July 29, 2021 Wolfheart – Skull Soldiers (EP Review)
Continuing their relentless charge, Wolfheart released their Skull Soldiers EP on Friday, March 5, 2021, through Napalm Records.
Back in 2013, Tuomas Saukkonen shuttered every other project on his workbench to focus on Wolfheart, and the singular focus has resulted in a glut of releases: full-length albums Shadow World (2015) and Tyhjyys (2017) through Spinefarm, Constellation of the Black Light (2018) and Wolves of Karelia (2020) through Napalm, as well as a pile of singles. And now Skull Soldiers, a four-song collection, features two brand-new tracks, as well as two familiar works – one as an acoustic rendering and another captured as a live track.
The lineup for Skull Soldiers holds from recent releases: Tuomas Saukkonen on vocals and guitars, Vagelis Karzis on lead guitar, Lauri Silvonen on bass and backing vocals, and Joonas Kauppinen on drums. Silvonen takes the lead vocals on the acoustic version of “Aeon of Cold” offered here; the track stands as an interesting inversion of parent album Shadow World which, as mentioned, was the first Wolfheart effort with a full backing band. The original electric version would have fit well with the other three plugged-in tracks here, so the acoustic effort makes for an interesting respite.
Wolfheart have again strengthened their hold on the genre-bending mixture of relentless battle marches flecked with native Finnish themes and progressions, with untold slivers of light allowed to escape the tightening grip. The opening title track continues to effortlessly pave the road first laid by bands like Hail of Bullets, dancing carefully between the lines of Black, Death, and an almost Thrash Metal essence, whilst “Hereditary” pummels the listener with themes of wanton abandonment, mankind effortlessly discarding millennia of training, habit, and natural inclination with moral and destructive effects. Can any of us be saved from the burrow to hell being dug? The solo just past the halfway mark seems to indicate there is hope to be had before the end is lost.
The closing track, “Reaper,” comes from the band’s April 2020 concert livestream. The COVID-19 pandemic had barely reached worldwide proportions before the band decided a live concert was needed for its legion of fans. (The pandemic robbed Wolfheart of a fresh North American tour, one which boasted Rotting Christ and Borknagar as well as Abigail Williams and Imperial Triumphant.) Wolfheart may have reached the earth as a one-man project, but the fully fleshed orchestra of death assembled by Saukkonen has given life to a handful of records and countless shows. The release here of a live version of “Reaper” not only reinforces the strength of the band’s studio output (Wolves of Karelia earned four stars on this website), but the power and precision put forth when the band takes the stage.
Skull Soldiers is at once a small taste of what could be included in the next Wolfheart album, and a quick recap of the output of the band, both live and studio, over the past decade. The next album may astonish listeners but the template is secure: soaring guitar solos and well-placed acoustic interludes stretched over the humble blast beats that Wolfheart have strewn into a trademark. Skull Soldiers may be just enough to satiate fans until the next full-length appears, and that is why Cryptic Rock gives it 4 out of 5 stars.