By now we all know Tuomas Saukkonen is a force of nature. He’s Finland’s metal juggernaut as surely as Rogga Johansson is Sweden’s, and over the decades he’s created some brilliant music with Before the Dawn, Black Sun Aeon and Dawn of Solace. Several years ago and for reasons unknown, he folded all his bands and started fresh with Wolfheart. He played all the instruments on 2013s Winterborn debut and though good, it was so much like his past projects, I questioned why he folded them in the first place. Now he’s back with Shadow World, backed by a full band and offering a more fully realized vision of what the new entity is about. There’s an increased black metal influence alongside the traditional melo-death style Tuomas is known for, and all the expected nods to fellow countrymen Amorphis and Insomnium are here as well. The album itself however, is perplexingly opaque. Although it contains beautiful moments, amazing playing and interesting ideas, these don’t often come together into cohesive and memorable songs. It has a very comfortable and familiar sound, but something somewhere is definitely missing.

Things begin quite well with the very Amorphis-esque keys of “Aeon of Cold.” Before long, things leap into furious blackened trems and blastbeats, and from there the tempo varies between angry oppression and somber introspection. Of note is the riff at 1:58, which is so simple yet grandiose, it validates why I’ve been following this man’s career so closely. The song is aided greatly by the gorgeous solo-work of Mika Lammassaari (Eternal Tears of Sorrow) which oozes emotion and provides a glimpse of what Wolfheart can be when everything clicks together.

Tuomas_Saukkonen“Zero Gravity” is another strong entry, mixing the classic Black Sun Aeon sound with Insomnium and dazzling with compelling harmonies and spectacular solos. The chorus has genuine heft and gravitas, but I can’t help but think it would pop so much more with clean vocals rather than Tuomas’s death roars. Still, this is the kind of music we expect from the man – heavy but tasteful and classy.

Things remain good throughout, but there’s a noticeable drop off in quality after the opening one-two punch. Tracks like “Storm Centre” and “Last of All Winters” have excellent moments where the mix of black metal, folk and traditional Finnish melo-death is near perfect, but there’s always a palpable feeling that we’ve heard this before in one of Tuomas’ defunct projects. This feeling permeates much of Shadow World, and while no song is outright bad, few jump out and seize the love bone. Numbers like “Abyss” and “Resistance” also feel a bit like leftovers from a Before the Dawn recording session. Closer “Veri” is the longest song at just over eight minutes and the only one that shakes things up by adopting a slower, doom-centric approach. The change of pace is a good one, though it comes late in the game, and the song is quite beautifully rendered. However, there’s nothing there that compels me to hear it again and again.

And that’s the big problem here: many of the songs are enjoyable while on but leave little or no lasting impression. You can appreciate the musicianship but things feel overly familiar, and aside from the first few songs, the album lacks the hooks to keep drawing you back. While the overall quality of the music may partially offset this problem for some, many of the tracks feel like they’re lacking whatever is intrinsically essential for repeat plays.

Wolfheart_2015

That’s quite a shame too because musically, Shadow World has a lot going for it. The contribution from Mika is huge and his weeping leads and gorgeous solos demand the listener’s attention whenever they appear. Along with some well placed piano, they provide a measure of grandeur and beauty reminiscent of vintage Amorphis. Vocally, Tuomas sticks exclusively to his death roars and while they’re good, there are several moments where clean vocals would make a huge difference, if for no other reason than providing contrast.

This is a slightly richer, more diverse platter of songs than Winterborn, but the problems that surfaced there are still present here. I’ll always be a fan of Tuomas’ writing, but so far, Wolfheart has yet to find their legs and run with the pack like they should. I get the feeling when they do, it’ll be a howling success, but for now, something is holding them back and I hope it won’t result in any chewing off of limbs. Good, but should be better.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Spinefarm Records
Websites: facebook.com/WolfheartRealm
Releases Worldwide: August 21st, 2015

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  • VenomousHulk

    Put it exactly how I felt as a big fan of all of his projects. I was listening to it at work and whenever I was concentrating on the music and not my job, it sounded amazing. But nothing pulled me OUT of my working to go “Pay the fuck attention to this shit” unlike previous works. I particularly agree with the clean vocals sentiment, too.

