Expansive and sprawling yet deeply grounded in introspection, Resident Human is the sophomore studio effort from Finnish prog-metallers Wheel. Hot off of the heels of their 2019 debut Moving Backwards, the band have done exactly what you’d hope them to – doubling down on their strengths, broadening their scope of influence and beginning to add their own stamp to their sound.
Speaking of influences, its going to be nigh impossible to listen to or discuss this record without Tool springing to mind. The arcane, hypnotic riffing and vocal phrasing of opening track ‘Dissipating’ certainly take inspiration from the LA quartet, however its not a bad thing. The slow burn from sparse introduction to powerful, crashing conclusion is masterfully put together, and it would be extremely reductive to write Wheel off as mere imitators. In many cases James Lascelles’ vocals bear just as much similarity to Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson as they do to Maynard James Keenan, and the singer/guitarist states that he draws inspiration from Nirvana, classical piano pieces and everything in between.
Lyrically speaking, the album presents a deeply thought out and idiosyncratic world view, deliberating on the human condition and attempting to reconcile this with modern life. Drawing on everything from contemporary social movements, psychological insights and philosophy by way of science-fiction novels, the band ultimately urge mankind to unify in the face of the dread and uncertainty that we all face and to opt for gratitude in favour of nihilism.
Musically, there are labyrinthine riffs and rhythms aplenty that should pleasantly bend the brain of any prog fan. Most welcome on top of this are the occasional flashy lead runs and judicious use of synths, adding some bombast which from time to time recalls the pomp and grandiosity of euro metal and helps to give the band’s sound a bit more of a unique character. Also of interest is the decision to pare back the level of processing and editing with the intent being to add a layer of dynamism and humanity. Its an approach that comes off well, lending the tracks a sense of push, pull and momentum as they unfold, and it speaks of the accomplishment of the musicians in the band that they can sound so tight even when abandoning the use of click tracks in many spots along the way.
The record hinges on three colossal ten-minute plus tracks, the aforementioned ‘Dissipating’, centrepiece highlight ‘Hyperion’ and eponymous closing title track. These lengthy compositions are punctuated by pacey short songs which maintain the level of musical technicality but also achieve a surprising level of immediacy, thanks in no small part to some great vocal hooks. Whilst these shorter tracks give more in the way of instant gratification, the depth can really be found in the big boys. Each one is an enthralling journey in and of itself, demanding repeated listens in order to scratch beneath the surface. They all follow a similar formula, albeit with differing senses of tone and feel, building up from almost nothing and culminating in titanic crescendos which, distinctively, have a warm and almost embracing character to them which perfectly complements the lyrical content. Its a tried and true formula when writing long tracks, but one that remains satisfying and cathartic when pulled off well, and all three of the epics hit the mark and then some. In spite of this there are moments when the album resembles its influences a little too much, the spots where the band manage to present a more unique and distinctive sound are doubtlessly the highlights and if they can eventually sustain them for a whole record then it could really be something special.
Resident Human is a complex, impactful and accomplished prog-metal album with a beating emotional core that manages to be technical and uncompromising whilst also having a good measure of approachability and immediacy. We can only hope that, going forward, the band retain the level of quality whilst continuing to develop their own trademark sound.
Resident Human is out now via Odyssey Music.