Wheel – Preserved In Time

After a studio hiatus of eight years, broken only by a self-released live cassette in 2014, the German doom metal quartet of Wheel have made their return, keeping intact their characteristically striking cover art and their evocative song titles. Though this log absence might have worried some fans (and notwithstanding the weariness of the near-minimalist approach to the cover art) Preserved in Time finds the group sounding absolutely revitalized.

From the first track, “At Night They Came Upon Us”, until closing with “Daedalus”, the band brings clear enthusiasm, skill, and verve to their traditional heavy doom stylings, aided by lush production. Saint Vitus-like riffs, strong vocals, commanding percussion, and richly resonant bass presence are some of the album’s most consistent qualities, brought out in distinct and vibrant form by the attentive mixing. Instrumental tones blend nicely, without getting muddied by too much overlap, and the vocals find a nice range of mingling with the other tones, or rising in an emotional wail when the moment is right.

While the songs are lengthy (averaging somewhere in the six-minute range), the band has an a lot of ideas to fill them with. This being doom metal, it’s no surprise to hear a given riff doing work for measure upon measure, but Wheel find ways to tweak little details in the cycling and keep it growing or adjusting to new stimuli. Whether shifting the point of emphasis, underscoring with another instrument’s counterpoint, or any of the other approaches they employ, the band keeps the heavy music from seeming unduly burdensome. The occasional guitar solos are a welcome diversion, but they also tend to come through as flourish on an existing rise in action, rather than being splashed in just for an energy boost.

Taken track by track, the album is a solid success, but it’s in the scope of the album as a whole that it really impresses. Little musical ground is directly revisited over the course of the songs, the fundamentals of the band’s style aside, which seems like an increasing rarity in doom metal these days. The band’s commitment to finding something new to explore with each song, while keeping their performances expressive (and not letting anyone hog the spotlight), serves the music very well. The instruments are flexed in numerous ways, but retain recognizable character throughout the album, adding to the flow. And I’m sure fans will find favorites among each of the tracks, instead of one big song anchoring the whole (my personal pick, at this point, would be “Daedalus”, largely because of how much it lets the vocals shine). Doom metal fans, even those who don’t think of themselves as digging the traditional, would do well to check this one out as soon as it drops next month.