The latest release by Germany’s WHEEL, Preserved in Time, is their third full length album since 2010. Preserved in Time is solid epic doom, not egregiously thick or sludgy, a great blend of emotional guitar evocations and head banging riffy weight. Not often do I feel I can listen to three consecutive albums by a single band and experience such a tangible evolution of their music. WHEEL, Icarus, and Preserved in Time show this visible progression and display a maturing of a band clearer then I have come across before.
WHEEL (their self titled debut) was actually pretty rough, it had a much more simplistic, stripped down sound which can work in the doom genre of course, but it came off as unpolished and amateurish in its sparseness. Taking the bumps and bruises on the first album, WHEEL came back smarter and stronger with the release of Icarus. WHEEL added a more layered and dynamic sound on Icarus, with a bluesy undertone and Cirith Ungrolian vocals. It was better and an advancement musically, the band tried new things, some successful-others not. The vocals, an out of place organ and an overall bass forward sound lacked nuance and luster. Preserved in Time is truly where WHEEL hit their stride. They found their voice artistically and were able to match it with their songwriting, musicianship, and production and meld it into a single vision and sound that birthed Preserved in Time.
The aspect that most notably marks their development is the vocal performance of Arkadius Kurek. I felt that on their eponymous album he struggled at times and was even a bit off pitch, it could have been his performance itself, it could have been the producer keeping the wrong takes, I’m not sure. Although he made improvements on Icarus, he has really come into his wheel house on this third album. I think in the first two albums he may have been the weakest part of the sound, now he feels like he might be one of the strongest aspects of it. His voice is a blend of Geddy Lee, Brett Campbell, Albert Witchfinder and at times it even harnesses a raw essence of Serj Tankian. Not only has his performance and pitch improved, but his voice is often layered with different facets and dynamic effects. In Hero of the Weak, Kurek has concordant harmonies, feistily delivered accentuations, echoey book ends and even peppers in some death metal growls for flavor. Seemingly it’s a lot thrown in the mix vocally when I reflect on the album as a whole, but it is all tastefully used and serves the songs to make them better.
WHEEL makes use of many of epic doom’s touchstone identifiers, interwoven dueling guitars riffs wrought with despair, double kick drums and forlorn lyrics. They also make effective use of tricks that are not as often used in the epic doom genre.
In When the Shadow Takes You Over starts with sad, slow riffs. To keep things from getting overly monotonous and stagnant they cleverly switch abruptly from electric to acoustic, forcing the listener to fall back and listen more attentively. This saws off the flow of the song in such a way that one is forced to get their bearings, when WHEEL hops back to electric guitar it catapults the listener forward allowing the transition cover more ground and it makes the song much more engaging and exciting. Bring home the last two minutes of the song with Candlemass-esque double kick drums and this song is a heavy slice of doom that impressed me.
I feel that this is a band that has had a very noticeable lifecycle. Self titled- larvae phase, Icarus– cocoon, then from Preserved in Time hatches a new band with many coherent colors – bright and strong. They have transmogrified into a sharp, focused, intentional band, this WHEEL is not the same WHEEL of three albums ago. The previous two releases show truly how hard it is to create relevant and moving music. Sometimes bands miss the mark, sometimes bands don’t even know where the mark is, WHEEL zeroed in and hit a bullseye with Preserved in Time.
I think anyone who enjoys Pallbearer, Candlemass, and Solitude Aeternus will find a refreshingly deep well of epic heavy doom here: desperate, rich, full, and gloomy.
WHEEL – Preserved in Time was released April 9 via Cruzdelsur Records
- At Night They Came Upon Us
- When the Shadow Takes You Over
- After All
- She Left in Silence
- Aeon of Darkness
- Hero of the Weak