It’s very well known that every band you enjoy has songs that define them. These songs may not necessarily be their best, but they are the most essential when trying to understand where they came from, and how they got to where they are now. This is the idea of “8-Track.” In case you missed our previous installments, here’s the basic premise, in a nutshell: We choose a band that we know has a storied history, and identify the eight songs that define their strengths as a band, musically, lyrically, and conceptually. This is not merely a “Favorite Songs of (Insert Band Here)” list, though for some writers, there will be overlap with the two. This list is meant to show anyone discovering the band songs that really speak volumes of how they are as a band, and songs that are essential to their development and evolution as a band. With that being said, let’s get to talking about the mathcore gods of The Dillinger Escape Plan.
Where is there to even start with this group? The many facets that make up this band’s sound give their songs an edge that no other band can have, from the understated (yet heavily important) jazz influence that creates some of their most memorable moments and craziest time changes to the disgustingly saccharine cleans of Greg Puciato, which give tracks a “Frank Sinatra being tortured in Hell” sort of vibe wherever they appear, this band is as diverse and unquantifiable as a frigid winter wind full of shards of glass is painful. Every one of the band’s members, past and present, rips sheer noise out of the very souls of their instruments; both former vocalist Dmitri Minikakis and the aforementioned current one tear each track down to its bare essence, shredding through the sounds to assault the listener with pure, unadulterated anger.
Put simply, The Dillinger Escape Plan is a band that has figured out how to take the most primal parts of the human psyche, anger and pain, respectively, and turn them into an auditory stream of catharsis. Their music is violent beyond belief, abrasive to the point of noise, and just stupidly fucking heavy. This band is so off the deep end, if their albums were comestibles, they would say “not fit for human consumption” on them. And now, here we are, to turn over the mulch of their music, sort through the silt of their sound, to find the eight tracks that best encompass the way this group has affected modern music. So, without further ado, it’s my pleasure to present to you, dear readers, 8-Track: The Dillinger Escape Plan.
“Sugar Coated Sour” – Calculating Infinity 
If some unsuspecting person were to ever ask you the frightening and possibly-alienating question of “what does The Dillinger Escape Plan sound like?” the single best answer to give them is Calculating Infinity’s savage opener, “Sugar Coated Sour.” At just under two-and-a-half minutes in length, this monstrous assault of dissonant chugs played at warp speed still has even prog-metal’s most astute fans scratching their heads to this day. The fact that this song is old enough to drive now just makes things that much more impressive and baffling in context. There are no moments of respite to be found, as even the song’s (slightly) quieter moments still show the band delving into a freakish hybrid of jazz fusion and crossover thrash before collapsing into one of metalcore’s greatest climaxes. And while the band has gone on to release an incredibly heavy, fast, and memorable opener on every single LP they’ve released, none can quite compare to this song’s insane innovation, brutal riffs and staggeringly passionate screams. Getting the absolute shit kicked out of your ears never felt quite so satisfying.
“43% Burnt” – Calculating Infinity 
Dimitri Minakakis may pale in comparison to Greg Puciato, and Dillinger’s more avant-garde side may not have fully emerged until subsequent releases. But it is impossible to ignore the veracious hunger that Dillinger exhibited on Calculating Infinity; their sheer obsession with cramming as many technical and disorienting ideas into each song as possible. There is perhaps no better example of this than that “43% Burnt,” a mixture composed of equal parts Drive Like Jehu and Botch before being loaded into a crack pipe and smoked to an adrenaline spiking crisp. A massive discordant breakdown bookends a flurry of tapping and kit smashing while Minakakis belts his vocals down to a shredded larynx. A few stranger guitar passage pop up through the mix, but the majority of the track pummels with enough force to simulate a live performance. While it may seem contradictory to label CI as Dillinger’s simplest album considering their music’s density, the album truly captures the driving intensity and ever-flowing creativity that have spawned numerous essential releases within both their discography and the realm of extreme metal. And with its four and a half minute instrumental conniption, “43% Burnt” effortlessly proves this point.
“Sunshine the Werewolf” – Miss Machine 
“DESTROYERRRRRRRR! THERE’LL BE ANOTHER ONE JUST LIKE YOUUUUU!” screams the harsh, grating voice of Dillinger’s vocalist, the rightfully well-known Greg Puciato, as this track swells to a climax and threatens to destroy the eardrums of anybody listening. It’s perhaps the most memorable moment across the entirety of the band’s discography: the clipping instruments, the cacophonous waves of guitars and vocals mixing into pure noise, the small, jazzy clean bit leading into it, everything. It adds up to this perfect moment of build and releasing that, in a way, defines the prolific group’s output entirely. It’s the best possible example of The Dillinger Escape Plan’s method of starting off in a small, closed space, drawing the audience in with a frenzy of punky mathcore riffs, then exploding outwards, propelling themselves away like rockets, tearing through all in their path with extreme ease. The sad truth about the refrain of “Sunshine the Werewolf” is, ironically enough, that there never really will be another one quite like it.
“Milk Lizard” – Ire Works 
A couple of years back, I decided it was high time to hop aboard the Dillinger Escape Plan train after years of my cohorts singing their praises. After a conversation in which a friend made mention of Ire Works’ Milk Lizard, I decided to make this my starting point.
To say I was hooked after first listen would be an understatement. Less than two years and nearly three thousand listens later, it’s safe to say that Milk Lizard is not only by far my favourite Dillinger tune, but a serious contender for the coveted title of my “all time favourite song”.
