-- Wolfheart gets shredded! --

Stijn Daneels
Interview written and conducted by Glenn “Terra Shredder” Van Bockstaele.

Wolfheart is a Finnish melodic death metal band formed by Tuomas Saukkonen after he ended all his ongoing bands. Wolfheart was formed in 2013 and had a lot of success with their first album “Winterborn.” In April this year he released his fifth album “Wolves of Karelia.” So I asked the mastermind behind Wolfheart, Tuomas Saukkonen, a few questions about the new album, the Finnish Winter War of 1939 and his past bands.

BMS: Hello Tuomas! First and foremost, congratulations with the new album. But tell me, how difficult is it to promote the album at the time that we all had to stay home due to the corona lockdown?
Tuomas: Pleased to meet you! Although we’re now doing as many interviews as we can, the pre-sales part was very hard right now. Since the borders were closed the post office was unable to send them. I don't know how it works but although someone buys the album it doesn’t count as a sell because the album isn’t delivered yet. We have a store in North-America who usually does a special pre-sale campaign and we did 200 albums with the signed bootleg for them. Now their warehouse was in a US state that locked everything down so nobody was allowed to go there, pick up the CDs and send them out. So we’ve had lost all of the pre-sales from that warehouse.

Tuomas: And around April we were scheduled to tour North-America and promote the album but instead we were all forced to stay home. There was some damage but that damage is equal for all the bands that were releasing albums during that lockdown period. It's weird, but I can’t say it was unfair because everybody was in the same situation at the time. These are very interesting times to release an album.
BMS: Haven't you thought about postponing the album’s release?
Tuomas: We talked about it with the label but all the pre-sales had already been shipped to the distributors. In addition, we had already released 2 singles at that time so it would have caused even more damage. I’ve heard that labels are postponing albums to the summer or early fall but who knows what the situation will be then? It might be even worse. The more you delay the album the more difficult it might get to promote it, since all the momentum built up by those 2 singles would be lost. Plus for a band the size of Wolfheart it would require a ton of extra paperwork and management to put everything on hold.

Tuomas: Not only that, but if we were to delay the album’s release until everything returns back to normal in, let’s say, September or October and release it then it would be stuffed between all the already big amount of delayed and not-delayed releases that will be brought out during that period. After all, there’s only a limited number of pages in every magazine for reviews and interviews. There’s only a certain amount of space in the Spotify playlist. We have gone over all the different scenarios and we still think this is the best option for us.

BMS: I understand, but there are bands who found a solution. Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum, for instance, sold tickets for a live stream concert. Is this something that Wolfheart could do as well?
Tuomas: We almost did something like that, a gig streamed for all our fans in return for a small fee. However, we didn't do the streaming and we had a good reason for that which I’ll be mentioning you shortly. We played in an empty venue, recorded the whole gig and sent all the ticket buyers a link so they could download the performance. The result was a multitrack audio, full HD video in a 10 GB file. It was a huge workload but it worked really well.

Tuomas: Now, the reason we didn’t want to do the streaming is because when I was checking out how Insomnium’s live stream was going and saw that all their servers went down! What happened was that 1 hour before their gig was scheduled the Finnish company sent the audio to the American company who was in charge of the streaming and they would’ve distributed the streaming to all the ticket buyers but then the servers went down. Nobody was able to access it and I was checking out their Facebook page and there were a lot of comments like 'what is going on', 'I can't download it'. So streaming would’ve been a good idea except the whole world is now on internet, Netflix, Spotify, etc. because everybody is staying home.

Tuomas: And since so many people are using streaming services at the same time there’s a much higher chance for server overload and we don’t want to take that risk. Good thing is that Insomnium & Omnium Gatherum successfully streamed their live gig the day after. I do hope that we don’t have to ever do an empty arena show since playing without an audience is very awkward! The audience is as much an important part of a good gig as everything else.
BMS: I agree! So, Wolfheart was a clean slate for you. In 2013 you decided to end all your ongoing bands and start Wolfheart. Imagine my surprise when I saw that you had released a new album with Dawn of Solace, 14 years after 'The Darkness' (read the review: http://belgianmetalshredder.be/reviews/200). Was this new Dawn of Solace album, “Waves” a onetime thing?
Tuomas: I retired all of my bands in 2013. But Dawn of Solace was the only band I didn't retire myself. That band was already retired in 2007 by a little shady Spanish label. They took away the intellectual rights for the Dawn of Solace name and they gave me 2 options. Option 1 was that I would pay them 8000 Euros to buy out the contract or option 2 was that I would hire a Spanish lawyer and take things to court. I didn't want to do any of those 2 options so I lost the name Dawn of Solace. That's the reason why I had formed Black Sun Aeon, it was basically Dawn of Solace without being called Dawn of Solace.

