Wolfheart – Skull Soldiers (EP Review)

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The Winter War’s skull-clad addendum strikes.

Tuomas Saukkonen has been a busy man since his tenure with early 2000s Gothic-tinged melodeath stalwarts Before The Dawn began to make waves, and even the demise of multiple projects including his talents in 2013 has seen his studio output continue unabated. Though originally billed as a solo project meant to occupy his talents following the aforementioned discontinuation of all his other efforts, Wolfheart has proven to be a metallic beast with a mind of its own, and for the past seven years has evolved into a fully fledged band that has brilliantly merged the meaty, percussive riffing approach of the likes of Kataklysm and early Scar Symmetry with the prototypical dreamy and cold atmospheric aesthetic typical to fellow Finnish icons such as Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum. Their 2020 LP “Wolves Of Karelia” proved a highly ambitious conceptual undertaking that recounted the events of Finland’s war against the invading Soviet Army (dubbed The Winter War), so much so that Tuomas and company still have a few things to add to the story a year later.

Continuing across the same frost-covered battlefield that typified their last album, 2021’s “Skull Soldiers” EP recount the exploits of an elite group of Finnish soldiers that adored their helmets with skulls and skeletons while braving the wintry landscapes against seemingly insurmountable odds. The new exclusive studio songs to come in this package are unabashed anthems of total war, with the opening title anthem entering with a massive percussion intro like something out of a Hollywood war film before inundating the airwaves with a barrage of pounding, heavy-ended grooves. Though this musical chapter and its faster thrashing cohort “Hereditary” are mostly exercises in raw, unfettered aggression with Saukkonen’s deep guttural barks battle the punchy guitar chugs for prominence, there is also a subtle whisk of wintry beauty nestled in the background via a droning keyboard line at key points, and the wailing guitar solos supplied by newly acquired Greek axe man Vagelis Karzis (who provided lead guitar work on the previous album in a guest capacity) further bolsters the dual sense of savage brutality and melodic splendor at play in the band’s signature style.

Along for the march into battle are a pair of bonus offerings that provide a greater level of depth and variation to this otherwise consistent fit of distilled aggression. Opting for a subdued ballad by campfire between fits of auditory carnage, the all acoustic and shorter rendition of 2015 sophomore album “Shadow World”’s opening anthem “Aeon Of Cold” provides a necessary respite and point of contrast to given this short studio offering a storybook feel. The vocal performance delivered by bassist Lauri Silvonen proves to be a haunting affair, coming off as a melancholy every man reflecting upon the frozen surroundings with his fellow soldiers listening intently. Rounding out this abridged continuation of the war torn spirit of “Wolves Of Karelia” is a live rendition of one of said album’s most distinctive anthems “Reaper”, recorded during a streaming event early in 2020. The song is performed so masterfully that one will struggle to distinguish it from its original studio version, yet it retains the intensity and energy of a concert event despite the lack of a cheering audience.

It’s a foregone conclusion that anyone who enjoyed the furious odes of war and pride that rounded out “Wolves Of Karelia” will want to hear this, along with any self-respecting fan of melodic death metal. At times it seems torn between sounding like a modernized, mechanical chugging homage to the recent output of Kataklysm and the more elaborate and nuanced sound typical to the scene of its birth, but it works well in merging these two seemingly opposing styles and balancing a forbidding impact factor with a cold and dreary wintry atmosphere. There is definitely something to be said for taking pride in the history of one’s homeland, and this is the sort of album that, like its predecessor, commands respect from all whom hear it regardless of their national origin. Definitely a band to keep tabs on in the coming years, as their impressive level of quality output over the past 8 years puts many in the Northern European melodic death metal scene to shame, regardless of whether the topic is Finnish history or artful descriptions of the scenery contained within said nation.

Released by: Napalm Records
Released Date: March 5th, 2021
Genre: Melodic Death Metal

Musicians:

  • Tuomas Saukkonen / Guitar, Vocals
  • Joonas Kauppinen / Drums
  • Lauri Silvonen / Bass, Backing Vocals
  • Vagelis Karzis / Session Guitar

“Skull Soldiers” EP tracklisting:

1. Skull Soldiers
2. Hereditary
3. Aeon of Cold (Acoustic)
4. Reaper (Live)

The “Skull Soldiers” EP is available in the following formats:

  • 12 inch Vinyl EP in Silver + Patch (Napalm Mailorder – strictly limited)
  • 12 inch Vinyl EP in Silver + Patch + Shirt (Napalm Mailorder – strictly limited)
  • Digital EP

Watch WOLFHEART’s Virtual Performance Stream here!

8.3 Great

Following an impressive conceptual excursion into the Finland’s WWII conflict with the Soviet Union, Tuomas Saukkonen’s flagship project ushers in a formidable epilogue to his prior and highly extravagant melodeath epic

  • Songwriting 8.5
  • Musicianship 8.5
  • Originality 8
  • Production 8
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