Finnish melodic death metal quartet Wolfheart recently released their latest studio effort, “Wolves Of Karelia“. And from its phenomenal storytelling to an abundance of incredible riffs, the album has been receiving well-deserved high praise from both fans and critics alike. I caught up with Tuomas Saukkonen to dive a bit deeper into the inspiration, as well as the meaning behind some of the tracks.
Thanks for speaking with me. How are you and the rest of the guys doing, especially in these unprecedented times?
Things are ok but we see really complicated times coming. A lot of damage control to be done and honestly a bit worried for the album release since touring would have been a big part of the promotion.
As are many. Hopefully, things go back to normal soon! Speaking of the album, the story concept is inspired by the Winter War between Russia and Finland, giving the audience a unique perspective on the events that took place. How did you collect stories and accounts from veterans and people who were there?
I was simply reading a lot about war. Stories told and written by the veterans and when I was writing the lyrics to the album it was around the independence day in Finland so there were a lot interviews on the radio that I was listening on long car rides.
Along with listening to the stories from those that were in the war, did you do any other sort of research such as visiting these locations, or maybe taking a look at some of the artifacts that might’ve been left over?
I did and actually I was born and raised in the Karelian region so I grew up and played around some of those monuments like one big cannon on a hill still pointing towards Russia. My father’s family line has a farm standing over 200 years and the new border was drawn only 7km from the farm so just living in that village is a source of inspiration to this theme.
Something I find fascinating about this time period and the war, specifically the environment, was how it seems like you were battling the elements as well. There were times when it got unimaginably cold. Are there any stories or events that stand out to you in particular from a veteran’s perspective on what it was like dealing with this, and how do you think battles would differ today in those harsh conditions. Or would they?
Modern warfare would mean a lot bigger guns, bombs, missiles, drones etc so a lot of the battles would take place in distance instead of actual man to man combat. I think one of the greatest stories is the sniper White Death aka Simo Häyhä who had 500 confirmed kills in just three months, without a scope, so that the reflection of the sun would not give him up, he sat or lied on the snow for hours in the freezing temperature and held snow or ice in his mouth so that his breath would create any steam.
Many of my friends in Finland seem to deal with harsh temperatures in Winter. And they almost seem unaffected by it. Would you say that nature itself could’ve been weaponized, especially against soldiers that were not used to these conditions?
Nature can become a great enemy if you don´t know and respect it well enough. Weaponizing nature would be tricky because you cant control it but it can be an ally if you know the surroundings and can endure the cruel temperatures
What are some of the events that stand out to you the most, and did you cover them in any of the songs?
There was one story that inspired me a lot. One soldier saw his best friend wounded in the trench when they were at the war just at age 19. They had to retreat and that was the last time he saw him and he never knew what happened to him. There are still a few search parties that go cross the border every summer to find the remains of the veterans and at the age of 90 this one veteran got the news that his friends remains were found just in the place he remembered. Still sitting in the corner of the remains of the trench. That is where the line ”we bring them home” comes from.
From the epic soundscapes to the massive guitar tones and beautiful atmospheres, your new material features a huge variety of sounds. How did the overall musical concept of this release come about?
Music comes very naturally and easy for me and I never need to plan or analyze but no looking back at the writing process and listening to the album I must admit that theme made me write the most ”victorious” Wolfheart album so far. The album became to be like a soundtrack to this epic war movie.
What would you say makes this album different from your previous efforts, and what do you think remained a constant in the band’s work overtime?
I believe we have been able to carry the certain wintery mood with every album but like I mentioned already – the new album is most victorious. Also, it has the fastest songs we have ever recorded. Was really pushing the limits of our drummer Joonas on this album.
Music can be a great way to tell stories. What do you think makes music into such a great vehicle for storytelling, especially for the format that you’re currently using about the war?
Music gives a lot of space for you own imagination so it is easier to dive into the theme and let your own interpretation color it a bit more. And sounds and melodies have a strong emotional trigger.
I think the album is also going to raise awareness and educate those unfamiliar with the war. For example, since the release of “Ashes”, I personally have been doing a lot of reading. Did you set out with the intention of trying to have the listener learn something from the songs as well?
Not really. Just wanted to be a storyteller, but it is awesome that the album also inspires the listener to dig into the history. I wanted to keep the artwork and the album title as neutral as possible and keep the war theme only in the lyrics so it would not be that obvious war album. Did not want to do it with ”Sabaton” style.
You recently had to reschedule your tour for obvious reason, but you came out with a cool virtual experience. How long did it take to put things together for the exclusive pre-taped show?
The plan came together really fast but it was a lot of work since instead of streaming we basically edited a DVD file from the gig with more than 8 cam angels. I was really cool thing to do but I do hope this is just short temporary period and next gig we play will be in front of live audience again.
Now that you have/are going through the process of recording and streaming a live show, what do you think about this format, and is it something you’d be keen on exploring even after the Coronavirus crisis?
I need the energy that runs between live audience and the band. I rather see us as a studio band than playing more of these virtual gigs.
The streams also seem like a great way to prepare for playing the new material in a live setting. Do you find it difficult when having to play something new for those first few show dates?
It is always a bit nervous to play new songs at the first gigs but then again we always rehearse those songs more. It is also always very exciting to get to play new songs and when a new album is mixed there are always already a few favorites that you are dying to get to play live.
When you do hit the road again, how much of the new material are you going to be working into your sets?
3-4 songs. We had already rehearsed 3 new songs for the DOTN tour. Definitely the main focus will be on the new songs.
Thanks again, for taking the time to chat with me. Is there anything else you’d like to say to the fans?
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