Tuomas: So Dawn of Solace was the only band that was not ended by me so it was the only band allowed returning. And the good thing was that I could use the name Dawn of Solace because that Spanish label went bankrupt in 2014 so I could use the name again. I don't know if there will be a next album because I didn’t initially plan to release an album with Dawn Of Solace. In January 2019 I was working on some demo recordings for Wolfheart and the first 2 songs that came out of those demos ended up on the new Dawn of Solace album. When I worked on the numbers I found out that they sounded exactly like how Dawn Of Solace would’ve sounded right now so that was why I decided to release an album as Dawn Of Solace. But I knew then already that a lot of people would come up asking me why, against all expectations, I released a new Dawn of Solace album.
BMS: Well, I’m glad to now hear the story from you personally! I do admit that you’re quite the workaholic. I did a little bit of research into your pre-Wolfheart career. The first album you released was with Before the Dawn in 2003 and you released an album every year. Most bands need 2 or 3 years to release a decent album but you manage to release high quality albums on a yearly basis! How do you remain so inspired?
Tuomas: You know, some people have fun by going bowling, playing pool or heading out with friends and have some beers, but writing music is what gives me the most fun in life. My mental health requires me to convert whatever thoughts in my head into music. I have been doing it for so long that it has become a habit. I constantly write music and it would be weird (and even unhealthy) for me to have one year without writing music. I just need to make music not to advance my music career or anything but just because I love doing it. But I do admit that my songwriting is creatively inconsistent and for that reason I get a lot of complaints from labels, but like every self-respecting musician I create music that makes me satisfied. Right now, I’m bored because we have to stay at home and I’ve already been working on a death metal project with some guys and we’ve already begun recording. That’s what I do, writing and performing music, it may sound simple but this is the life I want to live.

BMS: What happened with Before the Dawn? It went from a solo project to a band and then you suddenly retired it to start Wolfheart. What happened?
Tuomas: There were many things that happened behind the curtains which we never talk about. But what I can tell you is that when we were writing the “Deathstar Rising” album we already talked with the label that this might be the last album of Before the Dawn. There was a lot of tension within the band and things didn't go well with the label either. But after the release of “Deathstar Rising” we parted ways with Lars and I didn’t want Before the Dawn’s timeline to end with that particular album, instead I wanted to make a real swansong album and “Rise of the Phoenix” became the ideal final Before the Dawn album and both me, the other band members and the label were aware of that.

Tuomas: During the production of “Rise of the Phoenix” I already had the idea of Wolfheart in my head and if you listen to certain songs on that particular album like “Throne of Ice” then you can feel that a song like that could stand on an album of Wolfheart. When I wrote that song I already knew what the direction was going to be with Wolfheart. For me, that specific Before the Dawn track was already the first song of Wolfheart. Our career with Before the Dawn was going higher but everything within the band was going lower. But that was not something you could say in an interview when you want to put up your best smile and promote the album. I had the idea for Wolfheart in my head for 2 years when it went downhill with the band. Nothing dramatic happened, things just didn't work anymore.
BMS: So there’s not going to be a new Before the Dawn album?
Tuomas: No, because it wouldn’t make any sense. A lot of people ask me if there’s ever going to be new Before the Dawn stuff especially after the new Dawn of Solace release. The problem with Before the Dawn is that there are actually 3 versions of Before the Dawn. Many people like that band’s first 3 albums (“My Darkness,” “4;17 am” & “The Ghost”) because those releases featured clean vocals, other fans prefer the middle era (with the “Deadlight” album) because then Lars was in the band and finally there are people who love the final Before the Dawn album (“Rise of the Phoenix”) the most because that was more like death metal and only grunts. So yeah, bringing back Before the Dawn is impossible without making the equally impossible choice which of those eras I would reincarnate the band into.

BMS: I understand. Now, let’s return to the new Wolfheart album. If my research is correct, Karelia is your hometown so I’d say that “Wolves of Karelia” was quite personal?
Tuomas: Indeed, it’s personal because the album tells about the Finnish Winter War of 1939, the conflict between Finland and the Soviet Union. It was a really short but very remarkable period in Finnish history and cemented Finland’s independence. A lot of those battles were fought in the Karelia region and it was also the area were we lost most of the land when the new border was drawn between Finland and the USSR. Although we didn't win the war and lost some land we were able to stop the Soviets from fully invading Finland. Karelia remains therefore an important part of Finnish history and an equally important part of my life and inspiration as a musician. I was born there and I moved out of the region when I was 15. I’ve spent my childhood there so I’ll always consider that place as my home.
BMS: You picture the soldiers as real heroes, as people who would die for their country. How did you manage it to make it such an honest tribute to the ones who gave their lives? I can image that lyrics like “last defense will not be broken. We will not fall” and “never surrender, never retreat. The last defender” are pretty intense.
Tuomas: Yes, like I just said the Winter War was a remarkable moment in Finnish history. After all, Finland isn’t known for its military might, we were a really small country in terms of population with only 5 million people at that time. And then your young, small and peaceful nation faces off against Russia which has a huge history of conquering different nations. Starting from Alexander the Great their whole military approach is really different. They are a country that conquers other countries. Finland has a small army to defend the homeland. Let’s say that if we had 32 tanks, Russia had 3000 tanks. If we had 140 planes, they had 3800 planes. If we had 300.000 soldiers, they had like 1.000.000! It was true David VS Goliath scenario!

