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Wheel's Benjamin Homberger: "Time is ever passing and moving on the one hand and always there since the big bang (and maybe even before) until long after mankind will have vanished from the sleeve… Scary in a way"

Interview with Benjamin Homberger from Wheel
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 25 March 2021, 12:07 AM

Time, what is time? Yes, that Blind Guardian song never gets old, but it is also a matter conception. When thinking about it, it is hard to digest the true meaning of time as a major factor in our everyday life. It is obvious, can be called treacherous, predictable, unpredictable, you name it. The thing is, it is there, and here to stay. Exploring the after all, and meaning, the passing and all the surrounds it, the German Doom Metal band, Wheel, are back into recognition, exploring, without experimenting, through “Preserved In Time”. Steinmetal had a great chat with Benjamin Homberger of the band in regards to the new album, being there in the shadows, new material and more…

Hello Benjamin, it is awesome to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine, how is everything going on your end?

Hi there, thanks for having WHEEL for the interview. Everyone’s healthy and well at this end. A little bit exhausted and fed up from the pandemic but at least healthy.

Wheel has been rather silent for the past eight years since its sophomore record, “Icarus”. Life has its way on people, even those with great aspirations. Nonetheless, you eventually returned. In this hiatus, so to speak, have you been working, each person on its own, on music, to be prepared for the day of your return?

It's less of an epic than that. The band never split up. We have constantly been rehearsing and writing songs seven of which are now on the new album. We even played shows. But that’s not the whole story of course. During that long period of time, we’ve been losing our neat little and familiar rehearsal space and it took us some time to find a new one that would fit our needs. There have also been new challenges such as parenthood for most of the bandmembers but one thing that struck hardest for sure was the leaving of Arkadius in 2017 after the Malta doom festival. We knew before that he wouldn’t be easily replaced but thrown into the situation we found out it’s almost impossible. Though we collaborated with Midnight Rider’s Micha “Wayne” Baum who is a really good vocalist we had to learn we all missed something which is not Micha’s fault in any way.  Fortunately, Arkadius rejoined the band in 2018 and since then things got more and more in motion again. And well, here we are!

I guess it would be obvious to ask, yet it felt to me to be quite a must to, how did it feel to get back into the business of music making together as a band?

As I said we never quit making music as WHEEL but the return of Arkadius gave us the GO.

Right at the point where you started, or rather continued, working on your third album, what were your key motivators or influences that created your perspective while the songwriting process took place?

We all felt there’s so much music that’s still to be written and we all enjoy it so much to play and arrange songs together. Not to mention that we’ve got a deeply grown friendship over the years I guess nobody wants to miss.

One of your prime achievements was to gain the interest of Cruz Del Sur Music, which seems to me as the proper home for the band due to the label’s interest in your musical prospect and direction. How does it feel to be signed by the label? How do you feel that it contributes to the band’s development?

Exactly! Cruz Del Sur was first choice. When we finished the album and had talked to our former label Eyes like snow it soon turned out that both sides were not too much interested in further cooperation. Having that cleared we all agreed Cruz Del Sur would be great and fortunately they liked the album from the beginning and gave us the chance. We’re extremely happy about that. It also shows us that our songs must have reached a new quality level as they are obviously good enough to make Cruz Del Sur give us a chance!

Entitled “Preserved In Time”, the new album rapidly gathered my interest, and the title was the first peak. For starters, I will ask you a question that is rather hard but it would be interesting to hear your viewpoint. What is time for you? How do you capture it?

As soon as we knew the seven songs you now can hear would be the new album we started thinking over an album title. It had to be powerful enough to keep it in mind (or preserve it if you like) and also to connect the seven stories told in the lyrics.

Time though it marches on so quickly is the great constant of the universe. It seems to be a paradox: Time is ever passing and moving on the one hand and always there since the big bang (and maybe even before) until long after mankind will have vanished from the sleeve…Scary in a way.

You made an intriguing connection between time and memory from what I could gather. Therefore, I ask, how do you find the passing of time, as some state that it passes so rapidly that we can’t even grasp, entwined with a person's memory span, which is different between people?

Memory is the only force that can overcome time for a little while. It’s one of the most important tools to save what we would like to keep from oblivion. By recording an album for example or taking a photo we preserve ourselves and our deeds beyond the span of our existence. But sooner or later even the memories will be swept away as time passes…

The album’s artwork is impressive, and that vintage Art Nouveau appears simple yet challenging when looking at it. I noticed that the symbolism of the hourglass leads to either reverence or burden, which of the two do you think suits it best? How do you view this artwork yourself?

We’re all into Art Nouveau as you might have guessed and finding that masterpiece by Koloman Moser was like a lucky punch because it suits the album title so well and supports it in a powerful way. We don’t regard the hourglass symbolism as a burden as it supports the album title as well symbolizing time itself and having the sand preserved in its glass vessel and by its permanent run symbolizing the passing of time. Phew -heavy stuff!!

Wheel has been clinging to the merits and qualities of Epic, classically driven, Doom Metal since its emergence, yet sharing quite a dramatic atmosphere throughout its creations. With “Preserved In Time” it appears that an invisible barrier was crossed with a refined piece of vintage Doom Metal. In light of the new record, how do you observe the band’s development in its songwriting and its musicianship?

