WOLFHEART
"Shadow World"

(Spinefarm)

01. Aeon of Cold
02. Zero Gravity
03. Storm Centre
04. Last of All Winters
05. Nemesis
06. Abyss
07. Resistance
08. Veri

RATING: 9/10

Disbanding all of his prior units BEFORE THE DAWN, BLACK SUN AEON, THE FINAL HARVEST, DAWN OF SOLACE and ROUTASIELU, multi-instrumentalist Tuomas Saukkonen created WOLFHEART in 2012 as his one-man show. Now with a full ensemble behind him for the entity's second offering, "Shadow World", WOLFHEART sounds like a proper harbinger of Hell, corralling black and death metal modes in frequently majestic sequences for an album that musically rouses the elements at their most brutal.

"Aeon of Cold" may begin with what sounds like a cheerful piano intro, but anyone who knows Tuomas' work knows what's coming next: a full onslaught of lambasting mayhem. At 6:34, however, a full-on grind methodology isn't going to cut it. Thus Tuomas smartly pulls the song's flail to a tempered check down and then a slow and somber solo section between keys and guitars. The blast beats are kicked back up behind a methodic slog of guitars and ultimately rocket off again. The effect is akin to a sonic speed blizzard capped by a will-shattering post-chill from a gorgeous, if frosty piano sonata.

The pounding velocity of "Zero Gravity" produces some of the richest guitars on the album with blends of black and death metal sent through jettisoning propulsions more often than not. Even the mid-tempo portions feel like they're at top flight, since the guitars and bass are relentless, while the choruses soar sublimely. "Storm Centre" may only get up to mid-tempo velocity itself, but the gusting guitars and railing double hammers create whirling effects until the acoustic-led breakdown. Every other portion of "Storm Centre", however, feels like inescapable engulfment.

A gorgeous acoustic intro and reprise on "Last of All Winters" gets ensnared by a metallic outburst that trades between melodic and nasty, surrendering to a somewhat unexpected uplifting set of choruses jockeying between the slow, rugged harshness leading up to them. Still, no matter how much this song threatens to plunge into ugliness, Tuomas Saukkonen bravely embraces the melody he creates for it, making "Last of All Winters" an unlikely toe-tapper, as he does on the banged-out, though eloquent "Abyss". Before he gets into too comfy a spot with his work on this album, Saukkonen summons his stations full-force again on "Nemesis", shelling out the first stanza, then working through slower, though no less potent progressions. The bridge features a naked guitar line picked up by an echoing death march and somber keys before the track detonates again.

"Shadow World" is highly impressive and superior to its predecessor, "Winterborn", the latter album well-deserving of the accolades showered upon it. Tuomas Saukkonen has proven to be a gifted songwriter who can fill his horrific odes with grandiosity and harmony. "Shadow World" is thus unexpectedly accessible, by extreme metal standards, anyway. Anyone who can make the calamitous thrash on "Resistance" and the emotive, ENSLAVED-worthy closing epic "Veri" sound like they belong in a movie deserves worldwide attention.

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