Music

The Dillinger Escape Plan: Miss Machine

Adrien Begrand

When a band like the Dillinger Escape Plan is able to duplicate the intensity of the previous album, yet at the same time create music that actually possesses (gasp!) commercial appeal, you know they're on to something memorable.


The Dillinger Escape Plan

Miss Machine

Label: Relapse
US Release Date: 2004-07-20
UK Release Date: 2004-08-02
Amazon
iTunes

The Dillinger Escape Plan's much-heralded 1999 release Calculating Infinity was one of those albums that inspired awe in its listeners, despite the fact that it was next to impossible to comprehend. The band's music, an ear-splitting, mind-boggling combination of metal, hardcore, and jazz fusion dubbed "math metal", often bordered on virtuosic, taking the progressive traits of Swedish metal masters Meshuggah, the frantic tempos of hardcore punk and threw in plenty of free jazz drumming and oddball, Frank Zappa style guitar harmonies, as vocalist Dimitri Minakakis howled indecipherable lyrics in a monotone scream. The record hit you with so much force, that you felt compelled to applaud the execution of it all, amazed at the mere fact that the band was able to pull off such a feat, but as great as it sounded, as supreme an exercise in technical proficiency as it was, it remained a cold, emotionless piece of work, the chilly precision of the music drowning out any sense of humanity whatsoever. Either you bought into it, or you tuned it out.

Five years later, the band have resurfaced with their long (and do I mean long) awaited new album, Miss Machine, and not only does the Dillinger Escape Plan prove that Calculating Infinity was no fluke, but more importantly, they add that much-needed, intangible quality that connects the listener to the music more easily, and in the process, brashly reaffirm their status as the foremost creators of heavy music in America today. When a band like the Dillinger Escape Plan is able to duplicate the intensity of the previous album, yet at the same time create music that actually possesses (gasp!) commercial appeal, daring to cause an uproar among dyed-in-the-wool hardcore fans, you know they're on to something memorable.

To fully understand the progression of the band's sound, you have to go back to the 2002 EP Irony is a Dead Scene, a one-off project recorded with guest vocalist Mike Patton (Faith No More, Tomahawk, Fantomas, overall renaissance dude), recorded following the departure of Minakakis. The versatility of Patton's vocals lended a different, deeper quality to the Dillinger Escape Plan's music, his phenomenal range allowing the rest of the band to start to play around with vocal melodies for the first time, and when it worked best, like on "When Good Dogs Do Bad Things", the results were often spectacular. Singer Greg Puciato, who has now been in the band for more than two years, brings the same kind of vocal power to Miss Machine, and it's his presence that pushes the album over the top. Possessing much greater vocal range than Minakakis did, Puciato proves he can scream as well as anyone, but then on a dime, he turns around and delivers melodic verses that sometimes possess the craziness of Patton, the sinister quality of Trent Reznor, and, believe it or not, even an unmistakable hint of Pulp's Jarvis Cocker, circa This is Hardcore.

That's not to say that the good old hardcore tunes aren't there; hell, they dominate the record, in fact. Only here, you sense so the band's increased confidence when playing such songs, as there's less guitar noodling, less chaos for chaos's sake, and more subtle experiments with song structures. On the searing "Panasonic Youth" and "Van Damsel", the band delivers mosh-inducing, aggro anthems, led by guitarist Ben Weinman and Brian Benoit's frenetic combination of rhythmic riffs and quick, Steve Vai-esque lead licks, and propelled by percussion phenom Chris Pennie, who changes time signatures in the blink of an eye. "We Are the Storm" is progressive metal of the highest order, while "Sunshine the Werewolf" hints at the stylistic changes to come, with its slow, monolithic middle section of roaring guitar harmonies and even a touch of strings, before returning to the insanity of the first two minutes.

