It’s been a while, but we’re back, so welcome to another edition of Connecting the Dots, and today we will be focusing on mathcore masterminds The Dillinger Escape Plan! Whilst they’re soon going to be shutting up shop (R.I.P), we can remain eternally grateful to the incredible records they’ve released during their two-decade career, their vicious live performances, and the incredible other musical projects they leave in their wake. Without further ado, let’s dive into the amazing projects these musicians have been a part of.
Dillinger Escape Plan
2017 lineup: Ben Weinman (lead guitar), Liam Wilson (bass), Greg Puciato (vocals), Billy Rymer (drums), Kevin Antreassian (rhythm guitar)
Seriously, what can I say here that hasn’t already been said before? TDEP are a juggernaut of sonic chaos, melting minds with their stunning live performances and brilliantly crafted records the world over. One of the few bands to have experimented frequently and yet retained most of their fans all along the journey, the eclectic five-piece have helped inspire a generation with their creativity and drive. Straddling multiple genres and fearless in their approach, they’ve garnered respect from all those in the rock, metal and punk communities; and will go down as one of the greatest bands we’ll ever have the pleasure of listening to.
Track to check out: “Milk Lizard”
Killer Be Killed
Greg Puciato (Vocals/Guitar)
So often supergroups form amid a vortex of hype and excitement, only to deliver records of sub-par quality. Sometimes the chemistry just isn’t there, with ideas which sounded good on paper not living up to such lofty heights in practice, or perhaps there is a clash of egos which prevents people from working together. Sometimes a lack of time and effort serves as a straightjacket, restricting the band from achieving their potential with all parties preoccupied with their primary projects. But sometimes, just sometimes, a supergroup plants its flaming banner into the ground and announces itself as a titanic force to be reckoned with. Killer Be Killed proved to be exactly that with their self-titled debut of 2014 one of the year’s highlights. Composed of Max Cavalera (ex-Sepultura, Soulfly, Cavalera Conspiracy) and Greg Puciato on vocals/guitar, Troy Sanders (Mastodon, Gone Is Gone) on vocals/bass and David Elitch (ex-The Mars Volta) on drums, many wondered exactly what influences the band would draw upon. It soon becomes apparent that this beast was entirely composed by Cavalera, with his signature mix of thrash and groove, but what really sets it apart from his other projects is the tri-vocal approach.
All three vocalists have very distinct voices and styles, with Puciato handling most of the clean duties and Cavalera barking most of the harsh vocals, occasionally accented by Puciato’s higher-pitched screams. As Puciato himself said when speaking with KillYourStereo, “Max has got one of the most brutal screams of all time. There’s no point trying to compete with that, as he just lays down the fucking hammer so hard. He’s like… a fucking bazooka”. Finding his place in between these two extremes is Sanders, his raspy, gritty singing shining like never before. The three combine to great effect, with no ego, each taking the part most suited to their voice. Lyrics rooted in Ancient Greek mythology keep the historically inclined entertained, whilst the record’s pacing and dynamics give it excellent replay value. The band have committed to further work, unwilling to be just another one-album supergroup, and we eagerly await future records and tours from this phenomenal group of musicians.
Track to check out: “Melting of my Marrow”
The Black Queen
Greg Puciato (Vocals)
At first thought, particularly when considering Dillinger’s beginnings and Puciato’s ferocious stage presence, it seems completely unexpected that he would go on to create a predominantly electronica based record. However, upon reflection, when considering the improvement of Puciato’s clean vocals and the splattering of electronic music Dillinger have incorporated in many of their records, it should really come as little surprise. Best described as dark synth-pop, if ever there was a non-metal, non-rock adjacent record that would appeal to a metalhead, The Black Queen’s Fever Daydream is probably it. Puciato takes centre stage, his sultry vocals delivering whatever a track demands of him. He can be melancholic and sombre, or dreamy and ethereal. He can yearn lustfully, or wistfully. He can croon longingly, or he can take a step back and allow the music space in which to enfold the listener. His performance is exceptional, yet his bandmates play equally important roles and do so with aplomb.
