While Finland has long since established itself as a hotbed of metal music, the mental picture most of us have is of corpse painted black metal bands with indecipherable logos, female-fronted symphonic metal titans or possibly Lordi. Expansive, understated and elegant progressive metal doesn’t usually get a look in. Which, if this EP from Helsinki-based band Wheel is anything to go by, is an oversight.
Lead track ‘Please’ kicks things off in style, an insistent rhythm section building a solid foundation to allow the shimmering guitars to flitter over the top, all the while building to a surprisingly powerful chorus. There is a strong Tool influence at play, but also prog luminaries like Porcupine Tree and Oceansize, and yet it feels fresh rather than derivative.
The heaviness is ramped up on second song ‘The Pyre’ but they are the sort of band where no song is played in just one style, and after its alt-metal opening it morphs into a soaring, spacious solo and then brings it all back in to rock out again for the finale.
Wheel’s musicianship is meticulous and they allow each song to breathe without getting bogged down in proggy excess. But, as good as the music is, their most potent weapon is singer James Lascelles’ vocals. Clean, clear and crisp they imbue each song with a rare gravitas and elegance. The lyrics too are intelligent and intriguing, neither simplistic nor overly oblique. Each song invites you in and then slowly reveals its textures and layers to you. Nowhere is this displayed better on the third, and probably finest, track ‘It’s Over Now’. Lascelles’ voice takes on a beautiful folky tone and the music swirls behind him, rising in waves before ebbing away again allowing the raw emotion of the vocals to have maximum impact. It really is a masterful piece of songwriting, especially for a band releasing only their second EP.
In fact, the main criticism of The Divide is that it is just an EP - and not a long one at that - there just isn’t enough of it. Four songs - two of which are the radio edit and extended versions of ‘Please’ - gives you a taster when really you want a full meal, your appetite is whetted but never sated.
What you get is some of the classiest rock songs you’ll have heard in a long time, and if they can keep this level of consistency up over a full-length album then we could have a future classic on our hands. Let’s just hope Wheel don’t make us wait too long for it. In the meantime, we’ll just have to make do and dream.
Please (Radio Edit)
It’s Over Now
James Lascelles – Vocals/Guitar
Roni Seppanen – Guitar
Mikko Maatta – Bass
Santeri Saksala – Drums