Sound — 8
It seems like a much longer time since Ion Dissonance have released their last album, "Cursed," but at this point, 2010 was six years ago, and that means there's been a lot of time, and a lot of change in the genres that Ion Dissonance helped to pioneer. When the band released "Cursed," it was touted as a return to form after the album "Minus the Herd," which was a great album nonetheless but a bit more of a stripped-down, barebones type of album that didn't feature Ion Dissonance's trademark noisy, dissonant mathcore with its strange rhythmic interplay and seemingly random notes, trading it in for more of a straightforward Meshuggah-esque sound. "Cursed" brought back a lot of the mathcore traits, though it did also feature clean vocals on one track (albeit, a bonus track) and the band's newfound use of eight-string guitars.
"Cast the First Stone" starts straight out of the gate with the absolutely caustic "Burdens," a pummelling collection of dissonant chords courtesy of guitarists Antoine Lussier and Sebastian Chaput, vocalist Kevin McCaughey's angry screams, and the random rhythms of drummer Jean-François Richard and new bassist Dominic Grimard, filling in for Yannick Desgroseillers, who left due to health issues in 2014. There are sort of "atmospheric" melodies played through it that add a level of tension to the track, but this is about as close as this gets to sounding kind of "normal." "The Truth Will Set You Free" continues in pretty much the same vein, with a very "notey" main riff, but in a way that almost seems like a catchy hook, if ever such a thing were possible on an album like this, and some very dark-sounding chords in the middle. The ending drops a huge, dissonant chord slamming over the near-silence that sets it up, and it's over as briefly as it began. "To Expiate" brings back some of the jangly, dissonant "high note/low note" dynamics from past Ion Dissonance records like the classic 2005 record "Solace."
"To Lift the Dead Hand of the Past" is pretty much more in the same vein, though there is a high lead guitar part that adds a very eerie layer to the goings-on to differentiate it. "Untitled II" is the album's shortest track, at about 1:44, and feels a bit like a throwback to the groove-oriented days of "Minus the Herd," though a bit more dissonant and "mathy." It's only a really short track that seems to exist to set up "Suffering: The Art of Letting Go," which it directly segues into, but the effect of this slower groove slamming into Ion Dissonace's trademark mathcore sound does do an effective job of breaking up what could have started to become a very monotonous sound. "Suffering" is a wonderful slab of dissonance that will probably remind people who haven't heard much of this band of another album I recently reviewed, Coma Cluster Void's "Mind Cemeteries," though perhaps without any of the links to contemporary classical music that band claims to fame. "Ill Will" takes the band's sound and brings it into an even more concise size, clocking in at just under two minutes.
By this point, there's not really too much making each individual track all that special, but we get a bit of a reprieve in the "Minus the Herd"-esque "(D.A.B.D.A.) State of Discomposure," a more straightforward groover with a somewhat less obfuscated rhythm and melody, and probably one of the coolest sounding riffs on the entire album. The track seems somewhat reminiscent of a more "core" version of what Gorguts was doing with their recent material, such as the "Pleiades' Dust" EP. In contrast to tracks like "Untitled II" and "Ill Will," this track is the epic on the album, clocking in at nearly nine minutes in length. In this time, the band does try a few new things like the more straightforward Meshuggah-esque rhythms, a slower "ambient" middle section, and even a very "traditional" sounding guitar solo with some very thrash/early death metal harmonies added. It does feel a little like the black sheep of the album, but it also feels a bit like the centerpiece. The final three songs, "Treading on Thin Ice," "Virtue" and "Perpetually Doomed: The Sisyphean Task" see the band returning to the themes they've been using throughout the album. The closing "Perpetually Doomed" seems to mix a bit of the randomness of the mathcore tracks with the groove and melodicism of "State of Discomposure" and it does feel like a good sort of summary for the album.
