Hounds of Perdition is the second album from Finnish band Wolfhorde. The group have never been able to settle on a line-up for a live setting, so have limited themselves to studio recordings only. The format that the band can be experienced in may be limited yes, but the scope of the music is certainly not. The band cite a broad range of influences including traditional acoustic folk, classical, cinematic scores and various metal sub-genres. Such a mix is labelled as ‘folk metal’ for marketing purposes, a label that many might associate with novelty drinking songs (Korpiklanni I’m looking at you). From the album title alone, you get the sense that Wolfhorde are going for the more serious tone: an emotional journey across majestic scenery rather than a drunken jig around the campfire.
The album opens with Chimera, a ten minute track that throws in all of the aforementioned musical influences, resurrects an ancient Norse choir and turns the ‘atmosphere’ dial up to eleven. The opening few minutes are a straightforward melodic/symphonic fare (although favouring harsh rather than clean vocals) and it sets the scene perfectly for the expansive musical tapestry that makes up the rest of the song. There is a predominant use of native East-Asian instruments in several sections, often used to build an emotional melodic focus point before the mid-tempo drums, guitars and bass are re-introduced to complete the sound. Needless to say, if a combination of cinematic scores, soothing East-Asian melodies and driving metal rhythms sounds like your thing then this is essential listening. Much of the same can be said be the twelve-minute closing track, only with the Asian influence replaced with a more Western orchestration and instruments. The faster pace and intermittent use of blast beats makes the first-half of the song a more intense listen, and it is at odds with the second half where the pace is slackened to draw in a slow and emotional ending. The low growls detract slightly from the weight of this ending, but for extreme metal fans it is unlikely to be an issue.
With two ten minute plus tracks book-ending the album, I was surprised that the remaining songs all clocked in at under five minutes. Doctor of the Plague brings a gypsy circus jig that introduces the powerful clean singing of vocalist Hukkapätkä. The riff could easily soundtrack the entrance to a dungeon level in a Legend of Zelda game and is so infectious that it makes up for the lack of vocal hook. The eerie melodies continue for the next couple of tracks: the chorus to Black Song sounds like the entrance music for a deranged circus master, with Towers of Silence the culmination of whatever sinister plot was at hand. Forged in Ice returns to the grander and atmospheric soundscapes introduced in Chimera, but to a less impressive level, with the highlight instead being the classic metal harmonised riff and guitar solo in the middle section.
Hounds of Perdition is really a tale of two parts. The longer tracks that open and close the album sound like a band who couldn’t decide whether they want to be Nightwish or Behemoth and so charged headlong down the middle, taking elements of both to create two beautifully crafted pieces of music. The middle of the album is less ambitious, but a no less enjoyable affair, with bouncy riffs aplenty that, with the liberal addition of alcohol, easily become the drunken jigs that I wasn’t sure would make an appearance (but then would it really be a folk metal album without at least one jig?). There are some lapses in quality: Forged in Ice never quite becomes more than the sum of its parts and the underwhelming chorus of Kill The Light really mars the enjoyment of the rest of the track. But, for the most part, Wolfhorde have released a well-crafted metal album that does a great job of blending ambitious orchestral scope with atmospheric folk melodies.
Highlights: Chimera, Doctor of the Plague and Hounds of Perdition.