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Wheel - Charismatic Leaders review


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Band: Wheel
Album: Charismatic Leaders
Style: Alternative metal, Progressive metal
Release date: May 2024

01. Empire
02. Porcelain
03. Submission
04. Saboteur
05. Disciple
06. Caught In The Afterglow
07. The Freeze

Resident Human saw Wheel begin to establish an identity outside of Tool worship. On Charismatic Leaders, the band are now getting closer to landing upon a sound recognizable as their own.

It was perhaps unfortunate that Wheel's debut album Moving Backwards arrived in the same year as Tool’s long-awaited return Fear Inoculum and Soen’s breakout hit Lotus, as the undeniable similarities in the first two bands’ music caused Wheel to inherit the ‘Tool worship’ moniker that had been vacated by Soen. In contrast to Soen's move towardss accessibility, Wheel’s subsequent evolution has seen them double down on songwriting complexity, as both Resident Human and now Charismatic Leaders have featured multiple lengthy tracks with unorthodox evolution and remarkable technical proficiency. It’s an approach that has won them a number of fans, despite some lingering songwriting niggles.

Wheel have stated that this new album is ‘their heavy album’ resulting from moving in ‘a more metal direction’; personally, I don’t think that there’s a major difference in the overall prevalence of heaviness on Charismatic Leaders compared to its predecessor. However, the peaks of heaviness heard on certain songs arguably exceed anything heard on Resident Human. This is probably most apparent on opening song “Empire” (one of a minority of tracks here under 5 minutes); Wheel are typically categorized as an alternative/progressive metal band, and “Empire” arguably embraces alt-metal more than most of their songs (particularly with that Lamb Of God tone to the song’s opening moments), but at the same time, there is an djent-ish crunch and syncopation in the closing stages.

In terms of heaviness later in the album, probably the other song that stands out is “Saboteur”, which has a meatiness to the slow, chugging riffing in its early stages, which is turned bleaker by a faint, ominous tremolo layer lingering on top, another new sound in Wheel’s music. However, even then, it would be misleading to call “Saboteur” a consistently heavy song. Furthermore, despite this metallic focus in the album’s songwriting, the vocal approach on Charismatic Leaders remains clean throughout. It’s nice to see a band able to go ‘more metal’ without automatically feeling a requirement to include harsh vocals, and James Lascelles is clearly a talented enough singer to not need to abandon his primary style.

However, this does feed into what is probably the most frequent issue that both myself and others (fans and non-fans alike) have noted with Wheel’s music, namely a lack of memorability in their writing. While there are a number of positives in Charismatic Leaders that I want to move onto later, I think it’s first worth noting that these difficulties with memorability remain on the new album, and for all of Lascelles’ passion and aptitude in his singing, the vocal arrangements do contribute to this lack of memorability. In the more indirect and atmospheric passages, this isn’t a particular problem, but more grandstand moments, such as the climactic minutes of “Porcelain” and the ‘chorus’ of “Submission”, do feel a bit undersold by overly complex and unresolved vocal passages. The writing of the instrumentals also occasionally gets in its own way too; while “Submission” is largely one of my standout songs on the album, with some hypnotizing technicality and builds in tension, it does struggle to transition into ‘climaxes’ that properly pay off the build-up.

With that all said, there is a lot that Wheel do on Charismatic Leaders that I really enjoy. To start with, despite my comments in the previous paragraph, the mesmerizing technicality and intense vibe during “Submission” is really something to behold. Additionally, “Porcelain” is another song that brings a new flavour to Wheel’s sound, with a slight post-grunge touch to the melodicism in the opening couple of minutes, although it’s the understated, melancholic atmospherics in its middle section that really do the trick for me. The album’s other short ‘proper’ song, “Disciple”, is lighter than “Empire”, but shines instead for its complex rhythmic grooves; when this band gets locked into a vibe, the results really can be quite spellbinding.

Perhaps the pinnacle of Charismatic Leaders for me, however, is 10-minute closing song “The Freeze”, which (entirely coincidentally, I’m sure) is the song here that most overtly reminds me of Tool. A prolonged soft, sad opening sequence, one that has a touch of Sermon to it, demonstrates that Lascelles can positively carry the emotion and vibe of a song when the vocal phrasing properly clicks, but it is the gradual build into Tool-esque polyrhythmic syncopation that is the springboard for a big, emphatic second half. In these final few minutes, all my previous concerns about memorability and impact being sacrificed for complexity disappear, and it is this final song that gives me confidence that Wheel will eventually manage to make that final step up to producing an all-round fantastic album.

As it is, Charismatic Leaders is a very good addition to the band’s growing discography, albeit one that is perhaps not quite at the level of its immediate predecessor, and it’s an album that demonstrates Wheel’s ability to develop and expand their writing style, and ultimately forge their own clear identity.

Rating breakdown
Performance: 9
Songwriting: 7
Originality: 6
Production: 8

Written on 13.05.2024 by Hey chief let's talk why not


Comments: 1   Visited by: 50 users
14.05.2024 - 11:27
After several more spins I also here a lot of Textures and especially the softer moments of Dualism.

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