Steve Wheeler - Terminal Velocity
The title track of Steve Wheeler’s instrumental EP Terminal Velocity reaches out and grabs you. He’s achieved a wide-screen cinematic sound betraying his background in composing incidental music for major television sports productions and video games, but it never strikes a dishonest note. The EP’s percussion has a thunderous quality over the span of its three songs and probably hammers away most intensely in the title song. The sound, however, is never so omnipresent that it overwhelms the remaining instruments in the mix – Terminal Velocity’s production is spot on and captures potentially difficult arrangements with impressive ease. The use of keyboards and classical influences in the title song are important, but the unusual percussion clanging in the mix early in the song is one of the more fascinating touches on any of the songs.
The same fierce approach to percussion surfaces again with the song “Fist of the Heavens” and the grand scale implied by the track’s title comes across in another impressively orchestrated musical attack. There are signs of human voices in the first two songs, but they are brief and have a solidly choral approach like we hear with this track. Wheeler shows a tremendous amount of creativity when it comes to his use of electronica in these songs and this cut relies on keyboards and synthesizers much more overtly than the opener. The aforementioned sound takes on a more prominent role with the finale “The Endless March of Time” and the shift in musical mood away from the near claustrophobic intensity of the first two songs gives listeners a chance to breathe.
There’s a near pastoral quality about the finale and it’s a sign we find throughout this release that Wheeler has a first rate sense of how to close a recording on the right now. Pastoral describes the emotional weight well, but there’s an elegiac quality to the song as well that easily meshes with the themes implied by its title. There’s, once again, a choral presence during the song’s second half, but it is clear that human voices are far from central to Wheeler’s musical concerns. The closer darkens in its second half, the percussion takes on a more ominous air, and Wheeler manages to sustain that newfound intensity through the song’s conclusion. Running over five minutes, “The Endless March of Time” has obviously loftier ambitions than its predecessors and shows off his creativity in full flight.
I’m willing to bet this project is close to Steve Wheeler’s heart as there’s clearly a great deal of care and effort taken to get each of these three cuts right and they offer something a little, or in one case a lot, different each time out. Terminal Velocity should remind naysayers that instrumental releases can pack every bit as much wallop if not more than more “traditional” popular music and one can only hope Wheeler will soon turn his attentions and time towards writing and recording a full length follow up.