The trio is rounded out with Steven Alexander and Joshua Eustis (ex-Nine Inch Nails, ex-Puscifer). Such credentials are unsurprising when considering the record’s lush synthscapes, the heavy use of samples, and the dark, brooding atmosphere it cultivates. It is this atmosphere which is its crowning glory, taking the listener to a place of isolation, of reflection, of vulnerability, and of yearning. A place which is incredibly human. The attention to detail and production are immaculate, the listener powerless to restrain their mind from wandering purposefully, or their body from moving freely. An incredible record, one of 2016’s best, let’s hope there is plenty more to hear from this incredible group of musicians.
Track to check out: “Secret Scream”
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Giraffe Tongue Orchestra
Ben Weinman (Guitar)
When Alice In Chains‘ William DuVall was announced as the vocalist for Giraffe Tongue Orchestra—the project otherwise made up of DEP’s Ben Weinman, Mastodon’s Brent Hinds and ex-The Mars Volta/Trash Talk drummer Thomas Pridgen, along with ex-Dethklok bassist Pete Griffin—it seemed like we might have something of the order of magnitude of Killer Be Killed on our hands. The band turned out, however, to be a far more minor affair, and one which sounded nothing like the sum of its parts. DuVall sounds almost unrecognisable in this Jerry Cantrell-less context, and Hinds’s contributions are hardly noticeable, beyond his lone vocal contribution to “No One is Innocent.”
Yet, just because GTO were/are a lesser affair than expectations and Killer Be Killed’s precedent set it up to be doesn’t mean they’re not worthwhile based on their own merit. Their lone release so far, last year’s Broken Lines (2016), is a fantastic softer hard rock record, with just enough of a progressive and even jazzy feel to it to keep things interesting. Weinman’s fingerprints are all over this record, in terms of both singular guitar passages and its overall composition, and DuVall more than proves his worth outside of being able to nail a killer Layne Staley impression. There’s more than enough Dillinger DNA present on this record—especially on tracks like “Fragments & Ashes” and “Back to the Light” (featuring the band’s originally rumoured singer Juliette Lewis)—to trace back the band/album’s lineage, while also sounding completely separate at the same time. Broken Lines passed many people by when it was first released, but it is a record more than worth revisiting.
Track to check out: “Fragments & Ashes”
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NK (North Korea)
Billy Rymer (Drums)
NK (formerly “North Korea”) are a tough band to describe, but one definitely worth investing in if you haven’t already. They feature DEP drummer Billy Rymer alongside Envy on the Coast vocalist Ryan Hunter and The Rivalry bassist Michael Sadis. Their earlier Basement Tapes EPs saw them aping post hardcore staples like Glassjaw and At The Drive In fairly faithfully, with occasional recollections of Keith Buckly-lead projects Every Time I Die and The Damned Things cropping up here and there. Those earlier releases are definitely worth checking out, but it’s on their first full-length effort, Nothing To Be Gained Here (2013) where the band truly came into their own.
That album traded in a lot of the band’s earlier post-hardcore vibes for a more alternative/indie rock aesthetic—albeit one which invokes the likes of The Melvins (“Confessional”) and Deftones (“Kings”, “Mono”) in equal measure. The album is a suitably rhythmic affair, given that the band have no longer list an official guitarist among their ranks following the departure of Envy on the Coast’s Brian Byrne prior to the record’s release and, despite its largely subdued demeanour, Rymer is given ample room to cut loose on harder-hitting tracks like “Shoulder Gorilla.” Hopefully, we’ll be hearing more from these guys once Dillinger is done and dusted.
Track to check out: “Shoulder Gorilla”
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Liam Wilson (Bass)
Even in a year that’s seen the strain of “weird” death metal, in the lineage of Gorguts and Ulcerate and the like really come to the fore of extreme metal, John Frum offered an intriguing premise. The band are somewhat of a supergroup—featuring Dillinger Escape Plan bassist Liam Wilson, John Zorn guitarist Matt Hollenberg, Intensus drummer Eli Litwin and ex-The Faceless vocalist Derek Rydquist. This solid heritage along with their odd moniker and overly pretentious press release piqued the interest of many upon their initial announcement. Yet, while their debut record, A Stirring in the Noos, provides a promising avenue for further exploration, the band’s name unfortunately remained the most interesting thing about them. As Simon said in his review, in a year that’s also given us outstanding genre releases from the likes of Artificial Brain, Ingurgitating Oblivion, Ulsect and now Gigan as well, Stirring just doesn’t stack up. Nevertheless, the project remains an intriguing outlet for Wilson and co. to pursue in the post-Dillinger era.
