WOLFHEART Interview: Tuomas and the Winter War


Finland has brought us some amazing artists, and Wolfheart is among the best. Hammering through the hearts of many with their black metal sounds mixed with melodic instrumentation, Wolfheart has created an EP, Skull Soldiers, which is a continuation of their last studio album, Wolves of Karelia, and will be released March 5, 2021. The EP tells the ongoing stories of the Winter War of 1939, with two new tracks as well as two bonus tracks. 

In 2012, Wolfheart made their debut as Tuomas Saukkonen announced he would be leaving all other projects to start this new one. He was the multi-instrumentalist lone wolf and recorded his first album, Winterborn in 2015. He was able to find his pack to complete Wolfheart around that same time. In 2020, Joonas Kauppinen jumped on the drums, Lauri Silvonen grabbed the bass, and Vagelis Karzis clutched the guitar, for a session in the studio to shape Skull Soldiers.

Tuomas chatted with Metal Nation about this upcoming EP.

Skull Soldiers comes out March 5th, which I feel is a continuation of Wolves of Karelia.

“Yeah, it definitely is like a small sequel. What actually happened is I had done a lot of research for Wolves of Karelia about the stories of the veterans and background stuff of the Winter War, but I completely missed a detail of a cool story about the small Italians that called themselves the Skull Soldiers. I was reminded of it by an American reporter who was very into war history, and I felt like this is way too late, this could have been a perfect set of lyrics for the last album. Napalm was asking if we would be interested in doing an EP since the tours are not happening, so my immediate response was yes, we already have the stories now.”

That answers why you decided to go with an EP versus waiting until the next time you guys have a complete album. That makes sense, right now we need music since we are not able to have that live experience and musicians need it because that is your lifestyle and livelihood and sadly that has come to a screeching halt, so I appreciate that you guys are working into double overtime in the studios to bring more music so we can all keep our sanity.

“There was also an optimistic plan last summer that things would get better quicker so the EP was scheduled for the tours that were postponed, but that didn’t happen because we are in the same situation globally with the pandemic. So it was pretty good for the band also, because we lost about 100 gigs in a heartbeat. Everything that was scheduled and planned, basically fell apart so we had something to keep the band active also. It was a very weird change having the music taken from our hands.”

I am sure it was a very difficult adjust, and still is.

“It is easier now. It was kind of like hitting a stone wall with a car when the tour got postponed because it was postponed seven days before we were supposed to play, so all the visas and tax papers with the lawyers, merch was printed out, everything was ready and everybody had time off taken from work, so when that happened, it was a big adjustment. We had to figure out how to fix everything like how to get money back from the airlines and all of that. Now, you are kind of used to it, it’s been a year now. I am just waiting for things to get better and then we will have this huge damage control. Now is a little bit boring and frustrating but it was a lot more chaotic when everything started to fall apart.”

Both albums, I will refer to both since they are a continuation of each other, deal with the Finnish and Russian war of 1939, but your primary focus is on the veterans themselves as opposed to the actual scenario of what went on. Do you feel like this is part of a mental health approach to what those gentlemen went through?

“It was such a different time back then because they didn’t have social media, a lot of the guys just didn’t talk about it. Only later when they were older did some of the guys talk about it, and some of them never talked about the war. Back in 1940 and that time around then, you didn’t go to therapy or get to talk to a professional, you dealt with things differently so trauma that you got from the war was heavier. It was also affecting not just the soldiers, but everyone around them, so the people who couldn’t handle the trauma themselves, were probably carrying a lot of burden. I didn’t do any of the interviews with the veterans face to face, I didn’t want to bring that stuff up for them because I am from the entertainment side with the music business, and I thought they would probably see their suffering or bad experiences being turned to some form of entertainment. Also the veterans that are still alive from that time are really old so I wanted to give them their peace. So I read a lot of material and listened to radio interviews and it was very easy to get the material because it is a very fresh feeling. It comes up every independence day, which also happened to be the time I was focused on the lyrics so I only needed to look at the newspapers or get online and Finnish news sites, and the stories were already there. Everyday they were posting different veteran stories.”

I feel like you are really appropriate and respectful with the lyrics. It is not trying to paint a different picture from the reality of what you researched was. When you are dealing with history you obviously have to be very careful. You did a great job at bringing to light a part of history that many people outside of those areas don’t know about.

