WHEEL – Charismatic Leaders (Album Review)

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In 2021, Anglo-Finnish band Wheel unveiled “Resident Human,” an exceptional album delving into the figurative deconstruction of the human condition. They scrutinized this theme against the backdrop of significant contemporary events, including the tragic murder of George Floyd and the profound societal impacts wrought by the pandemic. While these events have since passed, their resonance lingers, prompting the enduring question: has humanity gleaned any meaningful lessons from them?

With their latest release, “Charismatic Leaders,” Wheel offers a resounding answer to that question: a definitive NO. Three years on from “Resident Human,” the global landscape remains far from reassuring. This time, chaos isn’t sown by a virus but by a cadre of charismatic figures who’ve ascended to power, steering their followers toward precariousness and helplessness, even into senseless conflicts. These charismatic leaders seem to be driving nations backward rather than forward, a disheartening regression depicted vividly in Wheel’s latest musical endeavor.

The album’s opening track, “Empire,” makes an immediate impact with its relentless assault of aggressive riffs and urgent grooves. It’s Wheel at their most ferocious yet, with surprising moments of intricacy and unpredictability woven throughout, such as a violent breakdown followed by an outro that sees James unleashing his pent-up fury. In stark contrast, the second cut “Porcelain”, unfolds with more subdued elegance, its tranquil soundscape laden with emotional depth and an eerie atmosphere that envelops the listener.

Clocking in at almost 11 minutes, “Submission” takes listeners on a sonic odyssey, oscillating between relaxing, atmospheric passages and thunderous crescendos. Despite its length, the track maintains a gripping intensity, propelled by intricate time signatures and polyrhythms. Here, Wheel excels, blending stirring musicianship with a profound exploration of society’s indifference towards charismatic authority.

“Charismatic Leaders” Album Artwork

In “Saboteur,” the album reaches its heaviest point, with a brooding, furious intensity that underscores the urgency of the lyrics’ call to action. The track culminates in a defiant roar, reflecting a profound mistrust in authority figures’ ability to effect positive change. Next up, “Disciple” juxtaposes delicate classical elements with explosive breakdowns, mirroring the song’s thematic exploration of opposing viewpoints driven by mutual disdain.

As the album progresses, the potent energy subsides, paving the way for the delicate acoustic melodies of “Caught in the Afterglow.” This sets the stage for the epic finale, “The Freeze,” which delivers a sonic tour de force, alternating between moments of calm reflection and frenetic intensity. The tension builds palpably throughout, culminating in a cathartic release of emotion through ferocious riffs and intricate instrumentation.

“Charismatic Leaders” boasts impeccable production values, allowing every note to shine with pristine clarity. The interplay between guitarists, the graceful bass lines, and the dynamic drum patterns are all showcased to their full extent. Listening to this album with headphones is a must for any discerning audiophile.

In summary, “Charismatic Leaders” firmly establishes Wheel as a formidable presence in the prog-metal scene. Their ability to weave profound themes into a tapestry of intricate musicality is on full display here. The album serves as both a thematic and musical exploration of the fury and anguish embedded within its lyrics, offering a cathartic experience for those grappling with the consequences of charismatic leadership.

Released By: Inside Out Music
Release Date: May 3rd, 2023
Genre: Progressive Metal


  • James Lascelles / vocals, guitar
  • Jussi Turunen / lead guitar
  • Santeri Saksala / drums

Charismatic Leaders track listing:

  1. Empire
  2. Porcelain
  3. Submission
  4. Saboteur
  5. Disciple
  6. Caught in the Afterglow
  7. The Freeze 

    Order “Charismatic Leaders” HERE

    9.0 Excellent

    "Charismatic Leaders" draws the listener into a journey - which through intricate time signatures and dynamic changes in structures - effectively conveys thought-provoking themes of utmost social relevance. This record simply stands as yet another triumph by the Wheel

    • Songwriting 9
    • Musicianship 9
    • Originality 8.5
    • Production 9.5

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