The Dillinger Escape Plan: Unretrofied & Uncompromising

 

The Dillinger Escape Plan’s final album, Dissociation, ends their career the way it began: expansive, abrasive, totally unique and utterly uncompromising.

Back in 2014, I took a trip across Europe with my partner. Despite hitting-up Hellfest the week or so before, what turned out to be the real highpoint of the trip was a day-stop at the Beauregard Music Festival in Normandy. That year’s line-up was a largely alternative/indie rock affair, with acts like Portishead, the Pixies, Damon Albarn, Disclosure, London Grammar and even Blondie topping the bill.

However, buried way down the bottom of the line-up was the surprising and out of place addition of one of my absolute favourite – and certainly one of the most important – bands of all time: The Dillinger Escape Plan.

 

Given the odd and significantly more subdued setting than they’d usually frequent, I was struck by the prospect that perhaps they’d play a set made up of their softer, more-straight forward material to mark the occasion.

This notion was a rather exciting one, as that aspect of their sounds has often made for my favourite work of theirs. …Of course, Dillinger being Dillinger, compromise was never an option, and after exploding out of the gates with a frantic rendition of ‘Prancer’, they proceeded to deliver one of the most savage and destructive hardcore shows I – and I’m certain the majority of the Beauregard audience – have ever borne witness.

 

The show was a perfect encapsulation of everything the hardcore heroes have ever stood for.

Ever since they started out back in the late ‘90s, The Dillinger Escape Plan have done things on their own terms. Bands like Botch, Converge, Candiria, Cave In and Coalesce (among others) had previously experimented with and developed what would become commonly known as ‘mathcore’ (which I prefer to think of as ‘extreme-’ or ‘technical hardcore’). However,  nothing had quite prepared the musical world for the complex extremity that was Calculating Infinity (1999).

 

There’s perhaps been no record so perfectly named as the New Jersey then-quartet’s debut record, and it’s hard to think of an album – outside of maybe Meshuggah’s Obzen – that has had more of an impact on extreme and alternative music in the new millennium.

That record’s blend of extreme metal, hardcore punk and freeform jazz remains as confronting and (at times) incomprehensible now as it did when it was released.

Tracks like ‘Sugar Coated Sour’, ‘43% Burnt’ and ‘Under The Running Board’ re still as destructive and aggressive – not to mention as bat-shit insane – as anything you’ll find out there now, or since its release. Yet, for Dillinger themselves, it was only scratching the surface.

 

The band upped the ante by recruiting (then-) ex-Faith No More and Mr. Bungle vocalist Mike Patton for 2002’s Irony is a Dead Scene EP. That release itself was as odd and confronting as anything in either party’s career, and even included a cover of Aphex Twin’s IDM smash hit, ‘Come To Daddy’.

Their sophomore effort, Miss Machine (2004) introduced now-iconic frontman Greg Puciato to the mix – replacing original vocalist Dimitri Minakakis. Though a somewhat less abrasive release than their debut (what isn’t?), the band’s second effort continued to expand their collective palette by introducing electronic elements and delivering the melodic, almost-pop-sounding number ‘Unretrofied’.

 

Not even the nerve damage suffered by founding guitarist Brian Benoit that album’s release – which has kept him from playing ever since – could stop Dillinger in their tracks.

The band bounced back with the 2006 EP Plagiarism, which saw them covering songs by such eclectic and unlikely acts as Nine Inch Nails, Massive Attack, Soundgarden and even Justin Timberlake, and these more melodic and electronically inclined experiments came to the fore on what would prove to be their crowning achievement: their 2007 record, Ire Works.

 

Ire Works is best known for its two, more-‘simplistic’ and largely clean-sung compositions; ‘Black Bubblegum’ and ‘Milk Lizzard’; which also happen to be two of the best songs the band ever wrote.

