In the fall of 2016, in a dark theater filled to capacity, I saw The Dillinger Escape Plan for what will probably be the last time. It was brutal, heavy, and chaotic show. The band’s intensity never let up; they rarely paused as they ripped through material from their six albums. Seeing The Dillinger Escape Plan live is an experience unlike any other and I was stoked for the opportunity to witness one last fierce and manic show.
The band was touring in support of their newly released Dissociation, which they said, upon announcement of its release, would be their final album. The news came as a shock and for longtime Dillinger fans. The idea that we might only be able to see them live one more time was heartbreaking. To put it simply, there has never been a band quite like The Dillinger Escape Plan. Now that they are leaving us, it’s hard to imagine there ever will be again.
From their first album to their last, The Dillinger Escape Plan pushed musical limits and crafted a sound that was like a sonic riot. I vividly remember the first time I heard the band, the first time I saw them live, and the first time I saw them set something on fire. As they say goodbye to the music scene, the band leaves a wake of destruction behind them, a battlefield of destroyed drums, guitars, and bodies.
The Dillinger Escape Plan’s first full-length album, Calculating Infinity, came out when I was in high school. The album was introduced to be by another member of the crappy punk rock band I was playing in at the time (we were called Outercourse, just FYI), and it was unlike anything I’d ever heard. A blistering and technical mess of hardcore, metal, and math. “How do they even remember their songs?” I remember asking in regard to The Dillinger Escape Plan’s frequent time changes and jumbled song structure.
Wrapping your head around Calculating Infinity is no easy task; listening to it feels like listening to an explosion. Guitarist (and driving creative force in the band) Ben Weinman was a mad man who seemed capable of playing anything and everything. The band was throwing everything at the wall, unconcerned with what would stick and what wouldn’t. Calculating Infinity put The Dillinger Escape Plan on everyone’s radar. It was a record we passed around at school, the sort of thing you had to hear to believe.
While it’s certainly not the band’s best album, and you could make the argument that there’s too much going on with no real focus throughout, it served as the ember that would start the fire. The second track on the record, “43% Burnt,” is the best of the bunch and a showcase for what the band would become. It’s a song that captures the signature sound of The Dillinger Escape Plan, that mixture of melody, jazz, and brutal heaviness.
The Missing Something
As famous as they are for their unique sound and intense live shows, The Dillinger Escape Plan is equally famous for losing band members. This started with the departure of singer Dimitri Minakakis shortly after the release of Calculating Infinity. The band used a submission process to find Minakakis’ replacement, offering up an instrumental version of “43% Burnt” on their website and inviting prospective singers to make their mark on the track. It was through this process that the band discovered Greg Puciato.
The addition of Puciato was the final piece of The Dillinger Escape Plan puzzle. He was that missing something from the band’s previous recordings. They now had a singer as diverse and ranged as the music they played, which elevated the band to a whole new level of greatness. Puciato’s style could perhaps best be compared to Faith No More singer Mike Patton, a hard and heavy sound that could hit the fragile highs and brutal lows. It matched Ben Weinman’s guitar playing perfectly and added to the layered, complicated sound Dillinger was producing.
Miss Machine, the band’s first album with Puciato, was a monster of a record that showcased just how perfectly their new singer fit in. The band was pushing new boundaries, too, incorporating more musical genres, but staying oppressively heavy. The critically acclaimed Ire Works, an album that was catchy, frantic, electronic, and brutal, followed soon after. Everything had started to click. The Dillinger Escape had become an unstoppable force with an unmistakable sound.
Fire and Chaos
As much as I enjoyed Calculating Infinity, I don’t think I truly fell in love with The Dillinger Escape Plan until I saw them live. The first time was just before the release of Miss Machine at a show with like-minded mathematicians Botch. Greg Puciato had joined the band at this point and I was excited to see the new singer in action. I was not fully prepared for the unbridled chaos that would unfold before me.
The Dillinger Escape Plan took the stage and instantly bathed the crowd in a fury of lights and sound. They thrashed about the stage, violently pummeling their way through their set. It was like watching unleashed madmen. At one point Puciato thrust his microphone stand into the crowd like javelin. Towards the end of the set a speaker cabinet followed it, crashing into a crowd of sweaty, fired up hardcore kids.
Seeing The Dillinger Escape Plan live is a truly unique experience. Even when I saw them several more times over the years, each show was its own brand of violence and danger. The band was infamous for this level of frantic intensity. Sometimes people, including the band members, actually got hurt. Sometimes things caught on fire. When I saw their tour supporting my personal favorite album, One of Us Is the Killer, fire breathing seemed to be a regular occurrence. Often times, instruments were destroyed and the band seemed to incite a riot. No matter the situation, though, it was always a good time, even when you left bloodied and bruised. You always left with a story to tell.
There was their legendary Reeding Festival performance, during which Puciato literally defecated on stage and tossed his feces into the crowd. There was the time Weiman fractured his own spine at a show. There was the time at Revolver’s “Golden God Awards” when Puciato cut his head open and then set fire to the drum kit. You could argue that the band took things too far sometimes, but that was what made them so special. You never knew what to expect or just how intense or crazy things were going to get.
Finding out that The Dillinger Escape Plan was calling it quits gutted me. Sure, Dissociation is a fine send off, and it’s clear that the band is leaving on their own terms, but it’s heartbreaking to see them go.
Dissociation is a startling record that pushes their sound in new directions. The first track, “Limerent Death,” is pitch perfect Dillinger. “Surrogate” and “Honeysuckle” will please even the staunchest of old school fans. Heavy, jazzy, and thrashing, these songs showcase Dillinger doing what only Dillinger can do. Crazy guitar work, maddening time signatures, and fierce vocals that fall apart towards the end of the song.
Other songs are strangely beautiful and, at times, mellow and haunting. There is more range on this record than any previous outing from The Dillinger Escape Plan. “Symptom of Terminal Illness” and the title track “Dissociation” are practically ballads. There’s a level of space that exists on these songs, like the band is letting you breathe for the first time in their career. Puciato pushes his vocals into gorgeous realms, while Weiman’s guitar and piano work is almost subtle. It’s shocking stuff, in all the best ways.
After hearing the album, I was even more excited to see the band one last time. The show I attend certainly wasn’t the craziest I’ve seen from The Dillinger Escape Plan. There was less fire, for one thing. But, it was probably the tightest the band has ever been. They sounded amazing and still brought their brand of extreme showmanship.
Somewhat fittingly, they opened the show with “Limerent Death” and then quickly blazed through classics like “Farewell, Mona Lisa” and “Milk Lizard.” It was a bloody brilliant show that left me in near tears by the end (and not because of physical injury). The closed the night out with a blistering performance of “43% Burnt” that felt like it might collapse the building. It was goddamn beautiful.
The Dillinger Escape Plan have forged a legacy of blood, violence, and chaos. They are leaving us with some amazing records and a burnt out husk of a stage. They took things further, constantly pushed the envelope, and kept us on our toes.
I’m gonna miss the hell out of them.
Images: Kayla Chin
Benjamin Bailey writes for the Nerdist and can be found on Twitter talking about Godzilla, comic books, and hardcore music.