Ion Dissonance – Cursed
In 2003, Ion Dissonance came out with their first album, entitled Breathing Is Irrelevant, and it caught a lot of people’s attention. It was noisy and abrasive, it was technical, and it had intelligent lyrics that were delivered with a level of passion that has still not been met by a vocalist on a tech metal record. It fit into the scheme of things well, coming four years after The Dillinger Escape Plan changed how people thought about technical music with the release of Calculating Infinity, leaving a sea of tech-heads attempting to outdo them in their wake. But this was different. Breathing is Irrelevant had a sound of its own. For one, it was heavier than almost any previous tech release. Also, the vocal performance had a level of energy that most people wouldn’t expect from an instrumentally focussed band. Gabriel McCaughry wrote passionate lyrics, and delivered a unique vocal performance that few people saw coming from an album that promised to be as mind numbing and musically complex as possible.
From here, Ion Dissonance released Solace, which was arguably a little heavier, but still featured all of the things that made Breathing is Irrelevant so great. (I personally prefer the first album because I feel like all of the elements overlap in a way that leaves more memorable moments). But it was becoming very clear that this band was willing and able to consistently write albums that perplexed people. And then it happened. Gabe decided to leave the band over differences in interest. Although Gabe was a big part of Ion Dissonance, he was just a vocalist in a tech band. This wasn’t like he was some visionary in a vocal driven genre. There are some tech albums that have terrible vocals that people still listen to because the music speaks for itself. Surely the band wouldn’t collapse from his departure alone, right?
In 2007, Ion Dissonance returned with the release of Minus the Herd. It was a much different album than the previous two. The band focused more on writing grooves than creating the chaotic atmosphere they have been known for, and Minus the Herd was not very well received. A lot of people criticized vocalist Kevin McCaughey for his generic hardcore-styled vocals, and his inability to perform said vocals live. I’m not 100% sure of the accuracy of this, but as far as I know, he was using mostly lyrics written by Gabe before his departure. So people really didn’t even know how bad it would get. Aside from this, the music on the album just wasn’t as captivating the past albums had been, and overall the album got less attention that the previous two had.
And now, in 2010, Ion Dissonance is set to release their fourth studio album, Cursed.. The album sees the band switching to 8 string guitars and reaching back in time for some of that magic that was present in the earlier years. Cursed sounds like a mix between the two sounds they’ve created on past records. With a churning low end focused on keeping tracks full of groovy hooks and odd-timed rhythms, and the dissonant atmosphere that was present on Breathing is Irrelevant and Solace. It makes for a powerful sound. Like a choppy Meshuggah, low-end and rhythm sensibility has been added to a noisy hardcore record. It is not without devastatingly heavy breakdowns, and the production value works well for keeping the low end chunky and the higher frequencies sharp and noisy. This record isn’t as timeless or innovative as the early ones, but it is as engaging and nearly as crushing.
“There are some tech albums that have terrible vocals that people still listen to because the music speaks for itself. Surely the band wouldn’t collapse from his departure alone, right?”
Cursed is that record. It’s not that the vocals are worse than they are on Minus the Herd, it’s that the lyrics penned by Kevin sound like they were written in crayon on a napkin from a Big Kids Meal by an angry, semi-retarded person with at least one count of battery on their record. And I’m used to hardcore vocals having violent and spiteful themes. Gabe painted pictures of scenes of death and malice with nearly every lyric he wrote, but at least he was painting a picture. The new lyrics are inarticulate, whiny, and cut through the mix at inopportune times. (Ex. “You People are Messed Up” ends with a uneven reverberating repetition of “Fuck” that sounds like a tourettes twitch). Just reading the track-list that was released made me doubt I would enjoy this CD. The vocals never reach any purpose or create any interesting points or use any interesting imagery; they’re JUST bitching, and unfortunately they’re easier to understand than Gabe’s were. It could be that Ion Dissonance are pulling our collective legs. Maybe there’s some kind of inside joke that I don’t get where its funny to have a run-of-the-mill, mediocre vocalist write awful lyrics and completely fail to replace a large portion of your sound that has departed. But I just don’t see how the members of Ion Dissonance fail to see or care how awful this is. Kevin tries to mimic some of Gabe’s antics here and there on the record, but without the emotional drive in the lyrics that probably birthed the techniques in the first place, they just sound like tasteless mockery.
Aside from this, it isn’t impossible to ignore the vocals and enjoy your listen to what really is the “return to form” album of 2010 up to this point. Cursed is musically everything that Minus the Herd felt like it was missing, but Gabe’s absence has still left very apparent hole that needs to be filled in order for this band to be as good as their first two albums suggested they could be.