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Thoughts of Ionesco

by Mark Hensch

Formed in the mid 1990's, Thoughts of Ionesco were a Detroit trio of deranged psychopaths who found spiritual cleansing through music and music only. Due to the intensity and violence of their manias, the band's blend of angular, noisy hardcore with sludge metal and free jazz resulted in a sound so horribly nihilistic that to describe it as anything less than outright suicidal to people unfamiliar with them would be a lie. In fact, the more I research these tortured souls, the more I find how badly they tried to destroy their lives. Be it skipping out on record execs, blowing tour expenses on narcotics, or bar brawls over nothing which would end up costing them a fortune, the band seemed from 1997's debut The Triptych Session to have it in not for government, society, or the other whipping boys of the traditional hardcore scene, but rather, themselves. In a world where G.G. Allin had been largely forgotten, and s*** like the Swans or Neurosis were growing to be the very lowest end of the spectrum for expressing depression and rage, Thoughts of Ionesco blended the two styles into a confrontational, "Fight Club" worthy catharsis, their underground shows rarely lasting as expression of music but rather becoming spectacles of depravity, violence, and release. Barely surviving four or five years of drugged out psychosis, the band split in 1999, having refused to tour with almost any bands and fans routinely bringing knives for self-mutilation stage acts. A homicide was even featured in the news, the killer in custody wearing a TOI logo on his jacket. To sum it up, as early as 1997 The Alternative Press had dubbed the band as "the ultimate realization of pain-through-sound." Years later, all traces of them gone, how accurate are statements such as these? What was so utterly powerful and captivating about this band it would cause people to throw away any resemblance to traditional life?

Seventh Rule Records attempts to answer these questions for us, their expansive anthology The Scar is Our Watermark shedding light on the broiling darkness the band always strove to be. The CD/DVD package is meant to show the very best (or is it worse?) of what TOI were capable of, and it succeeds on all fronts. Even the title itself indicates the very essence of the band itself; if a watermark is what defines something time and time again, what better way to describe TOI than the scars of self-mutilation and self-destruction?

Much to my jaded surprise, the DVD does almost a better job at conveying the raging insanity the band suffered from than the actual best-of CD does. Never once does it paint the three (now separated) band mates as heroes or rock music saviors; such money-grubbing bulls*** is thankfully left on the cutting room floor. The DVD is actually so warts-and-all it may be a bit disorienting at first...flashing by stark lyrics and sound clips from the band's songs, it proceed to demolish you in whirl-wind chaos with a chronology worthy of a rollercoaster ride. The band's period of existence and output was so brief, meteoric, and messy you can actually feel the claustrophobic sense of oppression that they were so weighed down by. The band is entirely feral in concert, their shows being bloody, brutal, and outright manic expressions of explosive agony. The interviews from Thoughts of Ionesco members are also very enlightening; one of the former musicians is found drunk, miserable, and confused, in a shoddy bathroom somewhere. Be it staged or be it reality, the documentary of sorts is sobering and really gives you a feel for just how far Thoughts of Ionesco was willing to travel down the path to oblivion.

The fifteen song disc itself seethes with crystal-clear cuts of scathing, furious diatribes. Clocking in at over a hour of bitter, misanthropic noise, the band's intense hardcore is so vicious you'll wonder where the hell such passion went in today's especially crowded scene. All the tracks are interesting, and the end result is a diverse line-up. You've got free jazz monsters like "Reach," chugging behemoths like "Wishing the War," or even the graceful folk break that devolves into a back country romper-stomper in "Upward, Inward, and Under." At times (like in "Bury Me in My Silhouette" or "Randall") the band invokes a raw, righteous fury that sounds like amp-worship performed by an Every Time I Die the likes of which didn't pussy out with some clean vocals on that last album...not to mention more technical finesse. On some of the other tunes (opener "For an End" or another 9th Inning pick in "Figure") are noisy, perverted walls of sound which slowly grow and smother you alive. All I can say is that for a band so short lived, Thoughts of Ionesco sure crammed a lot of influences into their eclectic sound. Though perhaps not as influential as press releases or other reviews would have you believe, this is interesting on a purely morbid sense of fascination alone. I wouldn't go so far as to call this band a "lost cult classic" or anything along those lines, but there's no denying they were on to something special, and in some ways, I can hear a lot of newer bands watering down their intent and using it to sell records. Perhaps it is this sense of pervading irony the band so desperately wanted to capture, or perhaps rather not. Regardless, with all I've learned in the course of researching this review it is apparent to me it was only a matter of time before this musical time bomb had to explode...check this out and hear the seconds winding down before the fireball.

1. For an End
2. Reach
3. Upward, Inward, Under
4. Wishing the War
5. Learning an Enemy
6. And None Were Human
7. Bury Me in My Silhouette
8. Theory Vs. Catatonia
9. Withdrawal Syndrome
10. The Scar is Our Watermark
11. I
12. Randall
13. Blamesday
14. Figure
15. Waiting on the War

CD Info and Links

Thoughts of Ionesco - The Scar Is Our Watermark CD/DVD Anthology

Label:Seventh Rule Records
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