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Wolfheart - "Shadow World" (CD)

Wolfheart - "Shadow World" CD cover image

"Shadow World" track listing:

1: Aeon of Cold
2: Zero Gravity
3: Storm Centre
4: Last of All Winters
5: Nemesis
6: Abyss
7: Resistance
8 Veri

Reviewed by on August 5, 2015

"If you like a winterized Amon Amarth, or maybe the love child of Amorphis and Dark Tranquility, then the four skulls below should be plenty."

Winterborn's debut frozen slab, "Winterborn," was (re)released October 2014 to much critical acclaim (full disclosure, including from your correspondent) and set a very high standard for the follow up, in this case "Shadow World." While creating such fine work is of course excellent for Tuomas Saukkonen, it also provides a very restrictive context to view his newest frozen slab. But this is my problem, not his. Let us soothe my problem now.

It is immediately clear that "Shadow World" is much hastier than its predecessor. "Winterborn" developed slowly with concepts often spanning multiple songs, or fading away and returning later. Saukkonen was in no hurry to get his music to blast beats, dramatic melodies, or any other particular mode. So many of the songs played like melodic death metal jam sessions.

"Shadow Heart" is not this way -- its basic setting is blasting. After the first few seconds of lilting piano, album opener "Aeon of Cold" get ripped apart by 10MM rounds in the form of icicles from hell, it is clear Saukkonen has set his sights on a different destination. "Shadow World" is buried in blast beats, tremolo and not very much bass at all, relentlessly yearning for black metal to overtake it completely.

Also notable is the composition. While "Winterborn" often layered singular folk melodies with blasts, huge walls of distorted chords and Saukkonen's roar, on "Shadow World" things are much simpler, with melodic and harsh sections completely separate.

While "Winterborn" was solely the product of Saukkonen's writing and playing, "Shadow World" has some writing contributions from Saukkonen's mates and playing contributions from all involved. This lends a different treatment to the various sections, both in composition and musical delivery. While "Winterborn" felt as if Suakkonen was The Winter's sole muse, "Shadow World" is clearly a sum of parts, organically contrasting the instruments and sections featuring different players.

None of the above is better or worse, it just exists as fact. I find wonder and fascination in the gray created by the collision of light and dark, thus "Winterborn" is my preference. Others that choose clarity of opposites will naturally favor "Shadow World."

That is not to say, however, that "Shadow World" is a poor album. Quite the contrary. Much like its predecessor, “Shadow World” is excellent. The music, despite wandering to black metal, pulsates with vitality. The solos cut and slash their way through the frozen forest, adding a consistent new element that was largely absent from “Winterborn,” even if the exclusion did not leave “Winterborn” wanting. Saukkonen’s bellow is as powerful as ever; possibly even more so as it is mixed so much farther forward this time around. “Shadow World”’s composition is much more fan friendly as well, as the very delineated harsh and clean sections make it easy to know if a lighter spin kick or sonic headbanging is needed at any given moment.

I cannot give this album five skulls like I did for its predecessor, as it lacks the sheer majesty of “Winterborn.” However, to their credit Saukkonen and company did not try to write “Winterborn Part II,” instead creating a different, yet still completely frozen solid, piece of trve Finnish melodic death metal. If you like a winterized Amon Amarth, or maybe the love child of Amorphis and Dark Tranquility, then the four skulls below should be plenty.

Highs: Leadoff track "Aeon of Cold" is fantastic in blast beats, bellows, solos and folk melody.

Lows: The music is not as layered as in previous albums.

Bottom line: Different than it's fantastic predecessor. Still good.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 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)