“I did try to be as neutral as possible. We already have some from our neighbor country Sweden and their approach to the war theme is very historical. What they are doing is a lot of exact days and battlefields. They have even done a few songs of the Finnish army, so they go very personal and detailed with the information, and I wanted to be very neutral so I wouldn’t tell about an exact person, I was just trying to paint a picture of the mentality and emotions and feelings of what took place in the war. Also to not make an album from a hero point of view. Whenever there is a war, there is no winner. Humanity always loses when there is a war, even though it feels weird to say that since that is the way we were able to keep our independence. A lot of families and children and wives and grandparents and parents of the guys who fell in the battle were affected. It effected the whole community tremendously. I don’t think most of the people actually felt like they won something. It is such a heavy thing for a nation to recover from. I wanted to be as neutral as possible so I wouldn’t be telling a hero story when it actually wasn’t.”

You touched on something really important that I think many don’t think of when it comes to different areas dealing with war. You think of the veterans and the situation itself, but you don’t always think of the lineage of people who are affected by the losses and war itself. It is a whole community dealing with an existential crisis that everyone has to learn how to navigate and restore.

“I admit, I had to adjust my mind a little bit because I am a huge fan of movies, and if someone would have asked me something about war before, probably the first impression in my head would have been this Rambo type of guy with machine guns just killing people with this majestic music in the background and tanks blowing up. Our generations have never been in war so we learn it mostly from these movies, from the entertainment point of view, and we don’t really realize how much this is affecting you on a bigger scale.”

Do you feel this journey of research and learning more about this topic, has not only changed your perspective but perhaps also humbled you in some areas and helped you with some growth?

“Yeah, it did underline my respect for past generations that were in the war. I was very aware of the second world war when I was in Finland as a child already because I spent my whole childhood in a village that was about 22 meters from the border of Russia and my fathers family lines farm were about 7 kilometers from the border so it was basically a huge amount of luck when they were drawing the new border after the war ended that the farm actually stayed inside Finnish land. I remember one of the places we used to play around when I was a kid was this one hill that had a cannon still pointing at Russia. Of course I didn’t understand the symbolic or direct meaning at that time, but there is enough things from my childhood that I can backtrack now, like monuments of some of the fallen soldiers. This place I saw my first concert ever, was used back then as a headquarters for the Winter War. A lot of those places still exist that have a direct connection with the war, and I was able to draw the lines between the dots when I got older. It is easy to forget that that reality when you go into this entertainment stuff. You get this Manowar point of view to the war with these big heroes with big guns just blowing up stuff, and  you forget what war actually is and I was mainly reminded of the reality when going down this rabbit hole of background checking for the albums lyrics. It was a good thing. I think the best thing that happened with the whole thing, was comparing this pandemic situation. I am complaining a lot less now. It was one of the coldest winters when the Winter War took place, around minus 25 Celsius, and having been in a battle defending your home and country in that weather, they were right in the middle of the forest, in the middle of nowhere, surviving and trying to cope with the cold, trying to keep the enemy away, and I am asked to stay at home and watch Netflix.”

It really puts things into perspective.

“Yeah, exactly. I would like to travel and do a lot of things, but comparing what happened around 70 years ago, I should be able to handle this.”

War is absolutely gloried when it comes to movies especially and sometimes it is difficult to conceptualize what the reality of the situation actually was. It is freezing here, it has been snowing for two days, but I can’t imagine being stuck in it while trying to defend my country and survive. That is great you have been able to use this and have a more positive perspective on the world now.  

“Aeon of Cold” is done acoustically on this EP, what made you decide to do this one acoustically, and how did you come to the decision to have Lauri Silvonen who has an incredible voice, do vocals instead?

“We have actually been thinking about stuff like that for years. We have also been releasing albums very frequently, so there was no space for the small releases. We have been thinking about doing an acoustic album, but that will be something in the far future. We knew that Lauri had a really good clean voice for a long time, but we had the best opportunity to try that out with this EP. I don’t really like bonus tracks on albums, I like to write an album and that is the album. EP is a little bit of a different form, you can do a little bit of different stuff on it, so with the Winter War theme, the song and lyrics fit well for that atmosphere. We had been thinking about playing acoustic gigs, but of course those plans are off the table at the moment. At least now we got to test drive how Lauri will work as a leading vocal and how the songs could be arranged. We have a lot of blast beats and double bass in our songs, ‘Aeon of Cold’ was one of the easier ones to try that out with.”

