Wheel’s Classic, Potent Doom Has Been “Preserved in Time” (Interview)
Born in Germany around fifteen years ago as “Ethereal Sleep,” Wheel has been bringing doom and gloom to the world through several minor trends in the genre and have lived to see both the genre’s lowest and highest points in popularity. Across that decade and a half they have put out three albums, with the most recent being Preserved in Time from earlier this year.
Their approach on Preserved in Time, though uncontestedly modern, roots back equally to the emotionally turbulent doom of late-era Solitude Aeturnus (which is of itself nearly unique, as very few bands are at all reminiscent of albums like Adagio) as well to the beauty of some strains of ‘70s rock. Brief sections of clean guitar, swells of melody, passionate singing, and simple, heavy doom riffs all come together to form individual songs that flow into each other in a personal journey through life, death, and remembrance.
As classy as it is heavy, Preserved in Time focuses on long songs that develop towards emotional swells that almost sound like Warning doing epic doom. There is a certain deliberate linear nature to the songs, with verses all leading towards a place in each song that feels almost inevitable; choruses come back was if they never left rather than being forced in, with each one being an outpouring of feeling so strong it had to be repeated rather than an attempt at radio play or commercial viability. The music is accessible without pandering, and gorgeous without being saccharine, and catchiness is obtained with riffs that stick in the mind.
Though it’s easy to focus on the obvious moodiness that Wheel have developed, they are not one dimensional. The lead guitar can be frantic or sublime where appropriate, and a riff need not be melancholy to fit; even on “She Left in Silence,” one of the most lyrically depressing songs on the album, the evil and bluesy main riff would easily fit in a Blood Farmers or Sleep song and is used to great effect in a very different context to work within Wheel’s thoughtful framework.
Preserved in Time is for my money this year’s finest doom metal record thus far, and it was an easy choice to bring them in for an interview. Read below for an interview with Benjamin Homberger, the band’s lone guitarist.
Wheel’s third album came out on April 9th, your first in nearly eight years. What made now the right time to come back with an album?
Hi Brandon, thanks for having us! We started the whole production, including demo / pre-production quite some time ago but decided to let the songs sink in to be sure there is no filler. We also wrote a couple of more songs to choose from, but ultimately these seven were the deal that makes sense as an album. I'm also in a continuing Professional Education, so I was eager to finish the whole production before I fully start doing that.
Without the impetus to move quickly from your personal life, would the album have taken more time to come out?
Unlikely, because it was long overdue. In fact, we could have recorded it earlier but as said before, the time felt right to put it down now.
Should fans expect a similar wait time before the next album?
Hopefully not, ha ha! I have a couple of songs ready but we need to rehearse those intensively first and rearrange some parts for sure. I was aiming for a new record within the next 2-3 years.
What’s your songwriting process like?
Most of the time I prepare a demo track at home with programmed drums and we use that as a sketch to arrange it during rehearsals. Another approach is that we usually start our rehearsals with jamming, we record that with a simple recorder and if something cool turns up we may use it later on.
Wheel has had the same lineup since your first album more than ten years ago. How do you guys keep together, and how important is it to have a consistent lineup?
It is really important, because you know each other and what he is capable of musically by that long time. We are all no easy characters sometimes but manage to get along nicely, because we share the same sense of humour, talk openly about our feelings and what we like or dislike and most importantly are really good friends by now.
Are you guys all on the same page about what you want from Wheel, and about what the music should sound like?
Most of the time, yes. We all have a slightly different taste in music and also in doom metal. Since I wrote all of our recent songs, I was happy that the guys seemed to like what I have dragged in here. But it happens that I come up with a song fragment / demo that someone doesn't like at all - we discuss it and sometimes the idea gets altered and sometimes disposed.
I hear a significant amount of mid-era Solitude Aeturnus in the riffing. Was that intentional?
No, that just came out naturally. When I write songs I never think like:"Now I want to write something in the vein of...". It's more like that I get influenced subconsciously by stuff that I'm hearing at that moment sometimes.
Are there any other big influences that you noticed in the songs after the album was recorded?
Major influences doom wise are: Warning (uk), (old) Pallbearer, Griftegard, Spiritus Mortis, (old) Sorcerer and Orodruin among many others.
Were there major influences from outside of doom?
I listen to a lot of metal styles: from epic metal over raw old school thrash to some black and death metal. But I think for our music this doesn’t matter much.
Where did the concept for the cover art come from?
Cazy, our drummer, came up with the album title first. At first, we thought about a cover concept with some sort of a mummy... which is also obviously "preserved in time". But since we got that art nouveau style on our debut and want to root back a little to that, I looked through the internet for a matching picture in that vein. That artwork by Moser just struck my eye at first sight. The good thing is, since the artist is dead for a long time, no copyright is inflicted, so we could use it straight off.
Were you planning from the start to use an existing piece of artwork?
No, it more or less turned out that way. The title was first and we also thought about someone painting something for us... but we were a bit unsure about the general direction and which artist to choose... luckily I found that picture on the internet. That convinced everyone to use it. It was also a matter of money, of course…
Were financials a constraint at all in the recording and mixing process? Did everything come out the way you intended it to?
For me: yes. I do not have much money and had to borrow my share of the money for mixing and mastering upfront. Sometimes it is a bit exhausting to be responsible for almost everything like recording, engineering etc. But on the other hand that's the only way we can make sure that it turns out like I imagined it and save money. Working with Dennis Koehne, our mixing and mastering engineer, was very smooth because he was able to execute all my visions in terms of how the album should sound in the end. We tried some other guys before and they were sometimes like:"You can't do this or that... It is impossible, because of... bla bla" Dennis was more like:"OK, let's do it."
Was there anything about the production that you’re unhappy with now that the record is out?
Nothing major, we are all in all happy with the result. If we had a little more money we may have finished and recorded another 1 - 2 tracks… but we save these for the follow up.
Would you ever use extra songs for a shorter release like an EP or split?
I’m not a big fan of these formats. An ep costs nearly the same as an album production and the retail price is also the same. Add 2-3 songs and you have a proper album, so I would go with that.
This is your first album with Cruz del Sur Music. How did you hook up with Enrico?
We played with While Heaven Wept at the 2013 Edition of the Hammer of Doom Festival here in Germany, and Tom Phillips, A&R of Cruz, was luckily in my Facebook friend list. I love Cruz and buy A LOT of records from them myself blindly, because I know they have a keen sense of what is good in today's metal underground. So I wrote to Tom, sent him the album. He liked it and Enrico liked it, too. That's it.
What’s next for Wheel?
We just played our first gig under corona rules with seats and it was surprisingly good! So I hope this continues in some way and we can play live a few times this year. Parallel to this I want to start rehearsing the already written new material.
Do you have anything else to talk about or promote?
I once again just want to thank all the people who supported us! We really feel humbled and blessed that our work is so appreciated worldwide! Thank you!
Preserved in Time released April 9th via Cruz del Sur Music.