A long time ago, someone said, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Chances are that dude is dead (actually, it was Nietzche and he’s been dead for years), but those seven little words have not only become a modern philosophical and medical catchphrase, but a signpost to life for The Dillinger Escape Plan. That’s because despite a multitude of major incidents and setbacks that would have most other bands either releasing substandard, unfocused material or disbanding and retreating to the comfort of the 9-to-5 world, Dillinger have continually defied the odds and returned more powerful with each and every impediment. With their newest album, Ire Works, they’ve overcome yet another hardship and, almost unsurprisingly, have followed it up with a career-defining recording. You can’t kill The Dillinger Escape Plan. And they only get stronger.
A quick look at the untimely hardships that have befallen Dillinger and the results:
- Just weeks after the band’s first ever North American tour, original bass player Adam Doll became paralyzed from the chest down after a minor car accident. That tragedy was followed by the departure of original guitarist John Fulton. Still, in the months that followed, Dillinger wrote and recorded, Calculating Infinity, the landscape-changing extreme music album.
- At the height of Calculating Infinity’s popularity, shortly after finally shoring up their line-up with bassist Liam Wilson, original vocalist Dimitri Minikakis left the band. Dillinger emerged with Irony is a Dead Scene, a groundbreaking collaboration with Mike Patton and, later, with vocalist Greg Puciato, one of the most talked about and imposing frontmen metal/hardcore has ever seen.
- Despite losing the services of guitarist Brian Benoit due to nerve damage in his left arm/hand – although he has a home in Dillinger if/when he’s ready to resume playing - and guitarist Ben Weinman’s continual abuse of his body against numerous doctor’s orders, Dillinger still continue to consistently deliver violently energetic and unpredictable live performances around the world.
At the same time there have been contract renegotiations, lawsuits, major labels lurking in the wings and unstoppable multi-month long tours even as gas prices go through the roof. All the while, Dillinger have remained a self-managed, DIY entity, retaining more artistic integrity and independence than any other band racking up six figures sales totals.
And now, another hurdle - one that many have already assumed to be the most insurmountable of them all: the departure of drummer Chris Pennie.
However, the armchair quarterbacks proclaiming the death of the band in light of this latest line-up change should know better: you can’t kill The Dillinger Escape Plan and the incendiary Ire Works proves that even if diverging life plans, the limits of the human body or the cosmic forces of the universe try to stop this band, their only response is to not only come out on top, but raise the bar ever higher, push boundaries further and spit battery acid in the face of adversity. The Dillinger Escape Plan will always triumph.
“I am fully excited about the songs we have written, without hesitation or question,” says founding and sole remaining original member, Weinman. “If someone were to say to me ‘Wow, you have really written an amazing record,’ for the first time, I’d say ‘Yeah, I agree,’ and fully believe it. It’s not that I think that these songs necessarily live up to people’s expectations or something. I mean, you can never please everyone and the longer you have been the around the harder that gets. I mean, does sex ever really get better with your wife or girlfriend? No! Even if she all of a sudden starts dressing like Wonder Woman and flies onto your cock after swinging in on a chandelier, it’s still her. We dress up like Wonder Woman and fly in on a chandelier with Ire Works. And while it may not be the first time we have fucked you, we are still fucking you harder then ever!”
The Dillinger Escape Plan story begins eleven years ago in suburban, Northern New Jersey when Weinman, Pennie, Minikakis, Doll and Fulton got together to play the music they wanted to hear. An old cliché, yes, but the sounds racing and raging through the heads of these five was unlike anything metal or hardcore had heard previous and instead of settling for an approximation of what they were hearing internally, DEP pushed themselves to the limit, ensuring they played what they envisioned. First, a self-titled EP; then the Under the Running Board EP, their Relapse debut and quite frankly the most unrestrained and invigorating seven minutes of your life. Calculating Infinity followed, an album that commanded, and still commands, respect and reverence from press and the public. It scored accolades from the moment it was released, obtaining a strong showing in Terrorizer magazine’s top albums of the 90’s, despite its September, 1999 release date and was recently inducted into Decibel magazine’s Hall of Fame. After that, Irony is a Dead Scene, before the band’s second album, Miss Machine, a diverse offering that tempered their complex sonic mathematics with stream-lined electronic-based compositions.
Ire Works comes on the heels of Pennie leaving to join the ranks of Coheed & Cambria. On the surface, this probably seems like an egregious, soul-ripping blow, one that could understandably be cause for some form of towel to be thrown in. Pennie was a founding member, Weinman’s right-hand man in the song writing process and achieved respect from both the underground and mainstream drum world. Undaunted, DEP re-grouped with the dynamic Gil Sharone (Stolen Babies) manning the drum throne and have found themselves to be a more efficient machine than ever before. Those who’ve witnessed Sharone perform with Stolen Babies are well aware of his wealth of talent and ability to tackle diverse and complex styles. When Dillinger introduced Gil via a series of YouTube “webisodes” early last summer, it became obvious that Sharone would provide incredible stamina, a bricks-and-mortar backbone and be able to push the band’s rapid fire rhythmic sense to new ridiculous heights.
