Album Title: Resident Human
Label: OMN Label Services
Date of Release: 26 March 2021
I am a huge fan of progressive music and have been for many years after stumbling across the likes of Pain Of Salvation, Vanden Plas, Dream Theater and many others in my more formative years. As a huge progressive music fan, you’d think I’d be across it all, aware of new albums from established bands as well as debuts from the brightest stars of the genre. Generally, I’d like to think that this is indeed the case. However, occasionally, one or two acts will fall through the net. The subject of this review is one such band that eluded my gaze.
Formed a handful of years ago, Wheel are a Finnish quartet, who released their debut album, ‘Moving Backwards’, in 2019. I wasn’t overly aware of it at the time but as the months went by and more people suggested I check it out, I realised I may have made a faux pas. Not this time. As it stands, I still haven’t listened to the debut – a combination of a lack of time and a million other albums to check out and review has seen to that. But I wasn’t prepared to make the same mistake twice. And so, here I am, offering my thoughts on the highly anticipated sophomore release, ‘Resident Human’.
Without knowledge of the debut, I am unable to compare and contrast the two records. What I will say is that ‘Resident Human’ feels quite dark in places and very serious. It turns out that much of the material and the subject matter has been shaped by the events of the past twelve months or so, so it’s not surprising that there’s a gritty edge to the music. Obviously we’ve suffered as an entire species at the hands of a virulent pandemic, which has served to turn most of our lives upside down. But there has also been the ‘Black Lives Matter’ phenomenon, triggered by the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police, as well as a greater push for action on environmental matters to save the planet from the effects of global warming. As it goes, 2020 and 2021 have not been the happiest of times, and the seven tracks on ‘Resident Human’ largely channel this sentiment.
The quiet, tentative, and slightly melancholic opening to ‘Dissipating’ sets the album into motion, an album that has taken quite a lot of time and effort on my part to get to grips with. And even then, I’m not sure I have grasped the entirety of the offering even now, so close to it’s release. It’s definitely a grower, with the material offering everything from light, atmospheric prog rock, right through to walls of metallic aggression and power.
‘Resident Human’ is quite a percussive album too, and by that I mean that the music is heavily reliant on the bass of Aki ‘Conan’ Virta and the drumming of Santeri Saksala. More often than not, I will bemoan the fact that the bass guitar is not afforded the clarity or space in the mix to either be heard in the first place, or to have the impact that the instrument should deliver. Not so here, as the bass is arguably the most important instrument a fair amount of the time. There are similarities within the music on ‘Resident Human’ to the likes of Riverside, Tool, Katatonia, Dead Soul Tribe, and a myriad of other fleeting influences. But, for all the reference points, it is the Tool one that I come back to most strongly time and time again. And many of you will know that I just simply don’t really get Tool.
But anyway, I want to judge this album on it’s merits. In which case, heading back to the opener ‘Dissipating’, it’s a hefty beast that clocks in at nearly twelve minutes. Over that time, the song cleverly weaves its way through quiet introspection, crashing walls of guitars that convey, alongside the angst of vocalist James Lascelles, palpable anger and frustration. The ebb and flow of the song is quite remarkable and the fact that it never feels like such a vast song is to it’s credit. The clean guitar melodies that replace the more urgent riffs and percussion are scintillating, if a little under-represented for my tastes – I’d have loved an even greater release of melody at some point in the song. A similar gripe I would level at Tool. That said, in spite of everything, I can’t help but find it a compelling opening composition, one that I love listening to at any opportunity.
However, the following two songs, ‘Movement’ and ‘Ascend’, I can pretty much take or leave to be perfectly honest. With a hint or two of Karnivool within them, they deliver some pretty nice riffs, bold rhythms, but are way too short for my tastes on melody. Even the driving, muscular, groovy riff towards the end of ‘Ascend’ can’t quite do enough to make these songs any more persuasive to me.
‘Hyperion’, pleasingly, is a slightly different proposition. I like the early vocal hooks that float over a bass/drum-led rhythmic soundscape. The guitars, when they start to emerge, do bring with them a little more hint of accessibility. Not to say that Wheel’s music isn’t accessible, just that when melody does subtly emerge, the enjoyment factor for me sky-rockets. The combination of crunchy riffs and clever lead guitar line over the top from Jussi Turunen, create one of the highlights of the record for me.
The fact that I don’t have the technical musical knowledge, means two things: firstly, I can’t hope to explain all of the clever rhythms that Wheel create. And secondly, I probably don’t fully appreciate just what’s going on at points within the songs. Maybe then, ‘Resident Human’ is just wasted on a musical luddite like me?
Or maybe not, because technical knowledge does not always equate to enjoyment. And when, after several twists and turns, that hint of melody returns within ‘Hyperion’, it gives me that spark that truly good music will induce. And the shorter track, ‘Fugue’ is a composition that I genuinely enjoy because of its hypnotic qualities, whilst the rich piano notes are delightful. I still wish that there was more of a melodic pay-off rather than just hinting and teasing. But even so, I like this song.
The title track though, is not one that I warm to that much, however hard I try. Again, there is technical prowess, atmosphere, tension, and drama. But there’s precious little melody that jerks me to attention and demands that I return for repeated listens. It lasts for over ten minutes, but in that time, unlike the opener or ‘Hyperion’, I don’t feel any real connection.
Ironically, the final track, ‘Old Earth’ is just over two minutes and in that time, it makes a greater impression on me. It is an instrumental outro piece, but within it, Wheel impart real melancholy and regret almost.
I really wanted to get to the end of this review and say ‘wow, here’s an incredible new discovery for me’. At times, I genuinely thought I might. But, despite giving ‘Resident Human’ a more than fair crack of the whip, I can only conclude that, despite some genuinely great moments on this record, their overall style of music is not entirely for me. Others may absolutely adore Wheel’s latest endeavour and I will completely understand why. But, as it stands, they seem destined to follow the likes of Tool and Opeth into the ‘they’re good, but I don’t really get what all the fuss is about’ pile.
The Score of Much Metal: 79%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: