About 4 years ago, I met up at the legendary Finnish concert venue Nosturi (which was recently demolished) with two relatively anxious guys to do an interview supporting the release of their brand new EP. I was one of the first journalists to interview the band and somehow I knew I had stumbled upon a hidden gem in the music industry that was soon to be discovered by the world. I’m talking about vocalist/guitarist James Lascelles and drummer Santeri Saksala of the progressive metal act WHEEL. After the release of their debut album, “Moving Backwards,” the band skyrocketed and gained international attention by joining Swedish progressive metal giants SOEN as support on their European tour. With two new members, bass player Aki Virta and guitarist Jussi Turunen, WHEEL is ready to conquer the rest of the world (when it’s allowed again), but until then, the band have been working hard on the follow up to their successful debut effort. “Resident Human” will be released on March 26th, 2021, via OMN Label Services.
While “Moving Backwards“ had a lot of angry, statement tracks, “Resident Human,” at its core, is more contemplative. This becomes instantly clear with the way the album starts, with a soft guitar strumming, “Dissipating” sets a more grim tone for the album, starting off very mellow and highlighting more atmospheric parts in the music, it instantly feels like a stark contrast in comparison to “Vultures,” the intro track to their debut effort. While “Vultures” worked well on different levels, “Dissipating” feels more calculated as it really draws you into the music and never lets you go. Midway through, the song gains momentum with heavier accents in the guitar and reaches its vocal climax clocking in at 8:00, after which an instrumental section may surprise you, especially its gnarly bass sounds are to die for, this goes on for a while until a diminuendo follows and transitions in that tranquil guitar melody from the beginning; a pretty kick-ass start to the album, if you ask me!
“Movement” is probably one of the heavier songs on the record, no wonder because it was inspired by the injustice of police brutality surrounding George Floyd‘s cruel murder and the Black Lives Matter movement that became an essential part of 2020’s narrative. Altogether, this song is an angry statement piece that is reminiscent of their debut effort, but surely falls in place within the context of the album. Clocking in at 3:00, there is a calmer section, with a final build-up towards the last familiar melodies that embellish the song; WHEEL shows just how talented drummer Santeri Saksala is here, as he completely steals the show.
“Ascend” continues with interestingly a more heavy metal-based riffing at first, but then goes in full-force prog mode. There is a certain groove in this song that is also apparent in several other tracks, namely “Hyperion,” which starts with some ambient sounds and transitions in a more easygoing mellow song. During our interview, Lascelles mentioned that in this song, the band specifically decided to let go of the click track and let the drums predict the groove. Maybe it’s because of this that the track sounds incredibly smooth and laidback. It’s incredibly intricate to have as many different time signatures and have an excellent flow in a song, especially when it’s a 12-minute track.
Interestingly enough, throughout the whole album, I’m getting some jazz noir vibes, specifically in the bass melodies. Jazz and fusion are not uncommon concepts in prog, but the fact that it almost feels like it could have been taken out of a film noir film, painting a very grim picture, makes these songs more interesting somehow and somehow very cinematic. For me, this is specifically clear in the bass sounds at the beginning of “Fugue.” In this song, it feels like the mood and atmosphere is foremost the important thing, that’s why the vocals take less of the attention; however, due to the vocal harmonies, the storytelling approach this song takes is highlighted and I’m sometimes even getting some slight HAKEN vibes.
Similar dark feelings continue in the title track “Resident Human.” This song is perhaps most reminiscent of their debut. I recognize some similarities in chord progressions, as well as the staccato vocals, accentuating that Lascelles‘ vocals are an additional instrument to create a certain atmosphere within the music – nothing more, nothing less. They remain powerful, yet minimal so that they don’t outshine the grand musicianship at any point given. “Resident Human” is a beautiful balance between the sound of the previous album and their sophomore effort, it’s where everything comes together as one. The song ends with a haunting guitar melody that returns in the outro of the album, “Old Earth,” which features a beautiful eerie old piano melody. It’s a song that radiates wisdom and pain and makes you wonder what life on earth is all really about, which essentially is also what this album is about (it really works on so many levels). More importantly, it lingers on for a while and makes you reflect.
All-in-all, “Resident Human” is a natural step forward for WHEEL. The band mentioned that the album is under-edited, rather than over-edited, and that that was terrifying for them, contemplating if it may have been the worst idea in the world. However, the less rigid approach, losing the click track, and experimenting more during the process, is what gives this album a lot of soul. All of this combined makes this album more dynamic than “Moving Backwards.”
Now, if you’re thinking that WHEEL went back to that garage rock band sound that was cool and edgy in the ’90s, don’t worry, the production of this album is still clean and overall well-polished. On top of that, some things have also improved; for instance, while hearing the bass on this album, I definitely had a “damn this bass is so fucking smooth”-moment more than once.
Overall, “Resident Human” was a journey through different landscapes, a beautiful example of how interplay with progressive sections, groove, and more ambient sounds can create a rollercoaster of emotions while listening. Not as aggressive as their debut album, more explorative, however, the band clearly have made their sound their own in the process and with “Resident Human,” dare I say, they once again keep it WHEEL.
Written by Laureline Tilkin
- Resident Human
- Old Earth
James Lascelles – guitar/vocals
Santeri Saksala – drums
Aki “Conan” Virta – bass
Jussi Turunen – guitar
OMN Label Services