There are moments on Miss Machine, though, that have that mainstream, TRL appeal, as every so often, the band chooses to ease up on the intricate arrangements, in favor of more atmospheric, textured sounds, letting the vocal melodies step to the forefront. "Highway Robbery" has a funkier, Anthrax feel to it, with Puciato adding a memorable, melodic chorus, and the menacing "Phone Home" is more of a Trent Reznor homage than a rip-off, as Puciato sneers over a surprisingly minimal, gloomy arrangement of bass and keyboards, "Just hold tight and tell another fucking joke to pacify the urge for suicide." "Setting Fire to Sleeping Giants" is a terrific showcase for Puciato's range and the guitar work of Weinman and Benoit, combining theatrical, sinister verses with blasts of rhythmic guitar screeches that echo Meshuggah's classic "Future Breed Machine", and a chorus so catchy, that it trumps every limp "screamo" song that has been recorded in the past two years. Most surprising is "Unretrofied", a mainstream hit in the making, a blend of industrial gloom, some shamelessly emo melodies, and, from out of freakin' nowhere, disco punk rhythms, as Puciato goes on to decry the mundane life of suburbia: "Time is wasted in the end/Wood paneled carpool dragons killing me again." "Unretrofied" is not only a very cool respite from all the prog metal frenzy, but also a tune that just might break the band with its undeniable commercial potential, much like what Toxicity's singles did for System of a Down.

Over the course of 40 minutes, you're inundated with a dizzying array of musical flourishes. It's like watching Fourth of July fireworks; you're dazzled one moment, only to be immediately blown away the next: a split-second jazz drum solo, a touch of majestic goth rock, strings that come in from out of nowhere, background harmony vocals, Meshuggah-style grinding and Helloween style staccato picking, touches of industrial, a weird blend of Frank Zappa and classic hardcore, a hint of new wave, psychotic thrash, a touch of dissonant Captain Beefheart harmonies, the album's final, crashing, cacophonous conclusion.

Metal and punk fans are a notoriously stodgy bunch, many of whom usually do not react to change very well, but those admirers of Calculating Infinity who dare to slag this album are forgetting that the root word of "progressive" is "progress". On Miss Machine, the Dillinger Escape Plan have let it be known to all that they are unwilling to let the rigid constraints of metal and punk pin them down, and consequently, they have managed to follow up a very good album with a truly great one.



Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

Zadie Smith's 'Intimations' Essays Pandemic With Erudite Wit and Compassion

Zadie Smith's Intimations is an essay collection of gleaming, wry, and crisp prose that wears its erudition lightly but takes flight on both everyday and lofty matters.

Music

Phil Elverum Sings His Memoir on 'Microphones in 2020'

On his first studio album under the Microphones moniker since 2003, Phil Elverum shows he has been recording the same song since he was a teenager in the mid-1990s. Microphones in 2020 might be his apex as a songwriter.

Music

Washed Out's 'Purple Noon' Supplies Reassurance and Comfort

Washed Out's Purple Noon makes an argument against cynicism simply by existing and sounding as good as it does.

Music

'Eight Gates' Is Jason Molina's Stark, Haunting, Posthumous Artistic Statement

The ten songs on Eight Gates from the late Jason Molina are fascinating, despite – or perhaps because of – their raw, unfinished feel.

Film

Apocalypse '45 Uses Gloriously Restored Footage to Reveal the Ugliest Side of Our Nature

Erik Nelson's gorgeously restored Pacific War color footage in Apocalypse '45 makes a dramatic backdrop for his revealing interviews with veterans who survived the brutality of "a war without mercy".

Music

12 Brilliant Recent Jazz Albums That Shouldn't Be Missed

There is so much wonderful creative music these days that even an apartment-bound critic misses too much of it. Here is jazz from the last 18 months that shouldn't be missed.

Music

Blues Legend Bobby Rush Reinvigorates the Classic "Dust My Broom" (premiere)

Still going strong at 86, blues legend Bobby Rush presents "Dust My Broom" from an upcoming salute to Mississippi blues history, Rawer Than Raw, rendered in his inimitable style.

Music

Folk Rock's the Brevet Give a Glimmer of Hope With "Blue Coast" (premiere)

Dreamy bits of sunshine find their way through the clouds of dreams dashed and lives on the brink of despair on "Blue Coast" from soulful rockers the Brevet.

Music

Michael McArthur's "How to Fall in Love" Isn't a Roadmap (premiere)

In tune with classic 1970s folk, Michael McArthur weaves a spellbinding tale of personal growth and hope for the future with "How to Fall in Love".

Film

Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.

Music

The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.

Music

Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.

Music

Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.

Music

Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.

Film

The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.

Music

Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.

Music

Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.

Music

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.