Wolfheart – Winter’s Shroud

Tuesday, 25th August 2015

“I am pretty much breaking three of the car driving laws in Finland.”

Quite the opening statement from Wolfheart guitarist/vocalist/ songwriter Tuomas Saukkonen during our Skype phone to phone talk. Those who follow the extreme/melodic death metal genre probably know his work best in Before the Dawn, but he’s also been in numerous other metal bands of note, including Black Sun Aeon and Dawn of Solace. Risking career suicide by dissolving all of his groups a couple of years back, the man would rebuild in one entity through Wolfheart – writing and recording the debut album Winterborn independently before Spinefarm Records stepped into the picture.

Encompassing aggression and intensity while also offering solace and space is not an easy endeavor – which makes Wolfheart so mind altering to the good. Pushing all the melody and harmony elements while never losing the death metal charm is why Shadow World will again captivate and become a contender for many in the top end of the year voting. After a couple of false starts (aka…lost connections), the third time kept the conversation from Tuomas uninterrupted, so prepare to learn more about his love of winter, his day jobs in landscaping and domestic festival production, plus the tumultuous navigation in what we call the music business today.

Dead Rhetoric: Can you take us back to a couple of years ago when you decided to disband all of your other groups to start Wolfheart as a solo project- and when did it evolve into a full band again?

Tuomas Saukkonen: Ah, I had a pretty good run with all of my bands, but eventually when you run things for about 14 years, I don’t want to use the word fed up because that’s quite a negative term… you kind of run out of the kilometers just like in an old car. You have seen it all and done it all. Enough was enough – there were also some issues with the label, some issues with the band members, so overall it was a lot easier to just clear the table completely and focus all the energy on something completely new. So that was the whole scenario with dropping all the other bands and focusing on one thing.

I was aiming to have a full band for Wolfheart from the very beginning, but it was easier for me to make the debut album Winterborn all by myself. It was easier for me to write, record, and produce the album alone. I needed a lineup of course to perform live shows. When I was making the album I had the whole lineup in mind together so to speak. They are all really good friends of mine, and most of them I had been playing with in previous bands through the years. It was simpler to do the album by myself. It wasn’t long after the album was released that we were playing gigs with the lineup running at the same time. It was part of the plan.

Dead Rhetoric: Was there any apprehension about possibly burning bridges in particular sectors of the industry, especially because of Before the Dawn’s profile and signing to Nuclear Blast?

Saukkonen: Not really, it was actually the other way around. Personally I needed that small break from the whole music business because I released the debut album Winterborn originally by myself on my own small label, and I didn’t have any management companies or promotion companies involved. I needed temporarily to burn some bridges (laughs). Just to get a small break for me. There are 14 albums before the Wolfheart debut album, and I had been involved in so much. I just needed to step out for a while, I wasn’t actually worried. I remained in really good contact with the music industry people so I wasn’t afraid that any harm would come by disbanding the bands. No matter what the consequences would have been, I needed to do it.

Dead Rhetoric: Shadow World is the second Wolfheart album – and appears to be an even stronger, cohesive effort in terms of contrasts between solemn, quieter passages and straight out heaviness and sonic aggression. Tell us about the making of the record, any challenges that may have come up, and what some of your favorite moments were in terms of creation or execution?

Saukkonen: Overall it was a really, really easy album to make. When it comes to the workload it was easier because I had the band playing together in the studio. I only did my guitar parts, the keyboards, and my vocals, so I could focus a lot more on the production itself. The benefit of having individual musicians (is) of course naturally being able to play and do a better job at particular instruments than I could ever do. Dividing my focus on several instruments, there is a down side because I would not be able to master one instrument as well as our drummer does. So I was able to write a little bit more complex arrangements with faster songs because I didn’t have to worry about my limits as a musician.

As a favorite part of the session, I did all of the pre-production sessions in Athens, Greece in a studio called Grindhouse which is run by the guitar player of Rotting Christ, if you know the band. I met the guitar player when we were touring together in Europe years ago, we get along really well and I enjoy working with sound engineers when they are guitar players as well because I like to get different influences and feedback on guitar playing in general. The best way to get new ideas and open some doors as a musician is to work and play with different musicians.

Dead Rhetoric: I’d love to learn more about my favorite compositions on the record: “Zero Gravity” and the brilliant, melancholic closer “Veri”. How do you feel about these songs, and was song order very important to the flow of Shadow World?

Saukkonen: The song order is crucial to the flow of the record. For example the first song and the last song on the record really had to be the first and last one. “Veri” was designed to be the final song, that was the role. Both “Zero Gravity” and “Veri” which you mentioned are my favorites of the album. We are planning to make music videos for both of those songs, but we’ll see how the budget and schedule goes. It’s not that easy nowadays to make a lot of music videos for one album.

Dead Rhetoric: And what about “Abyss” – as that seemed kind of in the vein of a more commercial, older type In Flames song…

Saukkonen: I really hope you mean older instead of commercial In Flames, because I don’t like the new In Flames material, that to me is commercial stuff. Whoracle and The Jester Race, those kinds of albums are brilliant to my ears. I always have some kind of a plan when I write a song like this, I think about the purpose of the songs. That song is really meant to be a live song, I think it’s going to work really well on the live shows, with the tempo and the riffing. I listen to my albums a lot and when I listen to that song I imagine the band on stage, just waiting to actually make that happen.

Dead Rhetoric: Winter is a theme and season that has strong appeal to you – has that been consistent throughout your life, and do you believe it possibly has to do with the type of weather, climate, environmental factors that take place in Finland?

Saukkonen: Yeah, definitely. It is a long winter, I do like all the four seasons and I would not want to live anywhere else but Finland because I want to have all four. My favorite season is the winter, and one of my older bands Black Sun Aeon, the whole theme revolved around winter, the purpose of the band was to make winter styled doom metal. Winter has a really big influence, the lyrics I use a lot of phrases and words relating to winter also, in many ways it plays a big role. I do most of my songwriting during the winter also because of my yearly schedule demands. I’m way too busy in the summertime to be able to focus on the music, so I do all of my music writing during the winter. That also makes the season quite a defining season for my music.

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