The first listen to the opening few bars to a new Dillinger Escape Plan album has always been an experience worth treasuring. In a way you always know what to expect; an explosive start, Ben Weinman’s trademark stabbing, erratic guitar, intertwined with ever changing thrash drum grooves and Greg Puciato’s throat shredding shout. It’s always fast and ferocious, and never fails to pound expectant ear drums into submission. Throughout all the classic DEP album openers; ‘Panasonic Youth’ (Miss Machine), ‘Fix Your Face’ (Ire Works), ‘Farewell, Mona Lisa’ (Option Paralysis), ‘Prancer’ (One Of Us Is The Killer) and even back to the pre-Puciato days of ‘Mullet Burden’ (Under The Running Board) and ‘Sugar Coated Sour’ (Calculating Infinity), one thing has always been explicitly clear – no one goes harder than The Dillinger Escape Plan. They’ve spent 20 years proving this point, over and over, but as we all know, the predictability of DEP ends there – what happens after those initial opening moments is anyone’s guess.
However, the band’s legacy won’t be about how heavy they can be, but the way they’ve mastered the art of progressive and experimental metalcore, consistently delivering unpredictable and changing moods. And, as they prepare to say goodbye with their final album Dissociation, they still manage to surprise, engage and push forward the boundaries of their experimental, genre defining limits.
So does opener ‘Limerent Death’ tick those ‘opener’ boxes? Well, considering the band had already shared the track as a single before release, it was certainly a little surprising not to be stepping into a complete unknown (at first at least). Rather than explode out of the traps the fuse is lit by a slower groove, with Greg spitting out the line “I’m amazed at how you’ll reinforce your guard cause deep down you’re still a son of a bitch”, before those stabbing harmonised guitars kick in. Time and tempo changes produce movements through some expertly delivered vocals, eventually descending into a dark pit of despair – guitars, bass, drums mimic the same rhythm through an increasingly desperate and deranged vocal delivery; “I gave you everything you wanted, you were everything to me” – it’s Puciato at his most Mike Patton, and it’s fucking incredible. It may not completely conform to the DEP ‘opener’ line, but that’s my fault for ever daring to assume anything when it comes to this band.
Track two, ‘Symptom of Terminal Illness’, brings a moody calm; discordant guitars and slow groove provide the backing for Greg’s melodic and soulful croons. When Miss Machine came out in 2004, many fans of the band (you know who you are) looked down on more accessible tracks like ‘Unretrofied’ and ‘Setting Fire to Sleeping Giants’, unable to recognise or accept that a band capable of an album like Calculating Infinity would dare turn their hands to anything that wasn’t a relentless kick to the face. But when a vocalist of Puciato’s talent comes along, why wouldn’t you make use of his incredible range of delivery? ‘Symptom..’ is a continuation of that accessible side to DEP, and a side that is sure to continue with Greg’s new band The Black Queen.
‘Wanting Not So Much To As To’ brings the cathartic energy back, with quick fire drums and mid verse breakdowns. It’s a classic DEP journey through some extremely different but ever so connected parts. It’s a journey that continues through the Ire Works esq instrumental, ‘FUGUE’; glitch kits and morphing guitar tones creating a moment of uneasy and contemplative quiet before ‘Low Feels Blvd’ takes over in a sudden blast of aggression.
If feels almost redundant to point out how Dillinger structure their tracks but, just like a metal Claude Debussy, they do away with classical song structure and paint an impressionistic soundscape that never fails to be absolutely engrossing. A mid song experimental jazz breakdown during ‘Low Feels Blvd’ eventually transforms into an epic trumpet backed movement that adds a breathtaking gravitas to the whole thing. It’s a seamless transformation that shouldn’t be a surprise to the most ardent of DEP fan – but it is, such is their ambition with structure and form.
‘Manufacturing Discontent’ continues the erratic jazz metal mix, with Greg’s voice hitting the heights of Patton’s work with the band on the phenomenal Irony is a Dead Scene. He breaks the interlude with; “A long goodbye, ascension to demise / A vow to break a lesson for the wise” and, as long a goodbye as it may have been (and continues to be), there’s no letting up in terms of quality or effort. Forget emotional co-dependency being a reason behind the band’s end, if anything Puciato needs to stop doing DEP, if only to save his voice from complete disintegration.
And if you held any hope that Dissociation wouldn’t actually be the band’s final album, forget it. The final song, the title track ‘Dissociation’, nails the facts to the wall. Lush strings bring in a dramatic and emotional farewell letter; “Don’t confuse being set free with being discarded and lonely / I tried to tell you we never change / I let you go and when I left I really tried to tell myself it was for me and not you / Finding a way to die alone”, a summary of the love/death theme’s spotted throughout the album. Don’t be surprised if you find a lump somewhere in the back of your throat as the track fades; it’s a devastatingly poignant moment.
In some ways it’s the perfect final album, but in others it’s incredibly annoying. Annoying for the simple fact that there won’t be any more after this. Although some corners would argue the band never really pushed on from the creative and innovative heights of 2007’s Ire Works, you can’t really pick out a weak moment in anything that’s come since. Dissociation manages to pull parts from all their previous works (even the inner album artwork nods towards Calculating Infinity), with the band, yet again, dismantling and re-assembling the machine they began putting together over 20 years ago.
Dissociation is out now via Party Smasher / Cooking Vinyl.