A Token of My Extreme: The Dillinger Escape Plan- Calculating Infinity (1999)

Relapse Records; September 28, 1999

It's hard to believe that NJ noisecore miscreants Dillinger Escape Plan are over ten years old. Now down to only one founding member, guitarist Ben Weinman, their latest album Option Paralysis just hit the shelves about three weeks ago. Having heard it, let me tell you--it's a mild disappointment for people who knew this band when they were deadset on peeling your fucking skull open. It's not really the lineup's fault; Greg Puciato may be a Mike Patton clone, but he's a pretty good one, and it's not like the rest of the band members both new and old are technically deficient. Besides, the band's lineup has always been something of a revolving door since its inception thanks to a mix of piss luck (original bassist Adam Doll suffered a spinal injury in a car accident, for starters), conflicting career paths and the time-honored standby, "creative differences." No, the real problem is that since their best-selling 2004 release Miss Machine, they haven't made up their minds over whether they want to be darlings of the tech-metal set or be popular on MTV, as evidenced by relatively tame excursions into verse-chorus-verse like "Unretrofied" and "Milk Lizard."

Present-day bitching aside I figured it was high time to revisit DEP's first full-length, their benchmark '99 opus Calculating Infinity, the album that really built their reputation as one of the most extreme experiences in underground metal and spawned a host of technically worthy but somehow lacking imitators (Psyopus, Ion Dissonance, Into The Moat etc.).

What does DEP have that they don't? It's the songwriting, stupid.

Yes, believe it or not what sounds like an insane multicar pileup next to a bunch of screaming burn victims is actually meticulously assembled and played with ridiculous prowess, full of maniacally jagged guitar riffs, lashing and abrupt tempo changes and time signatures that are downright fucking inscrutable. As wild as it is, the hardcore punk aesthetic still carries through in the total absence of solos or extraneous wankery--this is a truly efficient brain-splattering machine that has not been replicated before or since. Not even by DEP themselves.

I still consider it a shame that vocalist Dimitri Minakakis stepped out after this album. Sure he doesn't have the versatility of Puciato, but what he lacks in that department he makes up for in unfettered wallpaper-peeling ferocity--his scream manages peaks that are beyond rage, so deranged and caustic that the murderous stream-of-consciousness lyrics he spits aren't even important anymore. When combined with the band's bricks-in-an-F5 tornado assault, the end result is pure whoa. Also noticeable is drummer Chris Pennie, whose metronomic precision and fluency behind the kit are a constant highlight in this polyrhythmic madness. Switching from jazzy cymbal work to brutal blastbeats to breakneck snare rolls and everything in between at the drop of a hat, Pennie deserves his place among metal's elite timekeepers.

Stuttering midtempo slabs of abrasion as in the opening of "43% Burnt" (the album's longest real track at 4:31) last only a few bars before they quickly give way to instrumental passages that sound like tapes stuck on fast-forward before switching again to relatively mellow jazz guitar; and then there's spazzed-out thrash like "Jim Fear" and the pure fucking destruction of "4th Grade Dropout," the climax of which is like being strapped to the front of a bullet train colliding into another bullet train. Every now and again the peaks trail off into hallucinatory, sample-fueled instrumentals like "Weekend Sex Change" which are a welcome comedown from the adrenalized bludgeoning, but they don't last long. Throw in a cryptic and disturbing bonus track, and you have a just about perfect 37-minute showcase of technically proficient ultraviolence for the ADD in all of us.


Yeah... this is definitely not for beginners. However, as DEP's mainstream profile has risen in recent years, the aforementioned poppier songs from more recent albums have made it into some adventurous radio formats and similar noisecore bands have become more widespread, Calculating Infinity may not be quite as hard a pill to swallow these days. Barring that I would recommend starting with the excellent Irony Is A Dead Scene EP, which is a superior initiation for the following reasons: 1) Mike Patton is the vocalist on it, 2) it's only about fifteen minutes long and bargain priced, 3) it's not quite as batshit crazy, and 4) see #1.


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