  • sui

    Agreed. And agreed.

  • Doomdeathrosh

    Listening to Aeon of Cold before this review gave me the same feeling.
    I think the thing is, Tuomas doesn’t do a lot of clean singing himself. Maybe bringing in a clean singer, like Insomnium did with Jules Naveri for Across the Dark, could just help.
    But, it is Saukkonen and it will be an enjoyable listen nonetheless.

    • Hammersmith

      Hard to say, I thought the cleans on Across the Dark made it the weakest of their records. The cleans on Shadows were a much better fit. IMO.

  • I admit, I only knew of them because they were supposed to tour Eastern Europe with Insomnium (of whom I’m an eternal fan, come fight me), but I quite liked Winterborn, and I perhaps like this album even more. It’s not awesome, but it’s good. So… I guess I also agree.

    • Yes you do.

    • Monsterth Goatom

      Agree about Winterborn, and I like his growls. With a talent like this, it’s sure to all come together eventually on a future release.

    • Kryopsis

      I don’t think either of us should be ashamed for liking Insomnium, especially on a website which gave a White Wizzard album 5/5.

      • We don’t discuss that incident!

        • Kryopsis

          Happy Metal Guy died for your sins!

          • No, he died for his own! If he died and we aren’t saying he did.

  • brutal_sushi

    I hope their will be a review for the new Enshine record. I’m tend to put any Jari Lindholm (Enshine, Slumber, Exgenesis) project on when I really want that MeloDeath hit.

  • JL

    Tuomas has already said that Wolfheart will (thankfully) be entirely harsh vocals. 99% of the time clean vocals simply don’t fit with this style of music. Few bands pull it off well; a band like Omnium Gatherum, for example, knows how to paint the corners of songs with clean vocal melodies while not relying on them for chorus hooks. I am glad there aren’t any cleans in Wolfheart.

    All that said, I love the debut; it’s fantastic in all regards. I’ve waited a long time for this album and I am sad to say it’s disappointing for me. I like some songs, but don’t flat out love any. I really like some parts of some songs, but not enough to have them stuck in my head the way the ass kicking riffs of “The Chasm” do, by way of example. I really want to like this record and I’ll listen to it again (for the 4th time), but if it doesn’t click I may be putting it sadly on the back burner and focusing on the new Mgla or Anagnorisis (2013) which I just got my hands on.

    • Scionyde

      If few bands pull it off well, then Before the Dawn was definitely one of the few. Lars Eikind kicked all sorts of ass.

      • Vicente Urrutia

        Sadly the guy has been inactive since leaving BTD, even on social networks. Hope he’s doing fine and bring back those great vocals soon.

  • Kryopsis

    This is a very fair review. I actually had this album pre-ordered and while I have no regrets whatsoever, ‘Aeon of Cold’ is the only song I can name from the top of my head after many, many spins. The level of musicianship is incredible but the middle of the album is not particularly memorable and sort of blurs together when you listen to ‘Shadow World’ in its entirety. This said, I’m hyped about whatever the future has in store for Wolfheart.

    • Kryopsis

      Also, that repeating guitar motif on ‘Abyss’ makes me of Darude’s Sandstorm every single time.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    I’ve listened through this a couple of times now and on first reactions I guess I agree with you, in so much as it doesn’t feel like Wolfheart has quite made the album to define the new name … That said this is no dogs breakfast of a record though! I’m finding it very easy to listen to, I think it might be ‘very good’ with a few more spins Im expecting a couple of these songs to come on like a rabies virus :)

  • Arjan Zwamborn

    I agree with most of the points made in the review (excellently written by the way, as usual!), somehow it just doesn’t make me enjoy this album any less.

    At first I felt exactly the same about no tracks jumping out really, but now after a spin or 10 I feel like there are memorable hooks, choruses and other moments in every track, with the intense opening riff on ‘Resistance’ being my favorite.

