Harvest Bell, Wheel of Foretaste EP: Building the Habit

By the time the 16-plus minutes of Harvest Bell‘s Wheel of Foretaste EP are through, the most surprising thing about the three-track outing is that it’s not longer. The Finnish five-piece made their debut in 2010 with another EP, Wooden Stone, and Wheel of Foretaste finds them aligned to BloodRock Records and easily, smoothly blurring the lines between traditional doom metal and heavy rock. Alternately brooding and brash, “Salutation” (6:16), “Afterglow” (6:43) and “Too Hard a Habit” (3:32) seem to play as much to the solitary metal melancholies of classic doom as they do to beer-spilling, fist-pumping sing-alongs. Each of the three cuts offers a different take, and in that, Wheel of Foretaste does well to showcase Harvest Bell‘s songwriting and the stylistic breadth that comes through in the material. It does not repeat itself, but nor is it unhinged or too all over the place to the point of sound like the band is just haphazardly playing styles off each other. That’s not the case, and that becomes apparent from the time 4:28 into “Salutation”‘s total 6:16 when, following a well-timed grunt from vocalist Jussi Helle and guitarist Tuomas Heinonen, they kick into straight-ahead faster riffing to cap the remainder of the song. And it’s not just that they do it, but also how smoothly they make the transition, Helle, Heinonen, guitarist Petri Härmä, bassist Jarno Mäkinen and drummer Juho Alhola all switching gears in unison to bask in a righteous heavy rock thrust.

There might be some doom heads who prefer to remain in the steady plod of the song’s earlier going, but from where I sit, the sudden change is like a wake-up call for listeners that Harvest Bell aren’t content just to stick to one side or the other, and more importantly, that they can make a song work in playing to both. Keyboards from Aki Laaksonen in the first two-thirds and a blend in the solo section around the midpoint of acoustic and electric guitars — Heinonen and Härmä seem to trade leads as the song transitions back to the verse — insure that even if they were to doom out all the way through, they’d be doing so with character, but the more rocking side comes as something of a surprise the first time through (I can’t help but feel in writing this review I’m giving away spoilers by talking about it), Helle transitions no less smoothly to the faster pace than anyone else in the band, and Mäkinen‘s fills add an element of bluesy class that seem like a victory lap after the stylistic jump Harvest Bell just landed. Or maybe the victory lap arrives in “Afterglow,” which sets moody doom acoustics — again, much enriched by the keys — and a memorable chorus up to threaten heavier surge and then pull back before actually delivering the blow. Ultimately, it’s that restraint that winds up making “Afterglow” all the heavier when it hits, but the track is also more than just waiting for the distortion to kick in. Alhola delivers a clinic on drums, both holding a tension and punctuating the intricate guitar work in the early going while the bass and keys provide a steady foundation, and Helle‘s vocals have an almost New Wave inflection that add a goth flair before fuzzier guitars launch into full-on doom with just over a minute to go. If nothing else, Harvest Bell seem keen on a big finish.

“Too Hard a Habit” affirms this, though in a different way. At just over three and a half minutes long, the final of Wheel of Foretaste‘s inclusions brings yet another aesthetic shift, this time taking the heavy rock vibing that arrived in the back half of “Salutation” and pulling it right to the fore. It’s a straight-up rock song, basically. Helle and Heinonen come together crisply in the chorus and once again, Mäkinen adds character with bass fills working around the central guitar figure. Keys are there, but emerge later as a classic rock flair enters in the chorus with acoustic strum in time with the electric guitars. It’s a boozer, a party song, essentially, but not lacking in substance, and Harvest Bell are no less at home throwing down than they are being down. And the ending, of course, comes with a big rock finish, hits, cymbal crash, solo lines on guitar and bass, tom fill, hit, done. There really is a moment after that last hit where listening, you have to step back and realize just how far the Turku-based outfit have gone over the course of three songs, and just how easily they’ve tied it together. Sometimes in listening to a band’s early EP work, where they seem just to be getting established, the concern is whether or not they’re ready to translate their methods to a full-length album. There’s no such issue with Harvest Bell. The fluidity they present in their craft on Wheel of Foretaste and the seamless shifts they enact in the material make an album not only possible but necessary. My only hope is that they continue to incorporate keyboards with the tasteful edge they do here, but either way, these tracks not only impress with their range but leave one with the sense that they’re by no means all the band has to offer. If this is the beginning of a creative progression, it will be one worth following.

Harvest Bell, Wheel of Foretaste (2014)

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BloodRock Records on Bandcamp

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