(DGR reviews the latest album by an NCS favorite, Finland’s Wolfheart, which was released by Napalm Records on September 28th.)
A quick preface for this one: We’re still hacking away at backlogs here and in case you missed out, that’s meant quite a few ‘shorter’ review archives with a handful of grouped bands together. This review was born of that experiment but unlike the Beyond Creation/Chthonic/Benighted jam that I unleashed upon the world last week, we were quickly able to recognize that the length of the next multi-band review collection was getting out of control, and so we’ve carved this one out to stand alone.
Increasing wordiness tends to happen when it’s a band you enjoy, and even though the short gap between this group’s most recent releases can look scary at first, Wolfheart manage to stick to a very consistent level of quality this time around.
The turnaround time on Wolfheart’s newest album Constellation Of The Black Light was shockingly fast. Arriving a year and a half after last year’s — let’s see if I can still remember how to type this — Tyhjyys, and on a new label, Constellation Of The Black Light brings forth what initially appears to be a somewhat slim offering at only seven songs… that is, until you notice that nearly every song is near a solid five minutes in length save for opener “Everlasting Fall”, which doubles that handily, weighing in at around ten.
A year and a half later and another forty minutes of music on offer from Tuomas Saukkonen and his Wolfheart bandmates, and where do we find ourselves standing? Rapid turnaround is always an impressive and risky act, especially when coming off what was already a pretty solid album last year. That they somehow still managed to find forty more minutes of music to work with, and did that without the album sounding like a handful of quickly-fired-off singles is exciting. Some of that can also be credited to the album’s opening track, which thankfully enough, manages to just fold its softer, acoustic intro into the main song instead of breaking it out as a separate intro track.
The leap between Constellation Of The Black Light and its older sibling Tyhjyys (two in a row now!) isn’t that huge. In fact, Constellation can often feel like a lightly expanded, moodier version of its forebearer. The Wolfheart crew tap a very similar vein for their fourth album and in doing so find themselves with an album that is certainly ‘more’ of what you liked previously; your mileage with it will largely depend on how much you enjoyed that previous disc.
Tyhjyys ranked pretty high on this end, and Wolfheart’s blast-heavy, fiery approach to folk-tinged melodeath doesn’t let up here. If anything, the fact that it is a little moodier with its softer acoustic and keyboard passages may lead some to remember the lighter elements of the group’s debut album, Winterborn — back when Wolfheart was meant to be just a solo project and the confluence of all of Saukkonen’s other musical output.
After its four-minute lead-in on “Everlasting Fall”, Constellation Of The Black Light finds its groove almost immediately, and for the most part sticks pretty rigidly to it. If you were a fan of the blast-heavy melodeath that Wolfheart were forging forward with on both Tyhjyys (three!) and the fiery Shadow World, then Constellation is a pretty easy recommendation. The band don’t stray too far from that and instead favor a lot more synth work and keyboard stings to amplify the various melodic leads throughout the album. That works well in the band’s favor, as vocalist Tuomas Saukkonen‘s mid-bellow has become something of a percussive rhythm instrument in its own right, leaving the band effectively split evenly between guitars and keyboards for its soaring melodic passages and the hammering percussion behind it.
Songs like “Defender” especially highlight this as the band pound its way to the dueling solo section about halfway into the song — keyboards soaring behind them and breaking the moment out from the mid-tempo driving gallop from which most of the track is constructed. It’s purpose-built for a slow-nodding headbang and pairs well with the similarly slow-moving gait of “Forge With Fire” before it, which gets the most out of its solid double-bass rolls that dodge in and out of the song.
If, however, you prefer Wolfheart at their fastest and most explosive, you’ll find two highlights amongst the seven present on Constellation in the form of the album’s second song, “Breakwater”, and it’s sixth, “Warfare”. Both are built from pretty similar building blocks, including plenty of chances for drummer Joonas Kauppinen to just absolutely annihilate his drum kit during the opening segments. Even though Wolfheart often seek to invoke the haze of the cold and ice in their music, conjuring images of a band shrouded in the fog, they’re often at their best when they launch into the full epic melodeath sound. And so, strangely enough, when they’re going their fastest and seem like they have a legit fire behind them (and judging by some of their music videos and the obsession with pyro, they know this) then they’re at their best. “Warfare” and “Breakwater” contain a ton of those moments and thus wind up being album highlights, especially as “Breakwater” exists in contrast to the slower-moving ten-minute song before it.
Constellation of The Black Light is pretty much a class in a band playing to its strengths, while pretty strictly following their chosen genre blueprint. There’s still a ton of material here, for an album that has to have come together relatively fast, and were it not for its opening intro being folded into “Everlasting Fall” to make a ten-minute epic, it would have been the group’s third disc to have eight songs and clock in around a little over forty minutes. There’s certainly a “something” to the overall Wolfheart formula, and so the band remaining as consistent as they are on Constellation still has appeal for a listener, and when the group hits the occasional highs throughout the album where the lead guitars and keyboards soar above an absolute battery behind them, or the times when the slower gait of some of the songs makes them appear as if they are brooding throughout the whole track, then that appeal is clear.
The rapid turnaround on Constellation is no doubt impressive but it also is the most “Wolfheart” ™ disc out there to date so far, and thus it may be a harder sell to newer converts. But if you’re already part of that choir then it’s great to hear from the group so soon again.