It’s difficult to place my thumb on what, exactly, makes Milk Lizard such a stand-out in my books. Though frenetic in its own right, the track is decidedly less convoluted in structure than is characteristic of a Dillinger jam. Adhering with little departure to a verse-chorus form, Milk Lizard carries with it a certain sense of accessibility that the band typically foregoes. Despite its (relative) simplicity, though, Milk Lizard is one of Ire Works’ finest. From the way in which vocalist Greg Puciato bitterly spits the delightfully spiteful lyrics (can I get an ayyyy for the “You thought you’d year my skin from bone, just ’cause it was cold and you needed a coat” bit!?), to the surprisingly effective integration of a horn section, to the highly memorable recurring guitar riff which serves to string the piece together, Milk Lizard is infectiously catchy, and comes highly recommended to all would-be Dillinger fans.
“Mouth of Ghosts” – Ire Works 
For the majority of their career leading up to 2007’s Ire Works, The Dillinger Escape Plan had an incredibly unique sound that was already highly experimental in nature, but which did not stray too much further from the precedent the band had set with legendary debut Calculating Infinity. Yet despite the chaos that the band so masterfully conjured on releases preceding Ire Works, one could not deny the presence of subtle quirks in their music that hinted towards influences outside of the metal/hardcore spectrum, even if said influences rarely came to the surface at first. Ire Works changed a lot of that with its unbridled experimentation and frequent electronic flourishes, but Dillinger saved the most eclectic for last: “Mouth of Ghosts” is the longest track in their discography (save for “Variations on a Cocktail Dress” from Calculating Infinity, but that one is really just a three minute song that’s followed by several minutes of silence and then odd noises) and it slowly but surely builds towards a massive, career-defining climax.
But what makes the song truly great is the buildup itself; the song starts out sounding more or less like a ballad, and a gorgeous one at that, but then an uplifting piano line coupled with light, almost salsa-like backing picks up the pace as vocalist Greg Puciato’s cries of “don’t you know where” echo all around. The entire arrangement is beautifully put together, right down to the subtle electronic touches that dance around the increasing complexity of the progression, the likes of which few other metal bands would not even try to pull off — let alone achieve successfully. And then the climax hits, and the band smashes through everything they’d just meticulously built up as Puciato explodes into a chorus that still stands as one of his finest ever moments as a vocalist. “Mouth of Ghosts” remains a true gem in a discography that’s already studded with plenty of them, and one needs to look no further to see why Dillinger are the universally acclaimed band they are today.
“Black Bubblegum” – Ire Works 
The best things about The Dillinger Escape Plan is by far their complete and utter disregard for the somewhat thick lines that circumference metal. Within that conservative and downright bigoted context, they’re not afraid to introduce influences and ideas from a broad range of sources. Enter “Black Bubblegum” from their critically acclaimed Ire Works.
Drawing on pop for its sickly sweet vocals, belying the track’s title, “Black Bubblegum” is a far cry away from the dose of chaos that Dillinger usually paddle. It has a classic verse/chorus/verse structure, a C part that you can see from miles away and backing vocals that wouldn’t put Michael Jackson to shame. And yet, or maybe because, of all of these it is one of their most engaging, powerful and downright fun tracks they’ve ever written.
“Widower” – Option Paralysis 
It’s only fitting that I talk about the song that introduced me to The Dillinger Escape Plan, “Widower.” Sitting right in the middle of Option Paralysis, this song is arguably the album’s centerpiece. By the end of the song, it becomes one of the band’s undeniable magnum opuses. It effortlessly showcases the bands ability to build tension and then just let the listener have it. Not to mention the heartbreaking tale it spins.
The ominous prelude of melodic hissing, glitches and blips doesn’t really prepare you for the breathtaking piano and trembling vocals of the inimitable Greg Puciato. He deftly gives the perspective of a relationship gone by the wayside through the eyes of the one who let it roll of the cliff as he delivers fragile vocal line after fragile vocal line. The electronic hisses and frequencies begin to become an undercurrent as the song swells; instrument after instrument elaborating upon the chaos of losing control and growing further apart from the person who you’re supposed to be close to. The vocals become much stronger and overtly emotive while stabs of violin illustrate that even something that’s beautiful can be made to heighten anxiety and end up creating deep wounds. The drums switch between oddly timed snare hits and constantly undulating bass hits while the guitars add texture through their nearly unending employment of odd melodies. The piano never really leaves, but instead chooses to linger and only provide input to remind you that it’s been there since the beginning.
There’s much more to be said, but by this point you should be ready to check this song out for yourself. This song is everything The Dillinger Escape Plan do well and much more. It’s tense and explosive while still managing to be immaculate. If you’re on the fence about the band, click play and let it take you away.
“One of Us Is the Killer” – One of Us Is the Killer 
The title track from The Dillinger Escape Plan’s 2013 record, which rampaged its way through into my top ten albums of that year, is something of a gem on an otherwise wholly savage record. “One of Us is the Killer” is one of those interesting Dillinger tracks that is full of subtle, burning anger instead of the explosive, chaotic violence the band is known for. In fact, it’s one of the few tracks fit for radio play, falling alongside Ire Works‘ “Black Bubblegum” and album mate “Nothing’s Funny,” coming in strong with a very Faith No More-esque vibe in composition and tone. I had the opportunity to speak with Greg Puciato about the album when it released and he mentioned that a lot of the emotions permeating the album were brought about by turmoil within the band, with members placing blame on one another (for undisclosed reasons), the song dubbing them “killers” but saying that neither party will survive the other’s death, perhaps implying a possible dissolution of the band should things remain unresolved.