Originally written by Doug Moore.
Does it seem to anyone out there that metal is getting gradually heavier on average? The standards for speed, technicality, and (of course) brutality seem to edge just a bit upwards with each passing year as extreme metal pursues its for-better-or-worse arms race for the most intense band ever, often with disastrous results. Fortunately, the masses of Krisiun snoreblasters and Unique Leader signees are balanced out by the occasional high-powered creative aberration that makes all of those downtuned guitars and incomprehensible time signatures sound like something other than a defective cement truck; this is, of course, where Ion Dissonance come in. You probably already know by way of Breathing is Irrelevant that these Canucks are way ahead of the game in terms of both full-choke firepower and songwriting finesse, and Solace sees them simply turning everything up a notch. Though universally dense and sometimes virtually impenetrable, Ion Dissonance have struck another earsplitting blow in the name of virtuous musicianship and aggression, and it will be difficult for their contemporaries to dislodge them from their perch atop the technical metal heap.
Where Breathing is Irrelevant hovered between monolithic, discordant violence and high-end fret spasms, the band has streamlined and further unified their sound this time around. Most of the squiggling tech runs have been stripped away, and Ion Dissonance have firmly established themselves alongside the tragically short-lived Rune amongst the few worthy disciples of death metal legends Gorguts. However, where Rune injected morbidly baroque melody into their forefathers’ sickening cacophony, these guys have opted for all-out vein-popping aggression. Solace is even more unrelenting than its predecessor; from the blistering opening of “Play Dead…and I’ll Play Along” to the final drone of “A Prelude of Worse Things to Come,” there is hardly a second to breathe or get one’s bearings. The outcome is that this album is a spectacularly tough listen, and the consistent cerebral riffing takes at least ten or twelve go-rounds to really digest. A passing familiarity with the songs is where the carnage really starts, though; tracks that seemed like directionless stop-start chunkfests bloom into gorgeously spiteful assaults on one’s senses. Churning, elaborate chord progressions slam forcefully between blastbeats and thunderous midtempo with the grace of a ninja elephant, building up into towering auditory landscapes before leveling the terrain with a heart-stopping breakdown. The fact that the band employs any sort of even groove, particularly a variety that can be at all associated with the ‘h’ word, is sure to draw them fire, but this shit has nothing to do with any brand of hardcore that’s rightly assigned the name. These chugga sections hit with Despise The Sun-esque power, and are invariably complex, interesting and—most importantly—brief. Serving as anchors for the otherwise insurmountable song structures on early listens and gale-force climaxes once acclimated to Ion Dissonance’s harsh atmosphere, they are integral to the band’s deadly songwriting.
It needn’t be repeated that this band has achieved an inhuman level of musicianship; their reputation has been built largely on their accomplished technique. What this band does that most other super-tech bands can’t is create a genuinely threatening, intimidating atmosphere. This owes much to Solace’s production; this is one of the thickest, most corrosive guitar tones I’ve heard all year. It perfectly compliments the consistently ugly and abrasive riffing with its massive bassy tone, but unfortunately it reveals Ion Dissonance’s slightly imperfect control of their own monstrous sound. The fusion of the mega-downtuned guitars (these guys are rivaling the likes of Neurosis here), the busy riffage, and the production sometimes creates a muddle totally impervious to any sort of comprehension. These wall-of-sound moments are few and far between, and the dearth of excellence that fills the remainder of the disc is more than worth it, but they stand between the album and perfection.
I honestly can’t recommend this as a universal must-buy, because it’s just too damn heavy and complex to click with everyone. There’s no shame in not ‘getting’ Solace, as one needs a broad streak of musical masochism to put in the hours and effort required to plumb the pitch-black nadir that comprises the heart of this album. Those who possess the requisite patience and penchant for self-abuse will likely go apeshit over this stuff, though, and they’re a goddamn lucky bunch. Metal may be getting heavier as time goes on, but somehow I don’t think many will ever scrape the ceiling of human extremity the way Ion Dissonance do.