[Cover artwork: Frammes Kalender // Koloman Moser]
Most of us have been in the game long enough to recognize the dangers associated with statements related to “this is the best material [band] has recorded to date.” It’s of course more understandable and even expected coming from the band itself when attached to new recordings, as no one would ever hope to witness Steve Harris claim, “It’s a fun little record, but it’s not quite the proper banger as is Powerslave, that’s for sure.” But in a general sense, the majority of those grandiose declarations pertaining to the ascendency of new material stacked against a band’s previous releases are intended to, you know, bait the hook, so it’s largely met with plenty of overstated eye rolls by listeners. This is, simply put, one of the unwritten fundamental laws of music.
Right, now that we have that out of the way: Preserved in Time is the best material Wheel has recorded to date.
One of the most significant developments that’s strengthened Wheel since 2013’s Icarus is a sharper sense of focus. Whereas previous releases did a fine job of showcasing a notably diverse set of influences—from classic doom by way of Vitus and Reverend Bizarre to stoner rock to flashes of prog and even (gasp) death metal—Preserved in Time feels more honed and resolved to underscore the band’s true strength: classic doom with a notably epic glow. There’s still room enough for adventuring, particularly in the second half with the fairly peculiar “Aeon of Darkness” and the record’s most aggressive cut, “Hero of the Weak,” but Wheel circa 2021 seems mostly keen on refining the formula into a unique marriage between Solitude Aeturnus, Spiritus Mortis and Warning (UK). That particular point clearly requires a little extra highlighting, because that’s the sort of event that inspires we in the doom game to rent an inflatable tube guy with wobbly arms to properly showcase the announcement in the heavy metal parking lot.
!!! Wheel circa 2021 seems mostly keen on refining the formula into a unique marriage between Solitude Aeturnus, Spiritus Mortis and Warning (UK) ¡¡¡
To be clear, such influences have always been present for Wheel, but the amalgamation is more fluid today, and the Solitude Aeturnus persuasion often prevails not only because Preserved in Time frequently SOARS, but vocalist Arkadius Kurek also sounds like distant kin to Robert Lowe with his climbing delivery. This is significant for a number of reasons, chief among them being that Solitude Aeturnus is no more, so anything that comes this close to addressing the gap they’ve left deserves first-class accommodations at the Hotel Holyshitthisisawesome.
It doesn’t take long for opener “At Night They Came Upon Us” to showcase the Solitude Aeturnus face of the band. The song kicks off with a wonderfully exhilarating doom scoot, and if you’re not heartened by that infectious chorus (one of many on this record) and Wheel’s model use of melody without beating you over the head with it… Well, I guess you will have at least learned very early on about your capacity for buzz killing, because most everything about the song underscores the strengths Preserved in Time has to offer throughout its 48 minutes. The smooth transition to a notably darker and quieter midpoint gives the song a bit of a fantastical / woodsy element, and the whopper of a riff at the 5-minute mark, plus Kurek’s return to a higher register for the chorus during the closing minute is a doomed chef’s kiss.
The slower, more misery-stricken Finnish doom vibe takes the wheel (I will not apologize for that one) with the ensuing “When the Shadow Takes You Over,” the first song to also flash that marvelously warm and mournful Warning vibe once the melody and chorus kicks in. “She Left in Silence” does similarly, but it has a more modern doom sense by way of early Pallbearer at its outset, and it also stands as one of the record’s better examples of the full scope of the band’s influences working seamlessly together and resulting in a sound that’s unique to Wheel.
As noted earlier, more experimentation is afoot in the second half of the record. The aforementioned peculiarity in “Aeon of Darkness” largely stems from a fairly irregular (proggy?) connection between the riffing, vocals and drumming after its midpoint, but the final 2 minutes transitions back to smooth sailing with nary a hitch. And after opening with one of the album’s most heart-wrenching riffs, “Hero of the Weak” throws just a touch of growling in your face before launching into the most grim and combative stretch yet. Even at their darkest, however, Wheel manages to mitigate the shade with a notably golden chorus. It’s an ideal setup for “Daedalus,” the consummate closer; a full range of emotions gets splayed on the table in the album’s closing 9 minutes, but everything remains awash with the sort of majestic glow that’s unique only to the very best purveyors of epic doom.
Eight years is a considerable span between albums, even by doom’s often, um, “dormant” standards. Life & times throwing obstacles notwithstanding, the fellows behind Wheel have made it clear that the years weren’t just spent, you know, enduring the ups and downs we each much travel. These songs are representative of genuine growth and refinement, and the choice to record the album in a more spontaneous setting sans click track and without endlessly ironing out imperfections underscores just how well the guys work together. In essence, if you’ve been searching high and low for quality doom that runs the gamut of emotions but ultimately emphasizes a wonderfully triumphant radiance, Preserved in Time is primed and ready to jump into your collection.