After 14 years we know what to expect from each other and what everyone needs to get himself into the songwriting and arranging process in the best individual way. We also know how to push each other to his limits (in a positive way) as well. Concerning the development of musicianship, we can say that several things happen more automatically than in the early days which gives the playing a more relaxed and natural touch maybe. It’s difficult to analyze and point out some development because we don’t have an external view on it…

What drove you to become heavier this time around? There is that Candlemass chunky element within the music for sure, yet it would be great to know what inspired you musically

That was one of the few things we really talked about up front: After Icarus we decided to get it less experimental and to give it a clear direction which hopefully we managed to do.

Of course you keep listening to other music during the songwriting process and the main inspiration have been albums where all songs flow in the same direction, albums that come along as a tight unit, not just a collection of songs. Not talking about concept albums anyway…

We mentioned the dramatic aspect of the music, yet it would be great to know how did you find the fine line, the connection of the music and lyrics, along with the atmosphere created within the songs?

Difficult to say. It’s not a conscious decision I suppose. People keep telling us after shows that there is a unique atmosphere we seem to create through our performance. If we managed to capture it on the album it would be great.

Your vocalist, Arkadius Kurek, outdone himself with presenting several dimensions in his vocal execution, delivering a form of passion that suits the music immensely. How do you find Kurek’s performance on the record? How do you believe that his performance elevated the record’s magnitude?

His voice is very unique. The singer’s voice is always a band’s main trademark. And we think that with Arkadius we have a singer who makes much of the difference. He did his best job so far on Preserved In Time but this time he was also ready to let us push him the one little step further and for sure his performance gives the album something very special.

Looking back at the previous records, and looking in the early songwriting process of the new album, what forms of lessons would you say that you implemented while the album was in the making? Things that you took under notice from the previous two albums

Well, as mentioned above we wanted to keep it more focused to one direction less experimental less different stylistic influences. We also wanted to give it a more natural flow and therefore left out the click track while recording several passages. By that we achieved a rather tight and organic production I think. This time we were sure about how we wanted the album to sound and with Dennis Koehne we fortunately found the man for mix and mastering who could shape it the way we wanted it. Great Job by him!

With Wheel’s re-emergence with “Preserved In Time”, and of course with it being part of a vast market of bands sailing the waves of the classic kind of Doom Metal, what do you think that makes Wheel as a rather unique entity in comparison to the others out there?
I find it incredible and almost frightening how many really talented bands you can find even in a small scene as the doom metal scene is. The main problem most of the bands often have is the lack of a unique singer who can make the difference.

A song that truly touched my soul was “Hero Of The Weak”, in particular the lyrics of the chorus, which bestowed quite an impact and points of thought. Kurek’s spectacular vocals ignited the powerful influence of the lyrics further on, it was hard not to become emotive. What can you tell about this song? How do you find it yourself?

On the lyrical side: All members of the band abhor any form of violence and terror especially terror under the cloak of religion or other ethical and moral virtues that is set against minorities (or even majorities) who do not look or do not act as oneself. No one who blows innocent people and himself away for whatever reason is a damn hero but only a murderer and an asshole!

On the musical side: classical doom intro followed by a little more uptempo stakkato riff underlying the verse (put out the click track here…) followed by the chorus where guitar and vocal line carry each other pretty well. Rather heavy middle section with that double bass/guitar thing. Short bridge we recommend to headbang to and finally - not too surprising – chorus again including some vocal variations and guitar melody lines. And that’s it. A good song we do like a lot. Came not as easy as it may read here…

 “After All”, which I assumed right from the start that it bears several points of life’s events attached to the song’s name. Its heavier edge and devouring tempo made it an amazing number. What is your appreciation of this track? How did it contribute to the band’s musical sense?

Yeah, apart from ‘At Night They Came Upon Us’ the most In-your-face-song of the album. It was the last one finished before the recording sessions and for a long time we were not quite sure if it would fit to the other material. But after having recorded some pre-production demo it felt more and more alright. The album version though recorded with click track is even stronger with its very organic flow and powerful drive and has since become one of our favorites.

Lyrically it’s about the insecurity about what will remain of us when we died. Will we be sorely missed or will we soon be forgotten?

Looking forward, hopefully passing the current pandemic sooner than later, where do you see Wheel going this year or did you skip 2021 and passed on to 2022?

Time in our opinion is much too precious to just skip it. Preserved In Time will be released and we are still only in the first third of the year. You just cannot predict how the vaccination campaigns that have been started in many countries may influence the course of the pandemic. At first we will have to re-start real life rehearsals with full band again to be prepared to hit the stage again at any possible time. Be sure we will be taking the first chance to reappear LIVE that’s given to us under secure circumstances.

Do you believe that Wheel is here to stay for now, no hiatus in sight? Are there ideas perhaps for a next record?

As soon as one recording is brought to an end our view is set to the future already. In fact, there are several ideas for new songs but we don’t have any arrangements or even finished songs yet. Maybe it’s time for some cover version of some favorite ours too. We will see.

Benjamin, I wish to thank you for your time for this interview. It was a great pleasure for me to listen to your new album time and time again, All the best sir. Cheers.

Thanks in return! See you somewhere on the road someday! Stay safe and healthy - Cheers


 



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