The playing on all of these tracks is tight and precise, though wholly organic in its sound. Production-wise, it's a brutal assault on the ears, with nearly every space available on the album crammed with guitars, drums, and harsh vocals. Nearly every time the album seems like it's going to go in a melodic direction, the band pulls you back in to its dissonant, angular and jagged playing, pretty much being the musical equivalent of taking on a dozen MMA fighters on your own. If you're not accustomed to mathcore's sounds, it's pretty hard to actually enjoy any of this, but for fans of the genre, this is pretty sure to satisfy.
Lyrics — 8
Given vocalist Kevin McCaughey's angry and harsh delivery, one would think that the vast majority of the album's lyrical themes would be accordingly angry and dark, but there are actually seeds of hope and positivity strewn throughout this album for a bit of lyrical dissonance as well as musical. On "To Lift the Dead Hand of the Past," Kevin shouts "The alarming certainty of life is the realization that it is merely a temporary respite between birth and death. Certain things are better left in the past. Emotions of despair overshadowed you so fast, but don't give up on hope, don’t let fear deplete you," which is almost certainly as hopeful and empowering as anything in the metal scene these days. Politics is also on the plate, and the band holds no punches back on "Treading on Thin Ice," admonishing past generations with "A very thin fine line exists amid free speech in voicing your opinions and spitting bullshit lies and injustice. In this day in age, in present time, it's incomprehensible to fathom that division and segregation remain a prevalent affair to our way of life. How could this culture not learn from the faults of our departed forbearers?" It's all a very powerful statement, capped off with the final track "Perpetually Doomed: The Sisyphean Task," as Kevin barks "Comparatively to being insightful with leadership and integrity, you leave me menaced, riddled with pessimism. Rather than to give the benefit of the doubt, I'm only left with the doubt leaving no esteem for these accomplishments."
The band does seem quite a bit more literate in its writing than Kevin's delivery would lead one to believe, and even though these lyrical themes have been done to death by many bands before, the way they're written here seem to complement the band's complex style, and there's actually quite a bit of depth to the lyrics on this album. Kevin shouts these lyrics in pretty much the same voice for the entire album, a menacing scream that's kind of like a more "metalcore" version of Meshuggah's Jens Kidman. He does also seem to be about as monotonous as Jens at times, meaning that every once in a while, his rough, abrasive vocal style does run the risk of causing a little sensory overload. It's this trait that makes some of the band's more extended instrumental passages a bit more welcome.
Overall Impression — 8
As far as the heavier and mathier end of extreme metal albums go, between this one, Gorguts' "Pleiades' Dust" EP and Coma Cluster Void's "Mind Cemeteries," 2016 has seen some excellent releases. Ion Dissonance's sound seems far less refined than both of those releases, and definitely seems to fit more into the "core" end of the mathcore paradigm, but don't let the "core" label throw you off. This is an album jam-packed with absurdly heavy and dissonant riffs, shapeshifting grooves, and abrasive-yet-cathartic vocals. There's just enough variety on this album to make repeated listens pleasant. While the band does wear some of its influences on its sleeve, particularly in any section where the tempos slow down, there's enough of a uniqueness to their sound to keep them from sounding too close to anyone else in the genre. It definitely feels like an album that continues where "Cursed" left off in 2010, and it still manages to sound fresh even though the band's last album before this was all of six years ago. It's almost like the band has never taken a break.
This is an absolutely crushing album, though it is admittedly a bit of a niche record. If you're not into very extreme metal sounds and dissonant guitar riffs, this is probably not an album you're going to enjoy all that much. But if you're willing to see past the idea on the surface that it all sounds like noise, there's some really, really wicked playing on this album. If you're only going to check out one tune from this album, I'm definitely going to recommend "(D.A.B.D.A.) State of Discomposure." It's a bit different from the rest of the album, featuring more of a straightforward groove and some "normal" metal guitar solos, but it's probably the easiest track to get into from the album.
Overall, this is a really great effort and a huge recommendation if you're looking for something really heavy to close 2016 out with.