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Whether it’s due to maturing tastes or shifting allegiances, one’s musical taste can change over time. But what about those bands they signed off on a long time ago? The Headshot gives writers a chance to re-examine bands they don’t like, allowing them to either re-evaluate their opinion or sign off on it once and for all.

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98% of the people I know love The Dillinger Escape Plan. Maybe I don’t hang out with enough grizzled old-school dude, but I can’t remember the last time I heard anyone speak ill of them. And not just cooler-than-thou modern metal kids, either—people whose opinions I love and cherish, whose judgment and taste I find exceptional, they go absolutely apeshit for this band. They talk about them as the defining extreme outfit of my generation. And I’ve never liked them. The noisiness, the lack of melody, the off-kilter time signatures, they all sloughed right off of me. From as early as fifteen, I’ve blown that band off over and over.
But should I have? The fact that so many people I find interesting and intelligent like this band so much means I could be wrong—maybe I just heard the wrong songs, or the wrong album. More so, I liked a lot of shit when I was fifteen that I find unlistenable today. I decided it was time to give Dillinger a last listen, just to make sure that my opinion was as informed and direct as it could be (or, to put it another way, to make sure that the next person I express my dislike to can’t brush it off with, “You’ve never heard______? Trust me, bro, you don’t know what you’re talking about”).

First up is the legendary debut, Calculating Infinity, an album that received heaps of praise when it was first revealed to the astounded ears of metalheads in the hideous year of 1999. Immediately, the album sounds abrasive, lacking in soul. It’s all so many cheese graters being scraped against each other, with rhythms that are comparable to those of God Forbid. While the atmospherics on “*#..” are interesting, the whole album feels a little less powerful than similar records such as Scarlet’s Cult Classic (though it is fair to note that it’s audible how heavily modern tech-death bands are cribbing from this record). There’s no soul here, just a bunch of clanging pipes. By the end, my ears tire of this clanging sound, and I am far more interested in whether or not “Destro’s Secret” is actually about G.I. Joe than any specific song on the record.

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Next is 2004’s Miss Machine, and it appears the five-year break did Dillinger well. The band’s emotional breakdowns and pleading vocals sound much more human, far less forcedly frenetic. Standout tracks include “Sunshine The Werewolf”, its slower moments jarring and raw, and “Setting Fire To Sleeping Giants”, a cool mix of indie rock, dance, and goth. Still, the Trent Reznor/Mike Patton imitations done throughout feel somewhat silly and, well, derivative, and tracks like “Unretrofied” make the album hard to swallow. Obviously, the band has much love for Mr. Patton’s work—they collaborated on the Irony Is A Dead Scene EP—but I can’t help feel as though there’s a middle ground in DEP’s better moments, where they’re making music in the same vein as, say, Mr. Bungle without flat-out imitating them.

Something interesting: how is it that a band like Liturgy are so reviled, when DEP do so many of the same things? Both have that bright, jangly guitar sound, those washes of raw emotion, the blistering drum cyclones. Perhaps it’s that Liturgy have made such a point of trying to redefine the genre of Black Metal, while DEP are doing their own thing (credit where credit is due: I respect the hell out of this band for blazing their own trail and not harping on “math metal” and what that means).

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2007’s Ire Works begins where Miss Machine left off, and indeed it has much more texture and heart than Calculating Infinity. The mix on this record sounds balanced in a way that aids a band with such an abrasive sound; for the first time, I feel as though DEP’s guitars and drums sit perfectly next to each other in the mix. However, it’s become clear that Dillinger’s progressiveness—which seems to mean heavy doses of dance pop and noise rock—is just not my taste. The horns on “Milk Lizard” are awesome, but the chorus is annoying; “Sick On Sunday” would be my favorite DEP track if not for the hissing and rattling noises in the background. Meanwhile, “Lurch” has maybe just a bit too much Pig Destroyer in it to go unnoticed, “Black Bubblegum” continues what feels like unnecessary Patton worship and the epic jazz odyssey at the end comes off as a real middle finger.

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The band’s 2010 album Option Paralysis is an immediate improvement. “Good Neighbor” slays royally; its crushing opening part is exactly the mix of chug and atonal screech that I want a band like this to provide every song. “Gold Teeth On A Bum” absolutely rules—the slowed-down pace finally makes Greg Puciato’s wailing vocals sound effective and interesting, while his shrieks work perfectly as they dot the riffy, melancholy music beneath them. And that solo in the middle! For the first time, I’m in touch with what Dillinger are trying to say, which, to me, is that reality, physical and emotional, is a series of hard angles and blunt surface which form a kind of beauty in their relationship with each other (that’s the best I can do; this band has a lot going on). But once again, the band falls prey to what I find unnerving about them—cold and out-of-place electronic interludes and strained pop singing. While “Widower” provides some interesting moments, “Endless Endings” is interminable, a jumble of Origin guitars and Prince vocals that feels like chewing plastic.

It seems to me that the band has gotten more traditionally aggressive as time goes on. It’s the reverse of what so many metal bands do—your average extreme outfit starts off with your typical chugging record, then gets weirder over time. Dillinger, meanwhile, started off as experimental as they come, and have incorporated more and more groove and dark atmosphere with each record. And what’s interesting is, that is progression. This doesn’t feel like Dillinger is “dumbing down” or “going old-school”, but like they’re willing to change their sound to find a place that makes them comfortable.

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The band’s latest, One Of Us Is The Killer, is my favorite of their albums so far. “Prancer” is a perfect opener, its massive swinging riff merging perfectly with its spastic middle sections. The title track is creepy piece of Patton worship up until the emo chorus kicks, “Paranoia Shields” has plenty of real atmosphere, and “Crossburner” is a smoldering mass of pure, muscular rage that reminds me of modern bands like All Pigs Must Die or Xibalba. Once again, a more traditional sonic assault makes the band more palatable to me, and more to the point seems to open up the band’s flavor in a way that I find fascinating.

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The verdict: Suffice it to say, I have not been converted into a Dillinger Escape Plan fan; as mentioned earlier, they’re just working towards a sound that curdles in my ears. However, I have over the course of my research developed a new level of respect for them. DEP aren’t simply a one-trick math metal pony, but instead have a lot going on. You can’t judge them by listening to any one album in their catalogue, which is more than I can say about most bands. That said, no matter how far open my eyes now are, DEP will remain “A little goes a long way” in my eyes.

Scab Casserole

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What bands would you consider giving a second chance? Let us know in the comments below.

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