Tuomas Saukkonen is no stranger to the pages of AMG. We’ve spoken very highly of his Before the Dawn and Black Sun Aeon projects and generally came across as nuthugging fanboys of the man’s work. Needless to say, we were as shocked as everyone else when he unexpectedly laid both bands to rest (along with several others) and announced his intention to focus solely on a new act called Wolfheart, which at least initially would consist of just him. I suppose it shouldn’t be a big shock that Winterborn sounds like a mash-up of both his bands, with the Black Sun Aeon sound and style winning out. It features plenty of his tried-and-true, melancholy, melodic death with blackened edges and of course, the whole Finnish “dark winter of the troubled soul” vibe is there as always. So, this should be a big win, right? Well, yes and no. While it’s undeniably cool to get more Saukkonen material, it often feels like another Before the Dawn or Black Sun Aeon album and lacks an identity of its own. In fact, a lot of the music feels recycled from Black Sun Aeon‘s Routa album and this could easily been called Routa Pt. 2 (and in fact, one of the better tracks is called exactly that). There are some great songs to be sure, but some feel flat and overly familiar and there are few surprises or new ideas to go with the new, badass moniker.
Before anyone gets the idea I dislike Winterborn, let me stress there is some really good stuff here. Opener “The Hunt” is the beautifully melodic, subtly morose death metal we’ve come to expect from Tuomas and it’s awash with emotional playing and the man’s distinctive riff work. It’s very much like a Before the Dawn song and could have fit in nicely on either their Deadlight or Deathstar Rising albums, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. Also impressive is the somber and super catchy “Whiteout” which has a gobsmacking lead riff and a true Finnish winter vibe in the same vein as Insomnium and Rapture. It could have been on Black Sun Aeon‘s Routa album and the same could obviously be said for “Routa Pt. 2,” “Gale of Winter” and “I.” The former has achingly beautiful moments and greatly benefits from the use of string symphonics and folk elements and all effectively channel the feeling of oppressive winter and the discontent therewith.
Less impressive is “Ghosts of Karelia” which chugs along in a fairly generic mid-tempo death mode with intermittent blast-beats and blackened trem-riffs. While there is a vague Morbid Angel feel at times, the song doesn’t leave much of an impression. “Chasm” also underwhelms despite the inclusion of doomy violas and forlorn guitar work; and “Strength and Valour” is generic, Before the Dawn style melo-death that gets slightly redeemed by a winning chorus.
If you were expecting Tuomas to explore new musical realms, there isn’t much here to hang your hat on. Aside from occasional inclusion of strings and mild symphonics and a Ghost Brigade feel during “Breathe,” you’ve heard all of this on past Saukkonen endeavors.
Although this is a one-man-band kind of release, Winterborn sounds amazingly full and polished. Tuomas uses his trademark death roars for all the tunes and while he sounds fine, I admit missing the clean singing he’s included so effectively in the past and there are times where his limited vocals fall short of doing justice to the grandeur and beauty of the music. Guitar-wise, he shines as always and continues to craft moody, despairing leads with a downcast, folksy feel. I’ve always loved the guy’s playing and there’s plenty here to love, even if it feels too similar to older material. He gets some solid support on the solos from Mika Lammassaari (Eternal Tears of Sorrow) who provides some beautiful and emotional moments which work well when dropped in amid Saukkonen’s riffing. I have no clue who plays drums or if they’re programmed, but they sound slick and satisfying, without the cold, unfeeling thud a machine typically has.
I don’t know what was involved in Mr. Saukkonen’s decision to fold two well-regarded acts into Wolfheart, but I assume it was because writing material for one act is a hell of a lot easier than coming up with quality content for two competing entities. If nothing else, I’m sure it makes the man’s life much simpler. While I’m glad the sound of Black Sun Aeon and Before the Dawn lives on in Wolfheart, I was hoping for something a bit less familiar and comfortable from this musical reboot. There’s some beautiful and moody music here and it’s well worth checking out for fans of the Saukkonen catalog and Finnish melo-death, just don’t expect a new approach to go with the cool new name.
Release Dates: Out worldwide on 10.11.2013