The wolves have come out to hunt once again, bringing with them one of their most ferocious records yet. With this now being album number five, and the first with new lead guitarist Vagelis Karzis, many will be wondering what the band has up their sleeve to further push the boundaries of their coined genre “winter metal”.
Opening track “Hail Of Steel” takes the form of the now typical style from Wolfheart on their faster tracks. Super saiyan level drumming from Joonas, a-standard tuned tremelo picked guitars and the furious roars from frontman and founder Tuomas combine to provide a rather perfect opening track for the album. However it’s with following track “Horizon on Fire” that things start to differ from the usual formula. Clean downtuned guitars open the track alongside piano and strings before flowing melodies that wouldn’t sound out of place on early Amon Amarth records come forth. Backing clean vocals from bassist Lauri in the choruses keep things fresh and blend perfectly with Tuomas’ harsh vocals to convey the story of the winter war.
“Reaper” continues the trend of difference and showcases more of the darker elements introduced in the previous two albums. There are blast beats, string melodies and harsh vocals galore which combine to create one of the darkest and best tracks on the album. It’s also probably one of the fastest tracks the band has ever written as well, with Joonas’ blast beats at particularly breakneck speeds. The darkness continues into “The Hammer” which almost has a Carach Angren feel at the beginning with the guitars and strings in unison. It’s a rather nice touch and isn’t overdone to become repetitive which oft can sometimes be the case in other bands. A particularly fitting guitar solo from Vagelis slots in nicely around halfway through the track before a baritone acoustic guitar, cello and piano melody closes out the track.
This melody leads nicely into the following track, “Eye Of The Storm”, which is the first instrumental track to feature in the middle of an album as opposed to the start. The placement provides a nice break from the intensity either side and showcases more of the musical talent of Saukkonen and his ability to craft both reflective and aggressive tracks. And, as if on cue, “Born From Fire” comes into the fold with a style not too dissimilar to “Forge With Fire” from Constellation Of The Black Light. However, unlike “Forge With Fire”, “Born From Fire” has a slightly lower pace and more epic feel with the backing orchestral elements filling out the soundscape perfectly. Plus, it also has another very tasteful solo from Vagelis which compliments the track perfectly.
Rounding out the album, “Arrows Of Chaos” and “Ashes” showcase two different sides of Wolfheart whilst still flowing into one another. The former takes more of a “World On Fire” style with flowing melodies accentuated by orchestral melodies and hits, blast beats and syncopated riffs. It also has one of the best counter melodies which sits alongside the guitars excellently. The latter, on the other hand, showcases a more sombre side with baritone acoustic guitars opening and minor melodies throughout. It’s a track which feels like the evolution of “Veri” from Shadow World, however unlike “Veri” it’s sung in english and not finnish. But, like the former, it is an excellent track to end the album with.
One thing that needs to be said is that this is not an album you can pick up and just listen to. It will take a few listens to fully appreciate the intricacies that have gone into creating and curating this album. Unlike previous Wolfheart albums where you could kind of predict what was going to be on them, Wolves Of Karelia defies those and instead delivers something which is a true step up from the previous albums. From the opening riff of “Hail Of Steel” to the closing melody of “Ashes”, this is an album with a story and begs to be listened to in full. It is, without question, the best Wolfheart record, and probably also the best album the Tuomas Saukkonen has ever created.
Wolves Of Karelia is released on April 10th via Napalm Records.