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2 stars The sound of prog metal has changed quite a lot since the early 1990s, when I started listening to the genre. Back then, technical prowess, classical influences, high-pitched vocals and long-form compositions were the norm, and ninety percent of the prog metal that was released in those years was heavily influenced by bands like Dream Theater, Queensryche and Symphony X. Over the years, the genre started becoming more receptive to influences from outside the standard canon, with bands like Radiohead and Tool bringing in a taste for cerebral but melodic grooves, atmospheric landscapes and subtle electronica. Much of the prog metal that is being played today owes a lot to the lesson of those bands, and up-and-coming Finnish quartet Wheel are no exception.

Wheel must have grown up listening to a lot of Tool. And by a lot I mean a LOT. Resident Human, Wheel's second album after their well-received 2019's debut Moving Backwards, is a record that fans of Maynard James Keenan's band will find hard to put down. It is packed with a beautiful sound ? full of glorious bass grooves, hypnotic riffs and arpeggios, and clever rhythmical figures with plenty of syncopations and polyrhythms that will leave you scratching your head and banging it at the same time. This lush sonic tapestry forms a perfect background for James Lascelles' deep and pleasant clean vocals, which pay a clear direct tribute to Maynard James Keenan. It's a captivating formula, especially when Wheel fully unleash their creativity in the three multifaceted mini-epics of the album, "Dissipating", "Hyperion" and the title-track "Resident Human". The other tracks of the album are shorter and punchier and showcase instead the more alternative rock/metal influences of the band. Among these tracks, "Fugue" is particularly interesting, with its hypnotic vibe and a groove that reminds me somewhat of Haken.

Although Resident Human flows away pleasantly throughout its 50 minutes, it somewhat failed to leave a lasting impression on me. Partly this is because Wheel pay a lot more attention to rhythm than melody, which means that there are not many outstanding melodic lines on the album. Inevitably, this makes the listening experience somewhat more challenging as the listener cannot rely on accessible melodic hooks to make sense of the music. This can make the songs ? especially the longer ones - appear slightly circular and nondescript. In part this is also because most of the longer songs build and build, but rarely resolve in a satisfying manner. Another aspect of the album that gave me pause is that the Toolesque influences are a tad too evident, to the point that Wheel might face the risk of being classified as a mere Tool-clone, not unlike Soen in the early stages of their career.

Despite this criticism, Resident Human is a solid sophomore effort that will appeal to readers who have liked the latest efforts of bands like Haken, Leprous and Soen. To reach the heights of these prog metal giants, Wheel may have to work a bit more on their compositional skills, paying more attention to melody and song development, and at the same time try and step out of Tool's shadow in a more decisive way. But the chops are clearly there, and Wheel have all the right cards to aim to become a significant presence in the prog metal landscape.

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]

Report this review (#2527145)
Posted Monday, March 22, 2021 | Review Permalink
4 stars I have a feeling that this album will generate a lot of attention once word gets out and fans of heavy prog and prog metal give it a good listen or five. It is really, quite good. Very good, in fact. I read several reviews around the web and the consensus is just that.

Wheel brings us a very strong, sophomoric effort in this follow-up to their debut, "Moving Backwards". This effort is more contemplative with a very nice balance of mellower, atmospheric moments and wall-of-sound heaviness. There are three 10+ minute tracks full of great themes and highly complex, but musical, movements. Fans of Tool and Danny Carey will absolutely love the polyrhythms throughout the album. The drum work on this album... wow, Santeri Saksala is a monster talent.

Speaking of Tool, there is no doubt that there are a lot of similarities between Wheel and Tool. However, Wheel has their own signature sound, there is no doubt about that. In terms of atmosphere, I find myself often thinking of Fear Inoculum's proggy and jam-like moments while listening to this album. But I also find myself thinking of some of the epic work by Karnivool in Sound Awake at times.

This album has a looser feel than the predecessor and the listener gets more of a sense of a strong groove that you can't help but be drawn into. Don't get me wrong though, the interplay between the instruments and the production is tight and clear despite the looser, more organic feel.

As I listen to Resident Human multiple times, I realize that there is more to unpack than may be evident on first listen. Like any strong prog album, it gets better each listen as you choose to focus your attention on different things. Drums and bass alone are work a focused listen. As a rhythm section they are superb. There is a lot of talent here.

Give it a listen. If heavy prog, prog metal, poly-rhythmic goodness with smooth vocals (no death growls here) are your thing, you will enjoy the ride!

Report this review (#2530550)
Posted Wednesday, March 31, 2021 | Review Permalink
4 stars This album is a fine example of the 'joyously melancholic' type of heavy progressive rock that is typified by Tool . There are hints also of post death growl Opeth, Porcupine Tree and Amplifier in the mix too, but the band transcend their sources of inspiration to create something beautifully their own. There is complexity to the rhythms in particular with drums, bass and guitar all working together (and in counterpoint) to create an often hypnotic poly-rhythmic backdrop , but the music is never fussy. The vocals are clean, if sombre , and carry the melody well. Opening track Dissipating, and the shorter track Fugue stand out as early favourites but it has the feel of an album that will grow with more listens.

Report this review (#2532414)
Posted Tuesday, April 6, 2021 | Review Permalink

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