A Farewell to Dillinger Escape Plan’s Supernova Career
“You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star. I say to you: you still have chaos within you. Alas! The time is coming, when man will give birth to no more stars. Alas! The time of the most contemptible of men is coming, who can no longer feel contempt for himself. Behold! I show you the last man.”
-Friedrich Nietzsche, 1883
Assuming that historians haven’t been lying to us about the philosophers’ capacity for time travel, Friedrich Nietzsche lacked familiarity with neither the band known as the Dillinger Escape Plan, nor the movement known as punk rock, nor the awe-inspiring whirligig known as the electric guitar–although I’d reason to guess he would have been a huge fan of all three.
Nevertheless, these 123-year-old remarks, originally published in the nihilist’s seminal novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra, provide invaluable insight into the genius of these last men–perhaps last axemen is more appropriate–manifested over the past twenty-nine odd years. The East Coast-based band are set to retire next year upon the conclusion of their world tour behind Dissociation, their sixth and final album, and once they leave the stage for good, the rock world will have lost their kings of calculated chaos.
But save your tears: Every night for the past several months, the current lineup–which comprises guitarist and co-founder Ben Weinman, vocalist Greg Puciato, bassist Liam Wilson, drummer Billy Rymer, and rhythm guitarist Kevin Antreassian–have been birthing star after skull-bashing star, with more caustic supernovas gestating all the while.
The most recent of these dancing (thrashing) stars, of course, come from October’s Dissociation: a riotous, stampeding victory lap which runs all of the band’s associated styles (blistering, über-technical math rock, punishing hardcore, glitched-out electronica) through a supercollider amenable to diehards and newcomers alike. Appropriately for a final LP, the record also marks the completion of Dillinger’s unfinished business; several cuts date back years, including the six-minute closer which lent the album its title, conceived in 2001, when Puciato joined the band in co-founding frontman Dimitri Minakakis’ stead; others, like the almost exclusively electronic “Fugue”, provided Weinman a canvas by which to display his longstanding love for all things digital. “I guess I just felt like if this is the last album, maybe I should revisit some of those things from my hard drive and start working on them again, seeing where my head’s at now,” he told me over the phone.
Weinman and company’s fatalism makes sense, but what sparked it? Looking closer at Nietzsche’s remarks for a moment (and thank you for entertaining my liberal artsiness), we find the answer in his constant mention of time: the universe’s limit upon the artist’s earthly existence, and by extension, his creative existence as well. If you’ve ever seen the band play live (less a show than a crucible for violent, surreal escapisim, all acrobatic stunts and punkish gymnastics) you know that the band have done a remarkable job fighting the biological clock. Excepting 33-year-old Antreassian, all of the Dillinger Escape Plan are in their late thirties and early forties, not the ideal age range for their usual stunts. At this point in their lives, many men have difficulty ascending staircases, much less siderails–and most doctors would probably advise against clambering up to the second story of a venue before diving back down to the stage to scream their hearts out (but not before taking a bite out of a fan’s burger). “I look over at Ben, and Greg, and Liam,” Antreassian remarks, “and I’m like ‘Damn, I’ve got to step it up. How are they still doing it’?” (Puciato, it should be noted, was recovering from a brutal cold when we spoke–not that he takes sick days. Now that’s commitment.)
To put it plainly and crassly, the decision sprang from the Plan’s almighty devotion for the art of fucking shit up. They could half-ass it, but when you’ve written the book on aural insanity, you can’t go out on that note.
“We need to close the book; We need to take control of this and make a controlled dramatic ending to this story,” explained Weinman. “That’s the only way to do it right, So I talked to the guys–and I first talked to Greg about it and like most people, he was kind of confused, like ‘Why would we do that right now? Everything is going so well.’ And I said, that’s exactly why we should do it now–because there needs to be tension. And everything in Dillinger just always been chaotic, and seemingly random.”
He paused, and then added, as if acknowledging the band’s latent paradox, “It’s [Dillinger’s chaotic sound] always been intentional; Almost every note we’ve ever made has been on purpose. So I just felt that it’s very important for us to intentionally close the book in a way that every great piece of art does.”
As I spoke with the rest of the band, that reverence to technique a running theme; understandably so, considering the lengths they had to go through in their initial auditions. Certainly, they don’t call these guys math rock for nothing: every last riff in each entry catalogue–the winding metalcore of Calculating Infinity opener “Sugar Coated Sour”, to the raunchy stomp of Ire Works’ “Milk Lizard”, the stabbing opening salvos of One of Us Is The Killer's “Prancer”–requires the muscle memory of an Olympic athlete, a recall made all the more difficult by the requisite madness of their live show.
Channeling chaos is one thing. “Creating” it is another task altogether, like assembling one of "Westworld"'s uncanny "Hosts"; in order to convince the audience that the finely-tuned is in fact an expression of the ephemeral and random, the band must agonize over every last twist in their musical DNA, effectively creating something alive. It’s an exhausting task, especially when the chief architects have become so intertwined, personally and creatively. Therein lay another contributing factor to the band’s demise, Puciato explained.
“It's one of the most amazing parts about being in a band with other people, instead of just doing solo stuff,” he explained. “You end up in a place that you might not necessarily have gone to; through that compromise that you end up coming up with something that is more interesting, maybe. Our butting of heads has never been musical or artistic. It's more just personality–It really all comes down to tendencies having to go through life having to become more and more codependent on each other and all the gag reflexes that come with being completely dependent on another person in every way. Your band, your emotions, your financial situation, you end up projecting all these different relationships onto each other that might normally be taken in by an enormous support structure in a regular person's life. We don't have those things, we're in this isolated thing together.”
Indeed, the last men are in this together, at least for a little while longer. Once the curtain inevitably falls, each member will be free to pursue their passions: music, producing, and in Wilson’s case, fatherhood. (When it came time for the bassist to break the news to his young daughter about the trek, he told her that he told her, “Daddy’s heading off on a bass vacation.”) Puciato’s plotting a new EP with his other primary project, the Black Queen; he’s also been “stockpiling” new material for Killer Be Killed, his supergroup with ex-Sepultura frontman Max Cavalera, Mastodon bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders, and Converge drummer Ben Killer. Ample protein consumption is in the works as well. “I'm gonna make a lot of omelets,” vowed Puciato, “and then I'm going to eat those omelets.”
As for Weinman, (whose band Giraffe Tongue Orchestra released their debut album Broken Lines this autumn), he’s looking to link up with artists from all across the musical spectrum (Kendrick Lamar being his dream partner). Alas, the guitarist’s got no news regarding his mysterious collaborations with Wyclef Jean, sessions first reported in 2012 and which he later told me included a famous rapper, as well. “I did something with him [Wyclef] and Waka Flocka. It's one of those things where I just did and I was just making stuff, giving it to him and walking away. I never really looked back. I'm sure I'm on something, I just don't even know.”
As one dancing star–and in Dillinger’s case, a damn supernova–fades, another ignites. 2016 may go down in the history books as the beginning of the end of these math-rock pioneers, but between the continued activity of its extended family (erstwhile member Mike Patton included) and the countless inspired acolytes who will carry the torch long after they storm the stage for the final time, the legacy of the Dillinger Escape Plan will never fade. Chaos is eternal, and so are its most invaluable emissaries.
Zoe Camp is a writer. Follow her on Twitter.