Re-inventing prog metal: The rich soundscapes of Wheel

The Finnish-English trio Wheel stepped into the prog-rock spotlight with their debut EP back in 2017. The highly anticipated third album "Charismatic Leaders" takes the band on tour to Australia, North America and Europe.

James Lascelles moved from the UK to Finland back in 2011 to pursue a career in music. After making a living playing pop and troubadour gigs for a couple of years he realised it was not his true calling.

“I ended up meeting some freelance musicians here who had a great reputation and were very talented. I had a ton of demos from back when I was a student before I moved here, prog and metal songs I’d written during my studies. That’s where we got the songs for our first EP”, Lascelles recalls.

This EP quickly caught the attention of music business. Apocalyptica’s Paavo Lötjönen connected Wheel with Odyssey Music with whom the band soon signed a management deal.

Wheel's debut album Moving Backwards (2019) was followed by a lot of touring. They shared stages with Swedish greats Katatonia and Soen among other big names of the genre, and also appeared as the opener for Children of Bodom’s last-ever show in 2019.

One of the turning points for Lascelles was meeting Soen singer Joel Ekelöf and drummer Martin Lopez (formerly of Opeth) on the first night of touring together.

“We didn’t know what to expect. But they came to us and said ‘hey guys, it's great to have you here, we love your new album’. They were just the loveliest people to talk with. I still carry this deeply rooted imposter syndrome but these experiences help build confidence.”

Full artistic freedom

In 2024 Wheel has become a Finnish metal export success story. Third album Charismatic Leaders is set to be released on May 3rd 2024 and the band is touring extensively in Australia, North America, UK and Europe.

Alongside Lascelles, Wheel features Santeri Saksala on drums and Jussi Turunen on guitar. Touring line-up is completed by bassist Jyri Helko.

The focus of Wheel has been on international market since day one.

To survive, we need to build an international audience. It's about carving out a place for ourselves on the international scene.

“It's survival, to be completely honest. We play a niche style of music. We always knew this wasn't going to be #1 on a popular music chart. It's just not that kind of music. And to survive, we need to build an international audience. I think it's about carving out a place for ourselves on the international scene.”

Having a good management and record label helps. Retaining full artistic freedom has caught Lascelles somewhat by surprise.

“I was fairly sure at some point somebody would step in and say, you can't do that if you're going to work with us and we're paying this money. But there's an incredible amount of trust put in my judgement for most of these things. And I feel like a complete fraud! You know, I used to play in pubs for 80 quid a night in the UK before I moved here, so it’s a big change.”

Chugging low down

Charismatic Leaders follows the second full-length Resident Human (2021) and the Rumination EP (2023). It has a lot of scale, depth and tonal richness, leaning on the heavier side. Some moments have a djent-like feel, such as the single Porcelain.

“That’s the first song I've written on a baritone guitar. I got a guitar made in drop-G and I didn't realise how low that was until we were recording in Sweden.”

I was sure at some point somebody would step in and say, you can't do that if you're going to work with us and we're paying this money.

Producer Fredrik Thordendal told Lascelles that the infamous eight-string guitars of Meshuggah are only a semitone lower. This was the first time Wheel worked with Thordendal, best known for his long career with Meshuggah. Lascelles admits being starstruck at first.

“I'm a huge Meshuggah fan and have been for the past 20 years. I spent the first week just asking Fredrik a million questions about Meshuggah, just how they make their songs and technical stuff about their gear. He was in the studio every day and very heavily involved in the sound design side of this album.”


Charismatic Leaders on Spotify

Listen to Wheel's new album on Spotify.

Charismatic Leaders on Apple Music

Stream Wheel's new album on Apple Music!