Nothing in the world could be more thematically appropriate for Dissociation than the image of shattering glass that adorns the album’s cover. The breaking motion, the explosion of energy, the outward expansion of what had form and function just moments before, now ultimately useless and unable to be pieced back together, discarded, could not be a better symbol of a band throwing themselves into the either after a 15+ year career that has seen them defining, redefining, and consistently raising the bar for an entire genre that came about in large part because of their very existence. This isn’t The Dillinger Escape Plan‘s death knell, their last grasp at what they’ve aimed for all these years. No, this is the band taking the one last chance they have to absolutely kick some ass and running wild with it like their whole career has been building to this moment.
Going into Dissociation for the first time, there’s a sobering nature that can either dampen the band’s typically hair-raising jolts of unadulterated intensity or heighten them, depending on any number of outside factors. Opener and debut single “Limerent Death” is simultaneously heartfelt and caustic in the way only Dillinger can do, moments of distinctly melancholic emotion caught adrift within a tidal wave riff that crescendos into what is, perhaps, the most energetic, fist-swinging moment that the band has put to record since 1999 saw them release Calculating Infinity. Follow-up “Symptoms of a Terminal Illness” pulls from the same “ballad but with a Dillinger twist” playbook as “One of Us is the Killer” or “Widower;” “Wanting Not so Much to As To” is a typical Dillinger banger cut, “Fugue” is a more fleshed-out, fully grown version of “Sick on Sunday” from Ire Works, and so on. That’s all to say, the first time one listens to Dissociation, it conjures the same feeling as walking through a cemetery that houses a relative or a childhood home, long since abandoned: intimate, immediate, and viscerally familiar, it evokes memories that are, thankfully, rarely examined, and blows the dust off of them to illuminate what fresh sheen they once had.
On repeat listens, however, Dissociation starts to bloom into something all its own, something sinister and sad, reticent and withdrawn from the ear in curious ways. For a band so outwardly focused on hitting their audience across the face with any motif or concept, Dillinger have always engendered a hypnotic subtlety in their music: each album of theirs works on many layers, but none quite as much as this. Strings, soft and ephemeral in the face of the band’s blaring energy, start to emerge from the backgrounds of songs on the third or fourth listen to add their own character and texture; songs start to recall one another in their motives and conceits. A general tone emerges, different from other Dillinger albums: a mood of desperation sets in. Dissociation may be a band going down in style, but nonetheless it’s a group of individuals laying one of the most important parts of their lives to rest for the indefinite future. Contemplation, anxiety, nervousness, reservation, and uncertainty worm their way into these eleven tracks, peppering the earth-shattering ire with a more tempered approach that keeps the band from running off into the deep end for too long at at a time.
Fear is, to quote Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead, “the crack that might flood your brain with light,” and it’s clear that The Dillinger Escape Plan is mighty terrified of whatever the future holds. There’s boundless creativity at play across this record, as if the band had some sort of long-running list of things they wanted to try before they broke up and just threw them all onto Dissociation. Of course, this being Dillinger, it all works; from spoken word to IDM to jazz breaks, the band’s vaunted experimental tendencies are at full force here without any real compromise for the sake of brevity or listenability, but no such compromise needs to exist. Dillinger prove themselves here, more than on any other record, as lovers of music, as those who can take an oceanic amount of influence in both breadth and depth and filter it into a malicious, energizing, intoxicating concoction that is unique from the first drop to the last.
There’s no other band like The Dillinger Escape Plan. There never has been a group like them before and there will never be another that’s enough to fill their shoes. Dissociation is a final sonic statement, a grand gesture of loving final goodbyes to their career as a group and to their fans, one where they pay homage to the path that brought them to their breakup but manage to find something new and beautiful in the memories they’ve uncovered. Dillinger has, as has always been their custom of chaos, dug up everything they’ve employed over the years and twisted it into a single fragile moment, a glasswork lattice of music, emotion, and humanity that subsumes and distills their entire career and mission statement into one record that is designed to be played time and time again. At the end, the glass always shatters, the magic is broken, the audience is no longer a part of the great glass sculpture they’ve constructed, but must venture into the record again and rediscover their personal connection to the music of Dillinger. In the end, we all witnessed this phenomenon, and Dissociation is the soundtrack to our personal retrospectives. We all saw Dillinger go down swinging. And we were better off for it.
The Dillinger Escape Plan is dead. Long live The Dillinger Escape Plan.
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Dissociation is available now through Party Smasher Inc.