The Willowtip Files: Ion Dissonance – Breathing is Irrelevant

Pennsylvanian-based independent label Willowtip Records was established by Jason Tipton in the late ’90s. From humble beginnings, the label has stood the test of time, becoming one of the most respected and highly regarded record labels in the extreme metal scene. It takes something special to create a label with a consistently unfuckwithable roster of quality, innovative artists while retaining long-term integrity and durability. Willowtip is the self-proclaimed forward-thinking label, releasing a slew of modern classics and top-shelf albums that may have a lower profile but are more than worth your while.

This feature focuses on a pivotal early period in the label’s history that had a huge impact on my own extreme metal tastes. As such, I am highlighting some outstanding albums released by Willowtip between 2001-2006. Some are lesser-known; however, I will argue are must-listen releases from the label’s early golden era. I will skip over a couple of particularly pivotal albums from the period more suited for Yer Metal Is Olde honors; otherwise, it’s open slather. Welcome to the Willowtip Files.

For the third installment of the Willowtip Files, we trek back in time twenty years to the crushing debut album from Montreal’s tech-grind/mathcore heavyweights Ion Dissonance. Breathing is Irrelevant smacked me around back in the day as I became fully enamored with extreme metal offshoots that didn’t necessarily fit within a neat genre definition. Willowtip specialized in similarly minded bands that twisted grind, death, mathcore and other varying influences into chaotic, gnarly and largely unconventional extreme metal packages, featuring a strong technical bent and harsh edge. Breathing is Irrelevant signaled one of the finer examples of the spastic, grindy, mathy, tech chaos of the period, placing themselves on the extreme metal map with a confident, gripping and extremely heavy debut statement.

Ion Dissonance leveraged their overall ugly, choppy and extreme assault on the senses tech metal with genuinely inventive compositions and stuttering, earth-shaking grooves. For instance, “Bud Dwyer Effect’ highlighted many of Ion Dissonance’s finest qualities represented in a rugged, schizoid and groove-laced tune of serious quality, heaviness and intensity. The jagged, grinding technicality and harsh dissonant qualities showcased the band’s high-class instrumental abilities and unconventional style, while the crazed, though deceptively varied harsh vocals of Gabriel McCaughry raged atop the carnage. It’s an album highlight that helps establish a high standard from the early throes, maintained across the album’s compact thirty-two minute duration. Other standouts include the extra beefy, short-circuiting crush of “Failure in the Process of Identifying a Dream,” grooving, streetwise crunch and escalating tension of “Binary, Pt.2,” and gruff, grindy onslaught of “Girl Next Door is Always Screaming.”

Accessibility is not a word you would use to describe Ion Dissonance, with the exception of their more streamlined 2007 album Minus the Herd. However, the album’s gripping basslines, occasional spoken word sections, devastating, respite-giving grooves, and passages such as the smooth, jazzy intro to “Binary, Pt. 2” demonstrate Ion Dissonance’s array of tools and tasty variables to their chaotic central core. In the benefit of hindsight, a beefier production would certainly lend the album the sonic heft to match the music’s cement-crushing heaviness, but the cleaner tones and solid mix is serviceable enough. Ion Dissonance carved out a solid body of work over the years, from the chunky, more accessible yet bruising heaviness of Minus to Herd to the chaotic, brain-scrambling throes of their most recent album, 2016’s Cast the First Stone. However, Breathing is Irrelevant remains a remarkable career high point and devastating debut statement.

Ion Dissonance won’t appeal to all metalheads, mainly due to the sometimes impenetrable, choppy nature of the album, coupled with the overwhelming intensity and controlled chaos. However, for the adventurous listener that gets down with the likes of Dillinger Escape Plan, Car Bomb, Meshuggah, the first Red Chord album, or the Willowtip roster at large during the era, Breathing is Irrelevant remains a forward-thinking, innovative exercise in complex, nasty tech-grind.

Link to Check

« »