“The circumstances that led up to the split were going on directly for about 8 months, and indirectly for a couple of years,” explains Puciato. “It should have happened sooner, but we were both going down a path where I think we were having a playground stare-off of sorts; seeing who would back down or give in. He didn't wanna leave and we were maybe afraid to lose him because of his talent. I think we had kinda been trapped into thinking that we needed Chris' talent to continue when in actuality, there were a lot of very talented drummers jumping to work with us. Finding Gil and playing and recording with him has made it obvious to me just how fucked up things had been for a long time. The energy, enthusiasm, positivity and sense of unity is higher than it has been in years. It’s a great feeling.”
“Gil is amazing,” adds Ben, “and has made me enjoy playing music again. He is such an amazing musician. He approaches drums similarly to how I try to approach guitar. I mean even the technical and fast stuff has so much feel and swing to it when he plays. He is like a secret weapon.”
“Band morale has really kicked into high spirits,” explains Liam. “There's a Rocky-ish vibe going around between Greg, Ben and I that was never there before.”
Even when you try and kill The Dillinger Escape Plan, they prevail.
With Ire Works, DEP continue to push the envelope. Where Calculating Infinity was an irascible, combustible technical tour-de-force and Miss Machine juxtaposed the band’s explosive tech-metal song crafting with dark, mature melodies, Ire Works is all about channeling the collective experience and a lot of, well, ire.
“I would say these songs are just pissed off,” describes Ben. “They are just fucking angry, man. Even the less aggressive songs are just angry as fuck. This record is all about feel. Even the electronic elements on this record are very emotionally driven.”
“Honestly,” adds Greg, “this record is the record that I think really takes everything we were doing on Miss Machine and takes it as far as that can go. It’s ‘Super Miss Machine’: the crazier stuff is not only more insane, but more aggressive, more intense, the song writing is better, the drumming is crazier, guitar, bass, vocals, production, everything is just better in every way.”
“When we put out Miss Machine we were hoping to broaden our sound, and sorta separate ourselves from the clones and one-trick-ponies we were being lumped in with,” explains Liam, adding his take. “I think we took a lot of risks with that record, but some of what came out wasn't as fully realized as what we're about to release. I think the aggressive songs on Ire Works are more clever, incising, sinister and snotty than anything we've released before; the more catchy material is more consistent, less of a departure from what I feel Dillinger fans expect - we're better songwriters now for having taken some of the risks we took on Miss Machine.”
Dillinger have never bowed to even the most debilitating of incidents and Ire Works illustrates just how driven they are to create. Even if it looks like they’ve just been taken out at the knees, they find a way to survive what looks to be a certain demise, coming back twice as good and ten times as powerful. For Weinman, Puciato and Wilson, it’s about letting this consume you 100% and giving a 150% in return or getting the fuck out. You not only hear this full-throttle approach in the music, see it in their charged live shows, but you witness it in the individual actions of the band’s members. For instance, the time Ben drove directly to the airport for a European tour immediately after being told by a MD to go home, get some rest and heal up. More recently, Greg and Liam demonstrated their passion for DEP and belief in the new material by hopping in a car for a non-stop cross-country drive to Los Angeles studios, Sonikwire (where Sharone’s drums were recorded) and Omen Room, where longtime Dillinger producer Steve Evetts now calls home.
“Well, it all started as a joke, and quickly evolved into a practical solution as to how to ship gear from the East Coast to the West Coast,” explains Wilson. “I think we also did it so we'd have something ridiculous to look back on and to have a more definitive transition between our Clark Kent home-life and the Superman Dillinger recording session we were about to dive head first into. It gave us more time than a flight would have to mentally prepare ourselves and to really talk about what we wanted to accomplish conceptually.”
“The drive itself was pretty ridiculous,” says Greg. “We more or less just tried to race out there and not sleep the entire time. We ended up taking about 40 some hours to get there and just got there totally fucked. We were on like 50 hours of no sleep and just totally ruined. It was fun though; when I'm old its gonna be better to be like, ‘Hey, you remember driving out to California to record? That was insane!’ We got pulled over three times and got $300 worth of tickets, but whatever. The story and memory is worth more than that.”
And, as Ire Works proves, all attempts to kill The Dillinger Escape Plan end up as fodder for a good story, more fuel for their undying flame and a monumental album. – Kevin Stewart-Panko.