Welcome to Half-Life, where we celebrate a patricular artist’s catalog, while also looking forward to the future. Every band here has new material on the way that we all can’t wait to sink our teeth into. For previous articles, click here.
Before writing this, I watched The Dillinger Escape Plan perform “Prancer” live at the 2013 Golden God Awards, where, about halfway into the song, Greg Puciato cuts his head, yet performs, blood just streaming down his face, and finishes the song, even smashing a guitar against the huge wall of Orange Amps in the process. I had seen this video before—a lot of people have—but while I watched it this time, I realized how symbolic this was of the Dillinger Escape Plan as a whole. Ben Weinman and company don’t give a shit what anyone else thinks about their music, and are prepared to do what they need to do to make their music. And it shows, as there really isn’t a bad Dillinger Escape Plan album—they’re all solid in their own, unique ways.
Calculating Infinity (1999, Relapse/Hydra Head)
Most of the hardcore fans I’ve met swear by Calculating Infinity. And how could they not? The band—and original singer Dmitri Minakakis—bring forth what is perhaps best described as a grenade explosion set to a beat in Dillinger’s debut album. On the technical side of things, Calculating Infinity is amazing to listen to: the word “mathcore” actually had to be coined to describe this album. Ben Weiman’s guitars are crazy fast—and, arguably, at their most complex—and the switching between all-out, oddly timed hardcore and creepy jazz fusion creates a schizophrenic sound that has since become a signature style of the band.
However, though, I don’t believe this is Dillinger’s best release. Now, wait—before you bring out the metaphorical pitchforks and torches, please hear me out.
First of all, it serves its purpose: it’s a very important album in metal history; there’s no denying that. But while compositionally the songs on Calculating Infinity are complexly written and technically ambitious, they aren’t necessarily inspired. They lack the edge and the variance that later releases bring. At this point, the track listing sounds like any other mathcore band that would soon be hitting the scene after Dillinger: Psyopus, Botch (We Are the Romans was recorded about a month after Calculating Infinity), Converge, etc. Still very solid, mind you, but not as dazzling as what is to come. There is some major foreshadowing, though, in songs like “#..” (however one pronounces that title) and “Weekend Sex Change,” where some light electronics are used, mostly for effects purposes, and where the jazz tendencies of the band are really given their own sonic-spotlight. So, while it isn’t their best, Calculating Infinity absolutely solid and incredibly necessary release for the hardcore and metal scene at this moment in time.
Irony Is A Dead Scene (2002, Epitaph/Buddyhead)
Though technically an EP by the band, Irony Is a Dead Scene is perhaps the most important release by the band because of experimental singer-songwriter/avant-garde mastermind Mike Patton’s undeniable influence on the band’s future sound. (For those who don’t know, singer Dmitri Minakakis left the band earlier to start a career in graphic design.) Irony is the first Dillinger release that utilizes clean vocals, which may not seem ground-breaking, but definitely paves the way for Greg Puciato’s later inclusion to the band.
This is a very singer-oriented album, though. One could listen to an instrumental version of Calculating Infinity and still be very pleased with the results, but vocals are integral to the songwriting in Irony, and, really, all later Dillinger songs (minus instrumentals, obviously). Patton’s vocals change the game, whether it’s his cry of “Game over, you win / game over, I win” that race along with the guitars at the beginning of “Hollywood Squares”, or his (we have to assume its Patton’s after all) monk-like chanting on “When Good Dogs Do Bad Things” Essentially, Patton’s involvement is what really stitches these tracks all together.
And let’s not forget the final track: a cover of the legendary Aphex Twin’s “Come To Daddy” that is unbelievably badass.
Miss Machine (2004, Relapse)
With Greg Puciato at the helm, Dillinger begins their golden age (that, arguably, has yet to cease) with Miss Machine. The transition to more avant-garde elements is even more obvious here than it was in Irony Is A Dead Scene, whether it’s the noisy horns near the end of “Sunshine the Werewolf” or whatever the hell is used to make “Crutch Field Tongs.” More electronic elements can be heard, most notably in “Phone Home” and “Unretrofied.”
