Let’s rewind for a moment back to 2005, a bygone era littered with skinny jeans, white belts, swoop cuts and poorly applied eyeliner. It is a primordial stew of 20 something men screaming about their inadequacies and failed relationships echoing throughout every artery and capillary of heavy music. The dude from Skrillex is not yet even Skrillex, he is still fronting a screamo band that took the name of its record from the movie Heathers. It is a wild time to be alive.
Into this orgy of bad decisions emerges a nascent, ultimate crossover subgenre in the form of Deathcore (capital D), successfully melding the puke-infused/“kill your parents” brutality and gore of death metal with the angst and chaotic urgency of hardcore, metalcore, and screamo. I remember when this happened, and I also remember hating literally 99% of everything crafted by the architects of Deathcore even though its meteoric rise to popularity in the heavy music world made its newly minted influence pervasive.
Despite my intensely negative bias, one release managed to rise above the garbage heap and distinguish itself during that time – Ion Dissonance’s 2005 full-length Solace. It was a perfectly executed example of brutal heaviness, blurring and blasting technicality, and completely unhinged anger. It was a release that, all by itself, almost redeemed an entire subgenre by proving what was possible if it was taken to a logical extreme. I still listen to it over 10 years later and it holds its own against records released like two weeks ago.
The story of Ion Dissonance after Solace is a kind of journey of self-discovery and rediscovery. For the subsequent release Minus the Herd in 2007, vocalist Gabriel McCaughry had departed and been replaced by current screamer Kevin McCaughey, and the band had made a directional shift away from much of the chaos and technicality that defined Solace and instead turned the groove and breakdown tendencies in their songwriting up to 11. The resulting release was a wet dream of moshable breakdowns and generic metalcore vocals that sometimes drifted into slightly more interesting territory. To me, it was a major miscalculation that tossed them back onto the now massive pile of mediocre Deathcore bands clogging up the internet. I’m sure someone loved this record, but I’ve never met that person.
In 2010, they released Cursed, which attempted a pendulum swing to the opposite end of the spectrum from Minus the Herd, a full on embrace of the complicated start and stop structures and staccato blasting that had defined Solace. It shed much of the mosh groove of Minus the Herd in favor of less obvious, sludgier heaviness. It was a redemption of sorts, but shortly after putting out Cursed the band went into an indefinite hiatus.
History lesson now complete – welcome to 2016,and to a reactivated Ion Dissonance stepping back into the light with Cast the First Stone. The record will be issued on November 18, 2016 via Good Fight Music, and was produced (like Cursed) by the band’s guitarist Antoine Lussier.
Cast the First Stone is a suitably intense and engaging fusion of every era of the band from their first release Breathing is Irrelevant through where they left off in 2010. Lussier’s production on the record emphasizes clarity and impact, and the guitars in particular manage to walk the line between the mid-scooped bounce of a djent band and the oversaturated distortion of death metal.
Album opener Burdens actually screams out of the gate, with a thankfully more convincingly pissed off Kevin McCaughey’s distorted shout of “GET OUT OF MY HEAD” and then yanks the listener into a furious two minutes of screeching discordance, machine gun drumming, and thick, rolling chugs that eventually give way to a short, subdued segment of buzzing guitar atmosphere and vocals that pushes the song to its conclusion. The following track The Truth Will Set You Free immediately takes over and proceeds to double down on the bouncy, mathy riffage of the previous song at a slightly more mid-tempo pace until the 2:12 mark where everything drops out and a massively heavy breakdown lays everything in its path to waste.
Ion Dissonance seem to have found their greatest strength on Cast the First Stone in a concise and direct songwriting process. A good portion of the standout tracks on the record barely exceed the 2-3 minute mark, yet manage to put the listener through their paces nonetheless. Tracks like the aforementioned The Truth Will Set You Free along with To Lift The Dead Hand of the Past, Ill Will, and Treading on Thin Ice achieve a sound that approximates the vibe of Solace with the updated ideas presented on Cursed; a blur of raging chaos that periodically falls off a cliff into a stretch of all-encompassing slamming heaviness.
That is not to say that the record is a completely overwhelming success, there is a short instrumental segue track – Untitled II that occurs about mid-album and seems like needless filler, or an unfinished thought that could have been fleshed out some other time. There is also the somewhat overlong (clocking in at 8:57) D.A.B.D.A State of Discomposure that has some great early moments, but eventually moves into an extended section of proggy noodling that seems shoehorned into a record that otherwise mostly eschews melody in favor of pure disgust.
Bottom line – in the years since Ion Dissonance staked their claim in the heavy music world, there is a valid argument to be made that the Deathcore genre and stylistic approach has become intensely stale, subjected to mistreatment by hundreds of copycat bands, and is now frequently and easily dismissed. Despite those inherent handicaps, it is clear that Ion Dissonance has returned to form with Cast the First Stone in a very satisfying way, reaffirming why their work still stands out in a overcrowded subgenre, and cementing their legacy as pioneers and innovators who have the ability to craft an impressively heavy offering even after a half-decade or so of inactivity. Hopefully this time they’ll stick around for a while.
For now, you can catch Ion Dissonance live on a short Northeast tour with Fit For an Autopsy, Of Feather and Bone, and Great American Ghost.
Release Date: November 18, 2016
Label: Good Fight Music
Favorite Tracks: The Truth Will Set You Free, Ill Will