Wheel – Resident Human
Expectations were high as Wheel released one of the best debut albums in the past decade, “Moving Backwards”, in 2019. In that year I had the pleasure of seeing them at the Prognosis festival in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. The CD hasn’t left my car since, and still receives regular plays (possibly resulting in a few traffic fines, but I can’t realistically blame the band for that). Today Wheel released their newest creation. Can they live up to the high expectations?
“Resident Human” is Wheel’s reflection on the turbulent year the world has been facing. Packing all that has happened with the pandemic raging, Black Lives Matter, the polarization of society as a whole and their helicopter views of human nature in a tight 50-odd-minute, 7 song album. The band also derived inspiration from Dan Simmons’ ‘Hyperion Cantos’. This alone is impressive enough without diving into the musical aspect of things.
The album fluctuates and organically moves between intense, ominous soundscapes and syncopated, heavy rhythmic guitar-driven pieces that have the listener subconsciously bobbing their head in time. The contrast between the two is what makes “Resident Human” such a banger. Wheel switches up the heavier parts with quieter, almost touching intricately small melodic parts. The aggressiveness expertly emphasizing the heavy subject matter of tracks like ‘Dissipating’ and ‘Movement’.
Wheel has a great hand at picking their album openers. The opening track of “Moving Backwards”, ‘Vultures’, started with full-on aggression. ‘Dissipating’ isn’t quite like that. It is an opener that leans far more heavily on the slow but steady build-up of the song. Starting out mellow and slowly but surely building, with an almost hypnotic rhythm section. Peaking, slowing down again and then building back up in an instrumental section driven forward by the bass and drums, only to be slowing back down abruptly followed by a melodic guitar melody until the end. ‘Dissipating’ is one of four songs over the length of 10 minutes on this album. Whereas you often get the idea that bands in the progressive neck of the woods tend to write long songs for the sake of wanting to be prog, Wheel uses the length of these songs to be able to build the mood, to build up suspense and develop the song.
Wheel – Movement (click here if video does not play)
‘Movement’ starts back up where the heavy section of ‘Dissipating’ ended. Reflecting the heavy subject matter of the Black Lives Matter movement that picked up steam again in 2020 after the killing of George Floyd. The only flaw here is maybe that the song isn’t quite long enough to contain all the anger, frustration and outrage over this particular topic.
Drummer Santeri Saksala takes matters into his hands in the two songs that follow. On ‘Ascend’ his technical skills come to the forefront, and in ‘Hyperion’ the band has said in a recent interview in Tuonela Magazine that they let the click track be and let Saksala determine the flow of the track. Knowing this fact makes you listen to the song in a whole different way and appreciate the organic flow all the more.
‘Fugue’ has a wonderful flow to it. Even though it picks up the pace towards the middle, the song itself doesn’t feel nearly as aggressive as earlier songs on the album. The way it is mixed, minor nuances in the sound itself and the number of layers you pick up with each subsequent listen, makes this song stand out in the album.
Wheel – Fugue (click here if video doesn’t play)
On the title track of the album, the band once again takes the time to develop the song, layer by layer. Introducing a theme with the guitar, slowly building on that once again with the rhythm section. Throughout the album, but in this song, in particular, the listener can hear how James Lascelles can switch from somewhat delicate vocals to the raw edge that can pull a song forward and express the desperation and intensity that the song requires at that point. After a section that clearly invites the audience to bang their heads, Wheel switches it up again at the end of this song and then ends the album with ‘Old Earth’, an intricate piano piece that brings the listener back around from aggression to inner peace.
On ‘Resident Human’ Wheel managed to return to the level of songwriting they achieved on Moving Backwards, while ever so slightly moving the needle further. Progressing, by changing nuances while still sticking to their own style. While their previous album was more the album Tool fans wished Tool would’ve made, ‘Resident Human’ is a sort of love triangle between Karnivool, Tool and Klone, with a heavy dose of their special Wheel sauce. Wheel manages to capture a turbulent year, the fickleness of human nature and the emotional turmoil we all feel in current society into a single album. And that is truly an amazing accomplishment.