Review Summary: Mark Hawkins and Chris Catharsis continue to improve on the innovative sound of Soul Cycle by throwing in a few new tricks and employing many of the underground's finest.
For as many catastrophic failures as the cult of Meshuggah known as "djent" has given us, there have been a formidable cluster of success stories, and Soul Cycle's latest release, simply titled Soul Cycle II
encapsulates all of them. With Soul Cycle's eponymous 2010 debut, guitarists Mark Hawkins and Chris Catharsis cemented themselves as innovators in the then-emerging subgenre by applying melody and structure to what was quickly becoming a sound entirely centered around monotonous down-tuned, palm muted riffs (with the plural of "riff" being used quite lightly).
However, with Soul Cycle II
, the duo have changed things up a bit - giving the album a bit more of a "free reign" sound between tracks while still making sure that the screws have been fully-tightened, the tone highly polished, and the sound heavier than ever. Much of this can be attributed to the collaborative nature of the album. As far back as 2011, Hawkins and Catharsis had decided to include at least one guest solo by a guitarist prominent in the online djent scene. And indeed, Soul Cycle II
not only accomplishes, but surpasses that lofty collaborative goal by including a minimum of two guest musicians per track. From solo masterminds David Maxim Micic ("Instar / Soul: Reborn") and Jakub Zytecki ("Evolutia") to longtime Hawkins collaborator Vishal J. Singh ("Transcendence") and more, each guitarist adds a sprinkling of their own style to pieces which maintain the hallmark speed, heavy polyrhythms, constant melodious overtones, and blistering solos that made Soul Cycle
a landmark success.
But even given an old formula for success and a few tricks thrown in by well-known guests, Soul Cycle II
still manages to surprise at multiple intervals. "Cast Down," for example, begins with a staple polyrhythm which finds lead melodies rising around it in no time flat. For anyone familiar with Soul Cycle, it's relatively easy to pick out when solos will begin and end, and there's no shame in that - since they've got the power to back up the predictability and carry the track. However, the real gem chimes in at the end, when a final chord unexpectedly fades out into an entrancingly complex yet harmonious looped tap riff. Similar surprises come in such terms as "Ethereal"'s slower paced, reverb-reliant tone, the blast-beat intro to "Distant Skies," and the tribal-sounding, bass-heavy opening to "Instar / Soul:Reborn."
While it would be simple enough for Catharsis and Hawkins to make Soul Cycle II
an updated carbon copy of their debut, these additions keep their sound even more tantalizingly fresh and interesting than a simpler sequel could ever be. While the album has its few shortcomings - generally rooted in a few longer-than-necessary chug breaks and a reduction in flow from track to track from the previous album - the benefits of this approach far outweigh the negative aspects, and perhaps even give the duo an opportunity to tune things up just a little more for the next album. But while future collaborations between Catharsis and Hawkins seem to shine brighter and brighter, in 2012, Soul Cycle II
has still easily set the benchmark for instrumental metal and progressive metal alike. Take heed, djentlemen!