Possibly more interesting is the stripped-down sound that the band starts to utilize in this album. “Setting Fire to Sleeping Giants” and “Unretrofied” have a more traditional rock sound, in that the song structure is more obvious (e.g. verse, chorus, etc.). But that doesn’t stop the band from playing to their full potential; Puciato’s vocals are sugar-sweet in “Setting Fire,” and his lyrics are pristine (“So drop the gown, the game’s over / just push your face into the fight / and it breaks my heart / like dancing up all night”). Greg, though, is noticeably more growly in his yelling vocal delivery in Miss Machine than in later releases, as if he’s channeling some of Minakakis’s energy during the recording of the album.
Ire Works (2007, Relapse)
“Fix Your Face” starts off this album with a bang, or, more accurately, the sounds of a sonic riot. (Who doesn’t want to shout “Start a fire!” with Puciato in this song?) But by the third track, “Black Bubblegum,” it’s obvious that things have really progressed in the band’s sound; the odd time signatures are still present, but the band opts for a softer sound, with bells and scaled-back guitars and one of the catchiest choruses the Dillinger Escape Plan has done ever. Present also is a significant increase in electronic elements; one can hear the track buzz slightly with sequencers in “Black Bubblegum” and “Sick On Sunday” is a veritable orgy of glitch music.
The stripped-down rock that the band explored in Miss Machine is back with songs like“Milk Lizard,” now a concert staple, that rips faces with its wildness, but doesn’t skimp on the avant-garde instrumentation with a horn section during the verses that reminds me a little of the old Adam West Batman theme.
The biggest change, however, comes from the last few tracks; the band welcomes their first guest musician—Brent Hinds of Mastodon fame contributing vocals to “Horse Hunter,” but perhaps more importantly, Dillinger opts to end Ire Works with the song “Mouth of Ghosts,” one of their most lush songs to date.
Option Paralysis (2010, Party Smasher/Season of the Mist)
This is without a doubt my favorite Dillinger album. And, not coincidentally, it’s also their most experimental musically. “Farewell, Mona Lisa,” the album’s first single, seamlessly blends the band’s jazz roots with their normal mathcore insanity, along with the electronics that gained more prominent attention in Ire Works.
But the real icing on the mathcore cake here, so to speak, is the song “Widower:” a track that has been previously lauded on this blog. This is a song that requires a white-knuckled fist in one hand and glass of imported champagne in the other. The band gets delicate, with a barely-heard opener by Greg Puciato crooning over Ben Weinman’s beautiful piano work. The majority of the song feels almost surrealist in its milieu, as guitars pluck sweetly over the drums, and Greg’s vocals soar over with dreamy, odd-sounding verses and choruses. (A dedicated fan actually agreed with this surrealist sentiment, and created a music video blending “Widower” with the Dalí-/Disney-inspired short film Destino.)
It’s not as if Dillinger completely abandons their roots, though; there are a good number tracks on Option Paralysis where the band puts mathcore style above everything else. “Good Neighbor,” “Crystal Mornings” and “Endless Endings”—essentially the first half of the album—hits pretty hard, in a style perhaps more reminiscent of Miss Machine than anything. As a whole, though, the album dives deeper into the mix of their hardcore sound with their ongoing experimentation; there’s no denying the strangeness of “Parasitic Twins,” or the brutal-hitting awesomeness of “Chinese Whispers.”
One Of Us Is The Killer (2013, Party Smasher/Sumerian)
For many Dillinger fans—especially those who enjoyed the short-lived Minakakis era—One Of Us Is The Killer is viewed as somewhat of a return to form. The experimentation from the other Puciato era albums is still present, but it’s a little less prominent. The title track is quiet yet incredibly beautiful and jazzy, almost reminiscent of “Widower.” The instrumental “CH 375 268 277 ARS” has the strangest time signature heard yet in a Dillinger song. “Prancer,” the lead single, is again a testament to the hardness that the band can put into their work when they want to. Puciato’s cries of “How could it all be?!” just feel so right. And let’s not forget the impressive drum work of Billy Rhymer in the track “When I Lost My Bet.” (Let’s not also forget the awesome weirdness that is the music video to the latter song.) The band is as tight as ever, and it shows, and is very much an auspicious sign for things to come.