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Wolfheart - "Winterborn" (CD)

Wolfheart - "Winterborn" CD cover image

"Winterborn" track listing:

1: The Hunt
2: Strength and Valour
3: Routa pt. 2
4: Gale of Winter
5: Whiteout
6: Ghost of Karelia
7: I
8: Chasm
9: Breathe
10: Isolation
11: Into the Wild

Reviewed by on February 4, 2015

"'Winterborn' is, at the risk of severe hyperbole, a masterwork."

Maybe it’s just because it’s that time of year, but The Winter is fascinating. Parts both beautiful and terrible, it changes slowly and quickly, and we are both its prey and at its mercy. This is undoubtedly why so much of Scandinavian music is so obsessed with it. “Winterborn” goes right to the core – beginning, existing, and ending in frosty, frozen nirvana.

“Winterborn” is, at the risk of severe hyperbole, a masterwork. Tuomas Saukkonen has composed and orchestrated a work that is as layered and complex as The Winter itself. Yet he’s managed to do it in such a way that it is simultaneously simple, beautiful, and brutal.

Saukkonen combines death, doom, black, and folk into a frozen, swirling storm. Picking (sub)genres out is easy sport but largely worthless, as this disc puts all to good use. The acoustic instruments and clean singing provide needed respite from the winds. The advancing and receding thrum of tremolo guitars and intermittently blasting drums sometimes drown and sometimes abandon the barren melodies. Even Saukkonen’s harsh vocals aspire to more than violence – they are clearly powerful, but being mixed so far back they struggle to gain purchase with the rest of the instrumentation, a metaphor to be sure.

The brilliance, however, is in the feeling, the atmosphere. “Winterborn” is completely enveloping – it dominates. Saukkonen must be born of The Winter as the album title proclaims, as he clearly knows how to encapsulate this season in sound. The music itself is heavy and serious, but only because that is what The Winter demands. Had Saukkonen been born at another time of year, this album would be quite different. This is not heavy metal about The Winter or just another Scandinavian strummer making good on his assumed birthright. It is The Winter itself using Saukkonen as its muse and transcendent mouthpiece, transferring all that is beautiful and terrible about itself into an aural frost. But this frost will not melt at springtime, instead it will linger forever waiting for the next Ice Age, so it can finally be at peace.

Highs: "Routa pt 2" is simply majestic. Haunting, enchanting, brutal.

Lows: That we cannot live as long as The Winter itself.

Bottom line: Simply fantastic Scandinavian music that transcends the usual winter-themed slog.

Rated 5 out of 5 skulls
5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)