The album was also characterised by expansive, piano-driven numbers and dazzling electronic interludes, and is arguably the most ‘melodic’ outing in their catalogue. However, it’s important to recognise that the record opens with ‘Fix Your Face’ and ‘Lurch’; which also might be the two most savagely intense tunes they ever came up with, outside of ‘Calculating Infinity’, and there’s plenty of additional abrasiveness to be found throughout the record as well.

Just because The Dillinger Escape Plan added a career’s worth of new ideas in one go, certainly didn’t mean they let any of the ones they’d previously come up with go in order to make room for them.

 

Following Ire Works was one of those near-impossible tasks many bands are faced with after releasing such monumental and genre–defining records, and such a position has surely seen the demise of many lesser acts. Yet, The Dillinger Escape Plan rose to the occasion with Option Paralysis (2010) (which featured artwork by Minikakis).

The band’s fourth record was every bit the equal of its predecessor and, arguably, the accomplished of their career. Either way, no song in their discography has captured every aspect of their sound so perfectly and succinctly as its iconic opener, ‘Farewell, Mona Lisa’.

 

Option Paralysis itself was followed by One of Us is The Killer (2013), whose crooning title-track proved a surprise smash hit across alternative outlets. Nevertheless, the record continued to show the band were as sharp and confronting as ever, with such cutting tracks as ‘Prancer’, ‘How I Lost My Bet’ and ‘Crossburner’.

The album was a huge commercial and critical success, which saw the band’s profile rise to the highest it’s ever been.

Shortly after, the band embarked on a tour with Norwegian ‘blackjazz’ band Shining, and dropped a standalone, cassette/7”-exclusive, single ‘Happiness is Just a Smile’ – a pounding, industrial-guitar-driven number that blew almost the entirety of this recent effort out of the water.

 

Capping off a career both as constant and varied as The Dillinger Escape Plan’s was never going to be an easy task. Yet the band’s sixth and supposedly final album, Dissociation, remains a striking representation of a band who always did things on their own terms.

While the experimentation might not be as wild and varied as on some of their previous releases, there’s still plenty of ‘out there’ moments to be had. ‘Fugue’ takes Ire Works’ fleeting electronic interludes to a lengthy, logical extreme; elsewhere, previously untapped progressive staples like spoken word pieces and saxophone solos finally worm their way into the band’s eclectic sound; and the whole thing concludes with the dirgey, six-minute title track, whose blend of orchestral and electronic textures sounds more like something from Puciato’s synthpop side-project The Black Queen, than anything else Dillinger have put out previously.

 

However, what is most striking about Dissociation, is that it’s also the New Jersey act’s most aggressive and extreme record since (at least) Miss Machine; possibly even their debut.

Puciato’s melodies still pervade the record’s sound, but they do so in a way that is far less distinct from Ben Weiman’s jack-knife guitar playing and Billy Rymer’s stampeding drums than they have been, ever since ‘Unretrofied’ hit the scene. Even the progressive additions mentioned above are presented in a manner far more chaotic than they are refined.

The aforementioned saxophone solo, for example, comes at about the halfway point of ‘Low Feels Blvd’ – the album’s best and arguably most aggressive offering. Rather than being spotlighted on its own, must compete with Weiman’s equally frenetic playing for a piece of the action, so that the overall effect is one which has far more in common with the jazzier moments of Calculating Infinity than it does the contemporary ‘nu-prog’ trend.

 

The Dillinger Escape Plan have continually pushed the musical envelope forward throughout their near 26 year existence, without ever letting go of everything they achieved while they were busy reshaping the hardcore scene at the end of the last millennium.

They’re a band who’ve always done things on their own terms, including the way they’ve chosen to end one of the most exciting and atypical careers in music’s history – by which they decided to take a cue from their namesake and go out with a bang.

About Joshua Bulleid

Joshua Bulleid lives in Melbourne and enjoys reading books with spaceships and robots in them. He also likes death metal.

View all posts by Joshua Bulleid

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