Wheel: Charismatic Leaders – Finnish Progressive Heavy Metal | Album Review

Formed in 2015 in Helsinki, Finland, Wheel are a progressive metal band that has quickly risen from local underdogs to international stars in the metal scene. The band’s lineup features James Lascelles on vocals and guitar, Aki ‘Conan’ Virta on bass, Santeri Saksala on drums, and Jussi Turunen on guitar. Together, they craft a sound that is both complex and accessible, blending intricate riffs, powerful melodies, and thoughtful lyrics.

Band Members:
James Lascelles (Vocals and Guitar):
Aki ‘Conan’ Virta (Bass):
Santeri Saksala (Drums):
Jussi Turunen (Guitar):

Since their formation, Wheel has released several studio albums and EPs, gaining a reputation for their innovative approach to progressive metal. Their music is characterized by angular riffs, shifting time signatures, and emotionally charged melodies. With influences ranging from Tool to Opeth, Wheel has developed a unique sound that resonates with fans of both progressive rock and metal.

Charismatic Leaders is the band’s third studio album, released in 2024 on Inside Out Records. While this band might be new to me, they may already be on your radar.

Album Overview

“Charismatic Leaders” marks a deliberate shift towards a more metal-centric sound. According to James Lascelles, the band’s vocalist and guitarist, this album was crafted with metal fans in mind. Although I haven’t heard their previous albums, this one immediately captured my attention.

For those wondering what Wheel’s music sounds like, imagine a blend of Katatonia, Soen, and early Riverside. The melancholic yet uplifting vibe of Katatonia is present but not as dialed up. The vocal style sometimes echoes Soen, and the intricate song structures remind me of early Riverside’s work. Their music is characterized by machine gun-like rhythmic riffs that stop and start, creating a dynamic and engaging listening experience.

The album opens with “Empire,” which features melancholic vocal harmonies and offbeat drum patterns. The angular riffs and intense delivery set the tone for the album. It’s a powerful start that showcases Wheel’s ability to blend complexity with emotion.

Porcelain has a heavy U2 vibe with Steven Wilson-esque vocals. The grinding guitars create an anthemic chorus that’s both hypnotic and memorable. The use of light and shade throughout the song keeps the listener engaged.

Submission

“Submission” features intense rhythms and soft vocals, creating a beautiful contrast. The absence of growly death vocals is a refreshing change, allowing the intricate music structures to shine. The second section of this track is particularly stunning.
Porcelain

Wheel’s ability to create atmospheric and emotive music is fantastic with seamlessly with wonderful guitar lines and uplifting riffs.

The opening riff on side two’s Saboteur is reminiscent of classic Black Sabbath, but the song quickly evolves into something uniquely Wheel. The pain-drenched vocals and lush, discordant guitars create a hauntingly beautiful track.

Disciple is a blend of Dream Theater’s complexity with Wheel’s distinct sound. It’s a motivational anthem that pushes you forward, making it perfect for overcoming challenges in life.

Caught in the Afterglow – A brief acoustic interlude that provides a moment of calm before the epic final track.

The album closes with “The Freeze,” an epic track with elements of Opeth. The clean vocals, gentle parts, and heavy sections create a slow burn that leaves a lasting impression. The stereo mix is particularly noteworthy, with guitars panned across the soundstage for a full, immersive experience.

“Charismatic Leaders” is a brilliant album that operates from a position of atmosphere and emotive design. The songs are complex, with lots of intricate riffs and textures to explore. While it’s not heavy on guitar solos, the focus on creating an engaging soundscape makes it a compelling listen.

This album has a unique ability to inspire and motivate, making it a powerful addition to any progressive metal fan’s collection. If you’re familiar with Wheel’s earlier work, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how this album compares.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve already bought this album and what you think of it.

Phil Aston | Now Spinning Magazine

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