By Ollie Connors
As I sit down to write this send-off, I reach my first stumbling block – how on earth do you even begin to digest The Dillinger Escape Plan? How on God’s green earth do you adequately pay tribute to a twenty year career of making the most dizzying and obfuscating music known to these ears? And simultaneously, how can one adequately convey the beauty amid the chaos they created, making them both an utterly niche yet completely accessible band at the same time? How the heck can you even begin to espouse the talents of every single member of that band, the huge impact they’ve had on heavy music, and how absolutely spectacular they were live?
How the fuck do I even begin to describe how fucking good The Dillinger Escape Plan were?
Of the many Very Bad Things to happen in 2016, one of the worst happened on 5th August. The greatest metal band on the planet announced that after the touring cycle for final record Dissociation finishes later on this year, they will be breaking up. That’s it. No “indefinite hiatus” bullshit. They’re bowing out gracefully and leaving a perfect corpse, before age inevitably catches up with them and they start, god forbid, making albums that are only worthy of a score as low as 9/10. It’s heartbreaking to see them go, but music already does enough to hurt us, whether it’s with lacklustre reunions or disappointing comeback albums. Ultimately, it’s a good thing that Dillinger have nipped it in the bud. Their legacy untainted and their discography perfect, they go out on the highest of highs.
That being said, those whose tastes lay at the sonically heavier end of the musical spectrum will sorely miss The Dillinger Escape Plan. Although they were never huge in terms of album sales and the venues they played, it’s hard to think of many bands that have made such an impact amongst peers. They have been so important and influential amongst their fellow musicians, and have meant so much to a feverish, cultish fanbase. Whether it be the masterclass of technical guitar wizardry of Ben Weinman, the jaw-dropping drumming of Chris Pennie (and later Billy Rymer) and the heavily underrated bass-playing of Liam Wilson, they are the quintessential “musician’s band”.
However, you can still appreciate Dillinger without being a total guitar nerd, and this is in no small part down to Greg Puciato. From lung-bursting roars to serene clean vocals, drawing influence from luminaries such as Mike Patton, Chris Cornell, Maynard James Keenan and Trent Reznor, he is one of the main reasons they broke out of the shuffle. Of the many mathcore bands that were around in the early to mid-00s, it’s only Dillinger you still see at festivals like Reading and Download, and their accessibility is down to him. Sure, he might have engendered their infamous reputation as ‘that band who threw shit at a Reading crowd’, but it was when Greg replaced previous vocalist Dmitri Minakakis that, they were boosted from the mathcore minor leagues to the levels of prestige to which people hold them today. His début appearance, Miss Machine, is the perfect blend of instrumental chaos and catchy choruses, bringing an element of mainstream accessibility to this malevolent mathy monster.
Which brings me around nicely to one of the most divisive issues when it comes to all things Dillinger – which is their best album? Some prefer the obscenely technical and mind-blowingly visceral début Calculating Infinity. There are other camps who see the more melodic and experimental climes of Ire Works or the breathless aural assault of One Of Us Is The Killer as their best work. Their recently released swan song full-length Dissociation has been hailed in some quarters as their greatest achievement. The fact that there are so many contenders is a testament to the strength of their back catalogue. Even the best bands often have a dud somewhere in their canon, but with Dillinger there’s not a single record that could conceivably be called average, let alone bad.For what it’s worth, I believe the aforementioned Miss Machine is their magnum opus – but that the 2002 EP recorded with Mike Patton on vocals, Irony Is A Dead Scene, is right up there. But, in truth, there is no wrong answer when picking a favourite Dillinger record; they are all phenomenal in their own right.
And “phenomenal” creates a seamless segue into Dillinger’s live shows, which almost make the records seem dull in comparison. The band back up their whirling dervish of a frontman with similar energetic antics whilst somehow never missing a note, and retaining the utmost quality of musicianship throughout. There’s nothing quite like the spectacle of seeing the New Jersey quintet live, whether it be guitarist Ben Weinman backflipping off speaker stacks, or Greg Puciato walking on the heads of his audience. No wonder they’re breaking up; after years of setting stages and festivals around the world alight, they’re long overdue a well-deserved cup of tea and a sit-down.
Their influence is one that cannot be understated, and the ripple effect they have had will continue to be felt in metal and hardcore for some time to come. Their arrival on the fringes of the metal scene paved the way for bands like SikTh, Cave In, Poison The Well, Every Time I Die, Norma Jean and Converge to make their mark on the wider conscious. The early material of bands like Mastodon, Bring Me The Horizon and Architects, arguably three of the biggest metal bands around today, is sonically indebted to Dillinger. And going back to their live presence, we’ve seen bands from Heck to Gallows and from letlive. to Trash Talk labelled with the “best live band in the world” tag, but there’s an argument to be made that they’re all just offering a different take on what The Dillinger Escape Plan have always done.
2016 was a big year for deaths in music, and 2017 already has a victim on the way. When the tour is done, Dillinger are done, never to be seen again. While various members are already working on new projects (Giraffe Tongue Orchestra, The Black Queen), we’ll never again get the chance to scream our lungs out to the bridge of ‘Sunshine The Werewolf’, or watch the band destroy everything in sight during the breakdown at the end of ‘43% Burnt’. Never again will there be fervent anticipation of the arrival of a new Dillinger record, never again will we be readying our faces to be caved in by their aural obliteration. Never again will we hear another note from one of the most important bands in 21st century heavy music.
Do yourself a favour and experience The Dillinger Escape Plan live one last time while you still can. Whether it’s their upcoming UK tour or the festival circuit in the summer, even if you’ve never heard the band before, go see what the fuss is about. You won’t regret it for a single second.