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Dillinger Escape Plan: Make or Break

Dillinger Escape Plan: Make or Break
   
 

Originally printed in Guitar World, February 2008

Ire Works could be the album that puts Dillinger Escape Plan over the top. If they don’t kill themselves first.

If suffering for your art is a worn-out cliché, no one’s told New Jersey’s Dillinger Escape Plan. Over the past 10 years, the band’s performances have become legendary for the self-inflicted injuries suffered by its members. Broken bones, bloody gashes and concussions are the norm. So fraught with peril are their shows that one of the first things guitarist Jeff Tuttle did after joining Dillinger in 2007 was purchase health insurance.

“I know the stories; I know the band; I know I’m going to be hurt,” he says. “There’s just no way around it.”

Call them insane, call them suicidal, call them out of control, but don’t call Dillinger Escape Plan lazy. The band’s members get hurt because they don’t know how to do anything but put 100 percent into every performance, says guitarist and founder Ben Weinman. “We let go completely, we don’t hold back. Sometimes, that leads to accidents. Most of the time, anyway.”

But there is more to the band than its zealously dangerous performances. Dillinger Escape Plan have pioneered “mathcore,” a style of extreme music that’s defined as much by its odd time signatures and jazzy, complicated structures as it is by its pure, unadulterated, hardcore brutality. Newcomers might think they’re listening to a bunch of hyperactive kids destroying a musical instrument store. More attentive listeners, however, will soon discover intricately constructed slices of angular, razor-sharp guitar riffs, polyrhythmic beats and surprisingly subtle layers of tone and musical texture. Chaotic? Yes. But also entirely calculated.

“Our music isn’t easy, and it’s never going to be mainstream,” Weinman says in a moment of understatement on par with “Houston, we have a problem.” “There are a lot of bands we like, bands who are just as aggressive, that we’ll never be able to tour with because we sound so completely different. We simply don’t fit in.”

Dillinger continue the tradition with Ire Works (Relapse), an album that, as far as Weinman is concerned, is the most important of their career. All bands say that, of course, but in this case, it’s probably true. Dillinger’s last album, Miss Machine, sold more than 80,000 copies, making it their best-selling record to date. That helped bring them mainstream media attention and critical acclaim. Unfortunately, it also created a rift among fans, many of whom chaffed at some of the more conventional—that is, listenable—elements that crept into the band’s songs.

Ire Works is also the first time that Weinman has written an entire album for the band without the assistance of drummer Chris Pennie, who left earlier this year to join Coheed and Cambria. And while it is his chance to shine as a songwriter, it includes the very real chance of personal failure.

It’s a lot for any band to absorb, and there’s no telling whether the record will build on Miss Machine’s momentum or kill it completely. “Every record’s important,” Weinman says. “Each one determines the future and your band’s relevance. If nobody cares, you’ve got to make some serious decisions.”

In Dillinger’s case, chances are good that someone will care. Over the past eight years, the band has sold a combined total of more than a quarter of a million albums. That’s hardly a Metallica-sized number, but it’s respectable for a band that, Weinman says, marked its first big milestone when it signed a deal with “a tiny grindcore label who’s biggest band until then had sold only 5,000 records.”

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