Five teens from upstate New Jersey decided they would give punk a make-over. It was about eight years ago, and punk had already undergone several face-lifts, but the fellas in what would become the Dillinger Escape Plan had a different idea: reduce the genre to its barbaric extreme and at the same time subject it to the rigors of Juilliard boot camp. The result veers too close to non-fans pain threshold, but at the same time, jaded heads deem it the thing hard music most needs. Ergo, you either dig em or despise em.
Metal is a type of music thats easy to do badly, says Greg Puciato, who replaced original singer Dimitri Minakakis a little over a year ago. Its the style everyone first learns a few power chords and they think theyre in a band. Dillinger were the only ones around doing something not heavy like heavy metal, but just loud as fuck but also keeping it technical.
The technical Puciato is talking about has more to do with tonal palette than playing lots of chords really, really fast although Dillinger does that, too. With the exception of the 2002 one-off EP Irony Is a Dead Scene (produced by Mike Patton), past DEP albums have been chops-heavy razzle-dazzlers, but the new Miss Machines Dadaesque spazz has its unifying threads: Ben Weinmans high-pitched pinpricks of guitar humanize the white-noise wall of Brian Benoits riffs; Chris Pennies ride-snare-kick rat-a-tat backlights the telescoping zooms of Liam Wilsons bass; the apoplectic shrieks of Puciato, mixed up-front, are a de facto fifth instrument.
The Dillinger recording process is not fun, says Puciato. Were all perfectionists, but [producer] Steve Evitts is insanely perfectionistic to the point where its like Were gonna do this take 75 times. His critical ear is really great, though. He pushed us to a new level, and were people youd think that would be impossible to do that to, because were already really strict with ourselves. He just shook everything up and made everyone hate him for a few weeks.
Its nothing short of miraculous that Dillingers bracing metalcore style coheres so well, since the band dont practice together. With Wilson living in Philadelphia, Puciato based in Baltimore and Pennie-Benoit-Weinman in Jersey, the individual members do whats necessary to keep their game tight. Sound check is our practice session, says Puciato, and if someone hasnt been keeping up, itll be very obvious.
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While the now-departed Minakakis Arthur Janovapproved scream therapy was the blueprint for the incoming vocalist, Puciatos lung-bursting power is richer and rangier and more important, the kid can write. Its not just pent-up anger you hear on Miss Machine, its sound and fury signifying everything: human frailty, innocence-vs.-experience, nameless dread, and any other cosmic quandary you wanna throw into the pot.
I noticed, Puciato remembers, that every song dealt with the issue of being in a situation you dont know how to handle. And so me and Ben, were really thinking you could apply that to anything. Everybodys got something in their life they have great expectations for, but human beings are notorious for trying to put themselves in a better position, and just end up shooting themselves in the foot.
A performance like Dillingers takes it out of you, so clean living is highly recommended. Their daily regimen is austere: Two of them refer to themselves as straight-edge, two more are teetotalers, and one is vegan. Whats more, Puciatos torso is cut like a Golds Gym trainers, a nice symmetry given his simian antics onstage. I started lifting, I think, because I was such a small kid. But now I just do it because it feels great. The DEP dudes dress like unassuming Midwest preppies yet frighten the complacent metal/hardcore establishment an irony not lost on Puciato. We dont need any of [those headbanger trappings]. People might think we dont look the part, but take the average metal band with a bunch of tattoos and piercings, and let them play either before or after us. Youll hear the difference.
Dillinger Escape Plan play the Troubadour on Saturday and Sunday, August 7 and 8, as part of the Fucking With the Lights On tour.