Track to check out: “Memory Palace”
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Greg Puciato (Vocals/Piano)
Spylacopa is an eclectic project, lead by Candiria guitarist John LaMacchia, whose initial, 2008, self-titled EP featured contributions from Isis’s Jeff Caxide as well as piano and vocal contributions from Puciato and Julie Christmas (now of “Cult of Luna and …” fame). Although the band was originally a one-off, LaMacchia later revived the project and has since put out two full-length records: Parallels (2015), which sounds like Alice In Chains doing post-rock (and is about a great as that sounds); and the significantly more subdued Demon John (2016); although Puciato doesn’t seem to have been involved in either of these releases. You can pick up their entire discography on bandcamp for about $12, which is pretty cool.
Track to Check Out: “Bloodletting” (for maximum Greg and Julie interaction) / “Betrayer” (post-Greg)
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ex-guitarist Jeff Tuttle (Guitar)
Despite only ever recording backing vocals on Option Paralysis (2010) and having only a single writing credit, for “Parasitic Twins”, to show for his five year stint with Dillinger, Jeff Tuttle nevertheless remained an integral and iconic component of their live shows from the time he joined the band in 2006 until he left to go to film school in 2012. His only extra-Dillinger activity to date comes in the form of Old Gods’ lone, self-titled EP, which was released in 2011 and can be picked up for “pay what you want” on bandcamp.. The band also featured members of Dillinger disciples The Armed, alongside Tuttle on vox, and is probably the most Dillinger-sounding of all the side-projects listed here—albeit in a severely scaled back fashion.
Track to check out: “F For Fake”
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Billy Rymer (Drums)
No Machine is another Billy Rymer venture, which also feature’s NK’s Michael Sadis and guitarist Isaac Bolivar of Happy Body Slow Brain. Their debut EP, Volume One, was released in 2014 and both it and their debut album Good News (2015) can be downloaded from their official store. Otherwise, their physical output is limited exclusively to vinyl and Good News was originally released as a limited run of “Duct Tape Editions”, which the band apparently sunk “17 rolls of duct tape [and] 7 cans of spray paint” into; so you have to admire their commitment to D.I.Y. hardcore, even if the music itself is fairly pedestrian.
Track to check out: “Welcome Home”
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ex-guitarist Brian Benoit (Guitar)
Jesuit, along with Botch, are pretty much ground zero for the mathcore/extreme hardcore movement that The Dillinger Escape Plan would come to lead around the turn of the century. The band saw future DEP guitarist Brian Benoit, who played on Calculating Infinity and Miss Machine, collaborating with future Converge bassist Nate Newton. They released two self-titled EPs (1996 & 1999) during their brief existence, both of which were produced by Kurt Ballou, with the latter also featuring guest vocals by Jacob Bannon. Both these releases as well as their earlier demo tape and a killer Black Sabbath cover are included on their comprehensive Discography (2011), which is available on bandcamp for all of $5. Benoit played a one-off reunion show with Jesuit in 2011, after he was forced to leave Dillinger in 2004 due to crippling nerve damage in his left hand, although (as far as I know) he has not performed since.
Track to check out: “The Malady” / “Hole In The Sky” (cover)
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Liam Wilson (Bass)
Starkweather are arguably one of the earlier pioneers of metalcore—although, given their largely pedestrian output, it isn’t at all surprising that their name has been largely lost to the annals. Wilson served a four year stint with the Philadelphians, in the lead-up to what might be considered their strongest album, 2005’s Croatoan, which took their fairly standard, early metalcore sound and moulded it into something better representing the intersection of sludge and early As I lay Dying.
Track to check out: “Taming Leeches With Fire”
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Gil Sharone, who played drums on Ire Works (2007) as well as with Team Sleep and Stolen Babies, is now in Marilyn Manson’s band; and founding DEP drummer Chris Pennie played on Coheed and Cambria’s severely underrated Year of the Black Rainbow (2010) and is a frequent collaborator with The Armed. Wilson also played on the 2001 EP Soundlab 1 by Frodus, who are another supposedly influential post-hardcore band from the early 90’s, while original Dillinger frontman Dimitri Minakakis contributed vocals to “Fix Your Face” and did the artwork for Option Paralysis (2010).
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