into sharing stories about their country’s lore and land.
A chill is felt in the air when the opening number strikes the first key. ‘Skyforger’ transports the listener into Finnish mythology where the band explores tales drawn from their country’s epic poem, the Kalevala. This significant piece of literature contains tales about everything from wild beasts to warriors. This first song holds an imposing glory through its hard-hitting intrusiveness. There is a monarchical feel because it’s about a god that created great things in these stories.
The guitarwork, the singing from the newest member Vagelis Karzis, and the choral arrangements quickly reveal how this album has stepped things up a notch from previous works. The contrast is solidified when you hit the second number, ‘Ancestor’. Drummer Joonas Kauppinen rages forth a ruthless rigor and uncompromising precision on this piece which pleasantly complements the cleans from guest vocalist, Jesse Leach. One could think it an odd pairing, yet the metalcore veteran from Killswitch Engage contributes his dynamic melody to highlight Wolfheart’s depth and sentiment. The unique combo provokes a more meaningful connection to the stories they are telling.
‘Knell’ has a Two Steps From Hell vibe. The instrumentation maneuvers in a way that accentuates the bombasticness of the percussion and strings. The many intricacies at work in the large scale music arrangements tug at the heart and claim the senses. Having cleans on most of the tracks in a new flavor for Wolfheart and adds another level of titillation. The rowdy riffs pair perfectly with the melodies in the keys and vocals. The warmth of the clean vocals from Karzis mingles and mixes with the chill from Tuomas Saukkonen‘s growls and it is a perfect blend. The leader of the pack, Saukkonen knows how to mesh his aggressive tones with the melodic elements so that they marry each other in a way that always has a happily ever after.
Songs like ‘Desolated Land’, ‘Headstones’, and ‘Fires of the Fallen’ all have a crunchy chaos in the guitars similar to what you hear on previous albums. Much like ‘Storm Centre’ on Shadow World their intense furiousness has a flow and movement that sways the mind into a wintery, dark dream. Kauppinen continues to stand out with his finesse and thoughtful touch. His playing in an anchor to the extreme, earnest, and profound sound these guys produce.
‘Cold Flame’, featuring the mighty Karl Sanders from Nile is another number that accomplishes these feats. A highlight ditty is ‘The King’. The melody on the keys opens this stunning song about a god, the forest god. Then it moves into deep, aggressive riffs that rumble and roll alongside with the grace-filled tune on the synths. Karzis supplies yelling vocals in a similar style as Robb Flynn. There is a rough and rugged quality to his tone that scraps over the senses like hitting stones together for a fire. He crackles his cleans with an intensity that carries an animal-like quality to them. The imagery of the music video for this number has the protagonist trudging through an epic winter scrape in an impressive grizzly skin. The bear was a sacred creature to the Finns and the mythos marvelously matches with the animalistic sensibility in the belting, bassline, percussion, and strings.
The last piece begins the same way as the first. ‘Eternal Slumber’ hits the keys in an hauntingly sullen way that draws attention to the icy tales this group shares. The enchanting themes and grandiose playing makes this one of the Wolfheart’s best works to date. It has a spellbinding sound from beginning to end.
The band’s coined term, Winter Metal is taken to new heights on this frosty, wistful wonder of an album.
9 / 10