REVIEW: THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN – “Dissociation”
The Dillinger Escape Plan have taken their final bow, but they most certainly have not gone quietly. As ‘Dissociation’ is the final album by this groundbreaking math/prog metal juggernaut, so reviewing it without this context strikes me as inappropriate, if not downright disrespectful. Now ‘Dissociation’ certainly stands on its own as a beast of an album: one moment it’s bat-guano crazy, and the next, it lulls you with a soft electronic melody, of course jump-cuting between both styles like John Zorn in the 80’s. However, as director Guillermo del Toro said quite rightly in one of his film’s commentaries, “the two most important films of a director’s career is his first and his last,” and the same holds true for a band. The first album gives birth to their voice, and the final album tells us where that voice took the band and what they want their final statement to be. And when it comes to a final statement, TDEP have delivered a strong one.
‘Dissociation’ starts in typical Dillinger style with “Limerent Death” – it’s big, it’s loud, and is completely insane. Everything fans have come to expect and enjoy about TDEP is summed up in the opening track. It is mind-bendingly complex and technical; they change time signatures every few seconds, and all the while vocalist Greg Puciato screams manically over the top of it. We’ve heard the band do songs like this since they released ‘Calculating Infinity’ in 1999.
They follow it up with “Symptom of a Terminal Illness” which, along with being a great title, quickly establishes the other side of their sound in recent years — the mellow, electronic-driven songs that are far more emotional and melodic than they are technical shredfests. This element of their music has been around for a while of course, but it’s become more prominent in more recent albums; 2013’s ‘One of Us Is the Killer’ is full of it. Personally, I like this side of the band a great deal – it adds a much needed, better-rounded variety to their sound, and gives the listener a chance to catch their breath amidst the chaos.
Of this album, bassist Liam Wilson said these tracks find the band at their “most unexpected and still familiar, most memorable and still defiantly experimental.” I think this quote sums up the record better than anything else. As was stated previously, there is much on here that the listener has heard and will be familiar with, but at the same time, it’s all being done in a slightly different, even more left-of-center way than TDEP usually manage. It’s some of their most violent music in years, but it also has some of their softest. The final track, which is also the title track, is arguably the most beautiful track the band has yet produced. It’s still unusual, it’s always moving, and like the best of their work, the closer you listen to it, the more that unfolds and the more there is to enjoy.
What this album does more than anything is show a band that, after close to twenty years, is still fearless, daring, and prepared to destroy the countless copycats and posers who have come after them. The playing is excellent as anyone would expect, the drumming is frenzied yet totally under Billy Rymer’s control at all times. Through the constant changes and styles covered, he demonstrates why being the drummer in bands like this is arguably the hardest position to fill, with Wilson’s bass work complementing the drumming nicely. And of course lead guitarist Ben Weinman is as immediately recognizable as ever. The band added new guitarist Kevin Antreassian recently after putting him through pure hell during his auditions; he steps up and does fine work.
The only slight downside to the album is that while TDEP certainly try new things throughout ‘Dissociation’, and do go in some fresh new directions, the rest of the metal community has to some degree caught up with them. They still do this style of math/tech metal better than anyone, but they are no longer as unique as they once were, and other multiple sub-genres have risen over the years that also focus largely on furiously technical music that have perhaps been more memorable. This is a very solid album, but it’s not likely to replace anyone’s favorite by the band, or be remembered as a landmark of the genre as some of their earlier work will be.
As was mentioned previously, this is The Dillinger Escape Plan’s final album, and as such, their legacy will be summed up and remembered with it. Listening through ‘Dissociation’ during the past couple of weeks, I listened through their back catalogue as a refresher, keeping in mind the things that changed and the things that stayed the same. The one thing that has not changed in the seventeen years separating ‘Calculating Infinity’ and ‘Dissociation’ is the band’s fearlessness and willingness to experiment, and saying to hell with the consequences. Few bands during those years can come close to saying such a thing. And for me, that is where their voice has led them over the years and, when thinking of them, that fearlessness with be their ultimate legacy.