From the prolific mind of Tuomas Saukkonen (with whom we recently spoke here) and his brothers in Wolfheart comes a new EP, Skull Soldiers, hot on the trail of 2020’s superb Wolves of Karelia (read our album review). Continuing the theme of the album, based on the Winter War between Finland and Russia of 1939-40 within World War II, where the Finns were able to push back the Russian army despite being incredibly outnumbered in terms of equipment and men. It’s an inspirational theme for a melodic death metal album and one with a personal connection for Saukkonen and the area he’s from – this EP focuses on a specific regiment who painted skulls and skeletons onto their helmets, hence the name.
Taking the form of two new songs and two specialties on existing compositions, the EP wastes no time in kicking into the title track “Skull Soldiers.” Its cyclic verse riff is reminiscent of a girthier Lamb of God from their early work, with the central chorus and hook familiar to those who know both Wolfheart and Saukkonen’s previous work – rhythm work designed headbanging energy with Saukkonen, bassist Lauri Silvonen and Joonas Kauppinen in perfect sync whilst session guitarist Vagelis Karzis strikes the balance of shred and melody with lead lines over the top.
Where “Skull Soldiers” was a solid groove-laden track, “Hereditary” starts in thrashing nature before shifting to a more minor-keyed verse overlaid with the melodeath genre’s trademark strings. Within one track Wolfheart display hallmarks of previous connected works in Before The Dawn and Black Sun Aeon, even managing an acoustic guitar passage in a track packed full of energy and emotion. This could easily be expanded to a 10-minute epic and retain its quality; however, it ends all too soon as a compact and coherent banger just pushing 4 minutes.
The two remaining tracks are an acoustic version of “Aeon of Cold” (originally from 2015’s Shadow World) and a live version of “Reaper” (Wolves of Karelia) captured during the band’s livestream concert from early 2020. The acoustic track marks a strong contrast to the rest of the EP, with Silvonen’s clean vocals taking centre stage over the pared-back guitars, whilst “Reaper” returns to the energy of the prior two tracks and justifies its worth as the key single off its respective album thanks to an unforgettable lead guitar line.
Finishing after its brief runtime, Skull Soldiers offers just a glimpse into not only the quality but also the versatility of Wolfheart. It should be stressed that this is a brief EP, however, in “Hereditary” the band has packed all of the essences of their work into one ‘normal’ length track and for this alone melodeath fans should seek out a copy to hear for themselves. A tantalizing glimpse into what may be to come, and no sign of slowing down from Saukkonen and the band.
Skull Soldiers Track Listing:
1. Skull Soldiers
3. Aeon of Cold (Acoustic)
4. Reaper (Live)
Run Time: 17:09
Release Date: March 5, 2021
Record Label: Napalm Records