Release Date: May 13, 2013
Label: Party Smasher Inc./Sumerian
Ever since they crawled out of Morris Plains, New Jersey, in 1997, Dillinger Escape Plan’s death-metal blast beats, hardcore stop’n’starts, art-prog grandeur, and mosh-pit grind have spawned such linguistic contortions as “math metal,” “mathcore,” and “grind-tech.” You can hear lead guitarist Ben Weinman sighing audibly amid the din. (Innovation’s real curse isn’t market indifference or prophets-in-their-own-country purgatory — it’s watching well-meaning acolytes rifle through dictionaries to find some workable phrase with which to pigeonhole the innovator’s aesthetic.)
Well, let fanboys and critics scratch genre names into homeroom desks. On their fifth album, Dillinger Escape Plan have moved on, no longer committed to most-extreme-band-on-earth distinctions. One way forward: more melody. Another way forward: constructing songs around related motifs, not kitchen-sink bricolage. And as these malcontents have made their slow journey toward songcraft, they’ve retained the right to morph polyrhythms into thrash metal choruses, while proving adept at concocting numbers pop enough (“Milk Lizard,” “Chinese Whispers,” “Black Bubblegum”) to score appearances on Conan. Detractors label such concessions “selling out.” DEP might retort with something about holistic principles.
Or they might just tell everybody to go fuck themselves, for these guys remain committed to aggro. All that well-meaning “jazz” talk has a point — Billy Rymer’s skittering cymbals on “When I Lost My Bet” and the smoky shuffle of One of Us Is the Killer‘s title cut are clearly informed by jazz vocabulary, with the band’s ethos embracing Ornette Coleman’s philosophy of harmolodics alongside hints of Mahavishnu Orchestra shred. (Though they rely on neither entity’s cosmic tendencies: A droll song title like “CH 375 268 277 ARS” suggests levels of disengagement worthy of Wire). And Weinman remains a po-mo guitar hero, wankariffic (“Hero of the Soviet Union”), weirdo-savant (“Understanding Decay”), funk-punk (“Paranoia Shields”), chooglin’ (“Nothing’s Funny”), and even downtuned on the appropriately titled doom-metal move “Crossburner,” at 5:05, is by far the longest track on a concise album.
But defining DEP solely through virtuosity overshadows the dominant personality that is Greg Puciato, still stupidly compared to previous vocalist Dimitri Minakakis and alt-metal gadfly (and former collaborator) Mike Patton. For all his indelible qualities, Minakakis was too screamo-lockstep for a band hoping to break into a jog, while Patton was a (gloriously) larger-than-life showboat. Puciato, instead, allows individual songs to chart his course, meaning he’ll pop neck veins with the best of ’em (“Prancer”), drop bluesy cock-rock swagger (“Nothing’s Funny”), or break into a Dave Grohl croon (the title track).
Still, lyrics remain this project’s weakest link — not, for DEP, the coherent real-world ideology of a band like Bad Religion. This is more man vs. world generalities, pseudo-musings on mortality (“Death brings us close”), impolite discourse (“Fuck you / Now try to disbelieve it”), and Zen kōans (“Are you for real? / You are not real!”). Yet, for a group that once opened a song with the line, “I smell that whore,” comparing a female companion to “storm cloud[s] passing overhead” seems like progress.
As for vitriol, consider idol-smashing cut “Hero of the Soviet Union,” which starts, “You smell like shit,” moves to “You are the scum of the earth,” and concludes, “You smear your filth across the world.” Unlike the faceless women routinely shouted down by metalcore meatheads, the object of abuse here sounds like he at least deserves it. Functioning adults that they are, Dillinger Escape Plan have realized that tightly wound precision left to its own devices is about as much fun as orgasm denial. Welcoming the pleasures of melody’s slow release, they’ve retained their desire to rage and contort. Of course, headbangers will balk at the choruses. Headbangers always do.