Tuomas: Not only did we lack the numbers, but we also lacked the experience, the Finnish army mainly consisted of just regular people with no military background. There were just farmers and factory workers fending off a huge war nation. It doesn't make any sense if you look at the statistics how Finland was ever able to stop the Soviet troops. Personally, I think it was more like the perseverance the Finnish soldiers had Tuomas: Let me tell you a story I’ve heard from an American reporter, a story I didn’t know myself. The USSR had like 3000 tanks rolling into our country and the Finnish army had no anti-tank weapons, no landmines, canons or whatever. So without any heavy weaponry or explosives you basically stand no chance against a tank and have to run for your life! However, the Finnish soldiers used giant wooden logs and although they were barely able to carry them because of their weight (let alone all the gunfire) they did manage to slam those logs into the tanks’ caterpillar tracks! And so they did manage to stop those tanks from advancing using nothing but their wits and the tools they had at hand! It’s a truly unbelievable but also very inspiring story!

Tuomas: Another story, one which you’ll probably be more familiar with, is the story of Finland’s most famous sniper Simo Häyhä, nicknamed “White Death.” He killed 500 enemy troops in 3 months during one of the coldest and darkest winters of the era (with temperatures descending to minus 40 degrees Celsius during the coldest periods). White Death was laying in the snow for hours on end, he even put snow and ice in this mouth during sniping to prevent the steam cloud from appearing. Furthermore, he didn’t use a scope because the sunlight might reflect on the lens (and thus giving away his position). After the Winter War he got severely injured when an explosive Soviet bullet hit him in the cheek but despite his injuries he still wanted to serve in the army but his superiors told him he had done more than enough for his country and honorably discharged him. And despite becoming one of Finland’s most iconic soldiers he was just a farmer who lived in the same region where I was born. So yeah, it’s hard to separate the man from the legend but it still remains a very inspiring tale of Finnish perseverance!
BMS: Indeed! Now, back to Wolfheart! One of my favorite tracks on the new album is the instrumental “Eye of the Storm”. I like the song’s use of piano and it gives me goosebumps just like “Veri” the final track on your second album, “Shadow World.” Why did you decide to make “Eye of the Storm” instrumental?
Tuomas: I felt the album needed some time to breathe and pause during its middle part. If you have too many blast beats and low tuned guitars you’ll eventually lose the power, so you need a contrast, something to cool things down before the heavy beats return. And the second reason was that I listen to interviews of the veterans and they mention the same sentence like Eye of the Storm. When you get bombed for hours and hours and then everything suddenly stops and becomes quiet.

Tuomas: I once heard a story from a Formula 1 driver who was involved in a car crash. And when the crash was happening he saw everything in slow motion and his senses were super sharp and he smelled the fresh cut grass around the circuit. And in the blink of an eye he came back to reality and straight into the chaos of the crash. And that was the reason I wanted it to be instrumental. In the middle of the chaos everything goes in slow motion for a while and then comes back to normal with the blast beats and low tuned guitars. In other words, it’s like you’re literally in the “Eye of the Storm.”
BMS: Exactly! Tell me, who plays the piano? To me, the piano parts play an important role to Wolfheart’s sound but none of the members are mentioned as a keyboard player.
Tuomas: I played the piano on our debut album “Winterborn” as well as on its successor “Shadow World.” I do most of Wolfheart’s piano parts and I had originally intended to do the piano on this new album too. However, I was too busy with the guitar sound and other stuff so I had my sound engineer play the pianos. I showed him what to play and he did a tremendous job, better than I ever could. But to summarize your question, no, there’s no dedicated keyboardist in Wolfheart.
BMS: But do you work together as a team?
Tuomas: Not really since I write all of Wolfheart’s music. I do ask my fellow band members if they have any additional ideas for any new Wolfheart material and I admit they’ve recently given me some good parts and I’ll see what I can use for the upcoming album. Another thing is that I’m a very fast songwriter, for instance, I’ve written the songs on “Wolves of Karelia” in just 6 weeks and that doesn’t give my band mates much time to add anything else. By the time the guys come up with their first riff I’ve already written half of the album. I’ve already written the drums, bass and second guitar parts and give the samples to the band and then we rehearse the songs in the studio and record them. So I respect their input but they know they don't have to do that. I don't need to remain the sole songwriter of the band. When one of the guys comes up with something that I can use for Wolfheart then I will eventually use it.
BMS: All right! That was an excellent shred! Thank you for your time, Tuomas!
Tuomas: You're welcome.