It is a beautiful song. I like both versions, but I think it is a good introduction to something you guys might try in the future.

“It depends what the future holds, but we would like to at least try an acoustic show or gig at some point. Our drummer Joonas is also a really good guitar player so we could completely reverse the whole live setup, Lauri leading and us two playing guitar, but naturally those plans are just a huge question mark at the moment.”

Speaking of instruments, you play a couple yourself, one or two or, 18 *laughs*, which is the first one you learned on, and which do you enjoy playing the most?

“I learned guitar when I was 8. That is my main tool so to speak because that is how I do most of my song writing, but I do enjoy drums a lot. I don’t really have enough time to rehearse to be the drummer I would want to be, so I would say it is more of a hobby, because I would need like four days a week of drum rehearsal and that can just not happen at the moment. Even now when there is no touring, it is a very demanding instrument, but it would still probably be my favorite instrument. If I had to choose one, hypothetical situation no one would ever put a gun to my head and say ‘Pick one! And only play one!” *laughs*

Awesome. Back to the EP, “Hereditary” is an incredible song, and it has one of my favorite lyrics, “Pale horse with a hades in its’ tail”, where did you come up with those lyrics?

“I do like to use religious references even though I am a religious free person. I was trying to find a phrase that says hell is following with me. It was one poem that I had to do some digging to find the real English way to say it because English is not my mother language so it has happened that its sometimes something I remember in a movie or other songs or written poems, and I don’t write them correctly when I do lyrics. It is a very poetic way of saying that. It is not the first time I have use the whole white as a pale horse thing. It was even the cover of one of our singles called ‘Boneyard’. It fits really well for these times when the whole world is in a weird place in general. The riders are really inspiring characters for these times we are living.”

I know you already did an online live show, but are you planning on doing another one?

“Hopefully not. *laughs* We will see what happens. The new tours are scheduled for 2022, but last the past year has shown, nobody can predict what will happen, but I really hope we will never do a live stream show again. I have been talking about it with other bands, I don’t know anybody who has enjoyed doing them.”

I am sure it is terribly awkward.  

“Awkward is the word. Being in the music industry and being a musician, being a songwriter and performing live, awkward is the last feeling you want to connect to what you do *laughs* so it is almost the same thing you love the most in life and what you really enjoy, feeling the energy and everything, but you take all the fun out of it and replace that with awkwardness. It is a weird time and there is not a lot of great ways for bands to react and things to do, so I understand that there were things that needed to happen, but it was not a project that was demanded by the audience, and it is so far from even being second best for the audience and the bands. I enjoy watching live shows, I would never watch one from the laptop. I need the atmosphere and to see what I am hearing. If we must for some very important reason, we might consider doing one, but hopefully we don’t.”

Just put up some cardboard people *laughs*

“*laughs* we are going to put up a cardboard band and just play the songs from the seats. Thank you for that idea *laughs* that will take so much trouble from us. We don’t have to rehearse, we don’t need a sound guy, we just need some cardboard and a pair of scissors. I’m changing my answer, we are going to do another live show. *laughs*”

Just do some flashing lights and spotlights on the cardboard, but don’t do pyrotechnics *laughs*

As always I have to ask, how can people best support Wolfheart right now?

“We actually had a really good situation. We were really lucky because we were able to go back to our day jobs so financially we managed better than most. We did lost a shitload of money by cancelling our tour, but it didn’t effect our personal life that much. It just sucked horribly. We didn’t have the same stress a lot of bands have like how were we going to pay the rent etc. Knowing that a lot of people are having issues with finances at the moment with not being able to work, and with the economy completely fucked up, what I would ask our fans to do, is to support whoever needs the support your friends or family, or whoever. We are going to be fine as a band and so we don’t need to ask support from our fans at this moment. Everybody is fucked up, and since we know we are ok for the moment, it wouldn’t feel right to put any guilt on our fans to support us financially. At this moment they probably would have use for the money on their own side.”

*Ended the conversation with how they are always plugging bands on the Wolfheart social media platforms to help build a community and how the attitude of tearing someone else down is not what metal is about*

This is a must have for your Wolfheart collection! The two new songs are a perfect addition to Wolves of Karelia and the bonus tracks give the EP some new versions of songs we already love.

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