Album Review : Ion Dissonance - Breathing is Irrelevant (2003)
There's a lot of extreme music available out there. If you're looking for sonic aggression, troubled ideas or disgusting iconography, chances are there's a metal band that does exactly that. Chances are that bands are competing over pushing the boundaries of these ideas. It takes a whole other skill set to come up with your own paradigm of extreme music, though. Being extreme in ways people haven't even thought of, yet. Canadian outfit Ion Dissonance's debut album Breathing is Irrelevant offers that kind of challenge to any thrill seekers who dare spinning it and it's why it's one of my favorite albums of all-time. The band went through several lineup changes over the years and it consequentially changed their sound, but today I want to go over why Breathing is Irrelevant is fucking awesome. Consider this a classic review, I guess.
In order to appreciate Ion Dissonance's Breathing is Irrelevant, one needs to understand what mathcore is. It's a subgenre or metalcore and experimental rock that means to challenge conventional songwriting. Kind of like Sunn 0))) does, except that it scrambles the traditional formula instead of completely abandoning it. See, the default time signature when composing music is 4/4 and mathcore artists think it's stupid to conceptualize every song in 4/4 so they write songs with constantly shifting time signatures, exploring the possibilities of never committing to a certain format. I'm usually not a mathcore enthusiast, but I love what Ion Dissonance is doing with it on Breathing is Irrelevant. It's mixed with grindcore elements, an in-your-face musical genre born from thrash metal and punk rock roots. It's safe to say there might never be another band like the first iteration of Ion Dissonance because they created a sound from two niche subgenres where there aren't many artists to begin with.
So, how do they sound exactly? Kind of like how your parents hear heavy metal for the first time: chaotic, dangerous and pissing in the face of everything you know and love. Breathing is Irrelevant might seem artless to you initially, but they're not. Everything they do is deliberate. My favorite songs on the record are The Budd Dwyer Effect, Oceanic Motion and The Girl Next Door is Always Screaming, but I've based my choices on vocal performances, lyrics and artistic gut feelings and yours might differ. They songs are characterized by conflicting, colliding tempos, instrumental confrontation and a vibrant outpouring of hostility. I think this is what separates early Ion Dissonance from more conventional mathcore bands. The overpowering negative energy that emerges from their songs. Breathing is Irrelevant is meant to attack your certitudes. Show you there's nothing you sacred they can't get to, musically or creatively.
Speaking of which, the vocal performance of Gabe McCaughry is probably my favorite thing on Breathing is Irrelevant. I've been a long time fan of his from Ion Dissonance, Unquintessence and his black n' roll project Vatican and I do believe this album is where his lyrical and vocal styles are best represented. I don't know many frontmen who can alternate between aggression and pain in between two vocal inflections the way he does. The lyrics on Breathing is Irrelevant are atypically written also. The bars don't always match. They're written like contemporary poetry. Themes range from feelings of insignificance, meaninglessness and depression (The Budd Dwyer Effect, Oceanic Motion, The Death of One Man is a Tragedy, the Death of 10,000 is a Statistic) to inner depravity (The Girl Next Door is Always Screaming, A Regular Dose of Azure). If you've ever felt the dull thud of social isolation, these songs will speak to you in volumes. There isn't anyone as raw and dangerous as McCaughry out there anymore. To my understanding, he's left music behind but he's still kicking ass, dedicating himself to excellence and running a publishing company.
Ion Dissonance have changed considerably over the years. They're still great today, I really enjoy their new album Cast the First Stone and encourage you to give it a spin. Their sound is very different from the Gabe years, though and it was this era that spoke to me. I've written countless pages while listening to Breathing is Irrelevant. I've even written (and published) a short story based on the lyrical themes of this album. This is not music for everyone. It might burn your eardrums and damage your soul. Early Ion Dissonance is music best enjoyed in a certain creative headspace. But it works for me. Breathing is Irrelevant remained with me over the years like a ghostly presence that keeps visiting at the dead of night. It's a beautiful haunting I have learned to enjoy and to use to my advantage for artistic creation. I love it to death and if you share my taste for extremes, I highly encourage you to give this timeless piece of insanity a spin. It will either exit your system right away or stick with you forever.