Wheel - Charismatic Leaders

Wheel – Charismatic Leaders

It was so refreshing to see an album offered for review to TPA with such a pithy name. There’s none of this multisyllabic name nonsense, like Distended Algorithm or Beelzebub’s Hoover, this is the least Proggy name I’ve seen in yonks! I mean: Wheel! C’mon!

Not to be confused with WHEEL from Dortmund, Germany, this Wheel was founded in 2015 by a British chap living in Helsinki. Wheel is pretty well established. Wheel have released three EPs and this will be their third album. There have been changes in personnel, the bass and guitar players have changed, though I’m led to believe Santeri Saksala (Drums) and James Lascelles (Vocals/Guitar) have been in the band from the beginning. You might say that over the years they have been re-inventing the Wheel. You might.

It’s hard to resist the temptation to try and find other bands that the music reminds you of. The misleading phrase “sounds like…” isn’t really helpful. It causes debate and controversy that diverts attention away from the main thrust of a TPA review, which absolutely should be:

Is it prog? Bugger… I mean… Does it sound good to me, and would I recommend it?

And it gets confusing. M’colleague at TPA, Nick Hudson, tells me that Wheel have been compared with Tool. Nick found Wheel more accessible than Tool, with more hook-laden guitar riffs. In turn, Tool have been compared to Karnivool. It is also said on the interwebs, that two of Wheel’s influences are Karnivool and Alice in Chains. Charismatic Leaders was mixed by Forrester Savell. Savell has worked with Karnivool (and TesseracT), and as Karnivool have, apparently been compared to Tool, I suppose it goes some way to explaining the comparisons. I’m told Karnivool are Progressive Metal, so Wheel must be, too. See? Confusing. If you like any of that sort of thing, I think you ought to like this. (I think I followed that! – Ed)

I followed the link to their promotional video of Empire as my first step across the threshold to the Wheel house.

This does indeed seem to be Progressive Metal (probably). The video clearly shows a band that was shot in a warehouse. Just to clarify – I don’t mean literally being shot. It’s a film term meaning “filmed”. But you knew that because you are intelligent readers. Please keep reading.

During the video, which is the opening track on the Charismatic Leaders, I heard guitars to clench your teeth to, and a snare tuned pretty high – just below the threshold at which only Dogs and Lars Ulrich will hear it, though this calms down as the music proceeds. Then there’s the bass. There’s no credit given on the Bandcamp page for their bassist but be she or he one of the guitarists or a session musician, what a tone! Wow! We have guttural bass noises produced from strings vibrating at speeds that, if you could see the strings oscillate, they’d seem stationary. But they aren’t. Because they are making noises and there’s that tone.

Elsewhere, within any one song we will hear the build-up of tension and release. The bass pins down the riffs, with a presence akin to the heavies standing behind the gangster that is the somewhat relentless guitar riff. There are (all but no) solos but, make no mistake, the heavy riffage gets your adrenal glands to doing their thing. Vocally, this band isn’t afraid of using vocal harmonies. The lead vocals convey heaviness without always resorting to the all-too-used trope of cookie monster growling.

Lyrically, I confess, I’m not one for listening too closely to song words. Unless words offend my lyrical lactose intolerance, I’ll let them slide. I’m more interested in how songs sound, holistically. I do like the emotional response they can invoke, though. This might explain why I love Cocteau Twins. And then I love early Yes and can always forgive their mostly nonsensical pseudo-mystical pretentious mumbo-jumbo. Not that this band resemble Yes in any meaningful way.

I was kindly sent the lyrics for all the songs, and I can tell you that they were blissfully free of mountains coming out of the sky. Instead, there’s a lot of rather angry, angsty stuff going on in there; a tiny hint of nihilism, observations about seeing opposing stances – and the way people happily despise them, hastening the end, and the …something, something something…. Dark Side. There are a few, dare I say, obvious metaphors, but more importantly, the music supports the words, and vice versa.

Talking of words, one might argue that some of the statement in the promotional materials seems somewhat hyperbolic. But I think they are coming from a good place because they are encouraging critical thinking. I’ll let you decide:-

“Charismatic Leaders is destined to be looked back on as a manifesto that equally excited its listeners and made them think about the world around them.” – Matt Mills, January 2024.

Progressive rock? Neo Prog? Progressive Prog? Who cares? Does it sound good to me, and would I recommend it? ~ Oh yes!

01. Empire (4:20)
02. Porcelain (7:12)
03. Submission (10:46)
04. Saboteur (9:01)
05. Disciple (4:12)
06. Caught In The Afterglow (1:12)
07. The Freeze (10:35)

Total Time – 47:18

James Lascelles – Vocals, Guitar
Santeri Saksala – Drums
Jussi Turunen – Lead Guitar
~ With:
Mikko Määttä – Bass

Record Label: InsideOut Music
Country of Origin: Finland
Date of Release: 3rd May 2024

Wheel – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp | YouTube