    I agree wholeheartedly about the cleans though. I’ve seen Before the Dawn live once – just before they disbanded – and they toured without the clean singer (who already left the band). It felt like they missed an essential dimension to their music. Starting with ‘Rise of the Phoenix’ and continuing with his efforts in Wolfheart, Tuomas succeeded in filling in most of the hole that was left after the abandonment of cleans, but I still think both Wolfheart albums would benefit from have one or two tracks that break the continuous flow of heaviness in favor of some more dynamics with clean singing.
    I realize that overall Wolfheart’s average song quality is much higher than Before the Dawn’s (there were some cleanly sung stinkers there), but to me Black Sun Aeon displayed the perfect balance between cleans and grunts (especially on the Routa album). It would make me sad to have no more songs reminiscent of ‘Deadsong’, ‘Dead Sun Aeon’ or ‘Nightfall’ to be added to Tuomas’ impressive discography.

    Excuse my overly elaborate post; point is that the album isn’t perfect but I enjoy the hell out of it anyway. I look forward to what Tuomas’ll cook up in the future :)

    • Vicente Urrutia

      I had kind of the same feeling.

      When I knew there would be a new Wolfheart album, I didn’t feel excited like when I heard about the first one. First play and I didn’t found anything memorable nor I was excited, but after a couple of spins it grabbed me and I can’t stop listening to it now. But yeah, Black Sun Aeon was the best version of Tuomas, and the clean vocals are heavyly needed with this project.

  • Pimpolho

    IMO this is like the opposite of Insomium’s last effort: while that record was too soft and mellow, this one ”lacks melancholy”

  • Tristan gummow

    I was glad when he took his toys and went home. Wolfheart especially Winterborn I find much more enjoyable compared to Before The Dawn or Black Sun Aeon which to me were more of an old style In Flames approach.
    I was pretty disapointed with Shadow World, decent album but no songs that really grab you. Even if he folds Wolfheart up and moves on, just on The Hunt alone he achieved greatness and made me a happy fan

  • y3shuA imMANu3l

    “Looking again upon the water I behold my face reflected upon its surface, and then call to mind the fact that my own face I have never seen; its reflected image is all that I ever have seen, or can see. Now the reflected face upon the water is certainly only a image produced by the action of rays of light and the reaction of the surface of the water, and if, what I have hitherto considered my real face is only a image produced by an action and a reaction, the fact that it has never occurred to me proves nothing against its truth.
    Turning my attention to my body, I conclude that if my face is an image my whole body is image, produced by an invisible action and reaction. If, then, this terrestrial body or body is like an
    inverted reflect of my celestial image, the fact that I have never consciously recognized my celestial image proves nothing against its existence, for while my attention was directed exclusively to my image floating upon the water, I became for the time being entirely oblivious of the cloud above my head which I could not see.
    But if this terrestrial image is only an inverted reflect of a true and celestial image, then I am possessor of an heritage hitherto unknown; for they cannot be separated, they are real(ray) or polar opposites which mutually imply each other, which are utterly meaningless and impossible apart. Now if my consciousness has been located, hitherto, solely within the reflected image of my true self, then I am a slave bound clown, by my own ignorance, to chains of sense and suffering. But with this recognition of my serfdom I also see clearly the way of escape.”

  • y3shuA imMANu3l

    “There must be an invisible point of union between the two, and I must locate my consciousness at that in- visible centre of equilibrium between my refracted and my reflected self, the point which is neither celestial nor terrestrial, but where the two are One.
    The question of how to emancipate my consciousness from its inverted reflection and to locate it at its true and invisible centre, is the most momentous in the universe. It involves the meaning and object of existence. It is the problem of all times, that of the perfectibility and immortality of the soul. Of the soul, for this earthly consciousness is but the inverted reflection of my true consciousness, which is the same thing as soul.”

  • y3shuA imMANu3l

    “Soul is the real man. Soul is the thing that suffers, feels, knows. Soul is of the divine spirit — it is God, and it is within every man, woman and child. He that is now newly born, we call the awakened soul, the Sun of God.”
    It is all that there is. The flesh has no power. It is help- less, dull, lifeless, without soul. When the soul has left the body, the body is dead. The soul, if it has found the light, the divine center, will live on throughout eternity.”