Wheel – Resident Human Review

Remember that unexpected wave of quality Tool-like albums that got released in short succession a few years ago? One of the more overlooked albums at the time was Moving Backwards, the excellent debut from British / Finnish proggers Wheel. With a dark take on the modern prog sound, slightly off-kilter riffs, heavy and engaging bass and drums and a smooth, expressive vocalist, the band did not disappoint after its excellent supporting appearance for Soen. With another platter exploring human nature landing in our laps, can the guys live up to the high standard they’ve set for themselves?

By and large, yes they can. This comes down to the excellence of the individual performers and the apparent decision not to break what doesn’t need fixing. Resident Human thrives on the same ingredients as Moving Backwards: the smooth and expressive vocals, the mechanical and oil-slick riffs that put their own flavor on Tool’s recognizable footprint, and the fantastic rhythm section, which is a two-fold triumph. The bass growls and thumps with a vigor many bands could learn from, bringing extra depth to the compositions, and the drums pound with relentless, tribalistic energy, favoring the boom of the toms over the sharper brass and snares. While this unit has not undergone significant updates, the band has started to envision a rougher and more direct approach, and while it’s not a large departure, it is an audible one that serves to set the two albums apart a smidge.

And yet, Resident Human doesn’t manage to hit quite the same way the debut did. The tracklist consists of three long and three short compositions plus an outro. All of these are impeccably composed: the brief half takes one or two riffs and constructs killer songs around them, the long tracks gradually progress through a series of movements that build upon each other toward crescendant choruses or solos. But while the summits of these ascents are supposed to be climactic outbursts where everything comes together and everyone aligns to shoot for the moon, the band instead holds back a little. James Lascelles, the Brit responsible for the vocals and guitars, has a wonderful warm clean voice, but his emotionally gripping screams of exhausting duration are underused here. Coupled with a more subtle and melodic approach even on the catharses, this abstention brings a tiny sting of frustration to the lion’s share of the album.

That truly is the biggest complaint about the album I could muster, though, and it goes to show how well put together the rest of the experience is when I have to scratch together ‘it could have been a bit more satisfying if it went all-in more often.’ Resident Human is full of beautiful, memorable material, like the soaring chorus to “Hyperion,” the subtle build-up of opener “Dissipating,” and the moments James does go full tilt on the title track, making for a satisfying closer. In addition, the production seems to have improved as well, and it’s quite remarkable how much the band does with a misleading DR 6. The drums sound crisp and natural, dropping on the stomach with heavy thuds, and the bass is prominent enough in the mix to be on near-equal footing with the guitars.

Despite being slightly unsatisfactory at some crucial moments, Resident Human is another excellent offering from Wheel. With a perfectly balanced mixture of technical prowess, compositional diversity and emotionally anchored performances, the mixed heritage foursome demonstrates that the debut was not a fluke. Though the inheritance of Tool is still evident in all its facets, they are slowly but surely carving out a niche of their own, focused on flow and feeling instead of being the cleverest in the room. It’s a formula that works well for them, and if they regain their urge to put the pedal to the metal just a little more often, they are sure to continue their rise in the ranks of modern progressive metal.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Odyssey Music
Websites: wheelband.net | facebook.com/wheelband
Releases Worldwide: March 26th, 2021

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