Editorial: The Dillinger Escape Plan are Among the Greatest of All Time

  • Maximus

I think when it’s all said and done, The Dillinger Escape Plan will be remembered as one of the greatest bands of all time – and possibly, the greatest punk band ever. Full stop.

Certainly for the bands my generation was weaned on, like Mastodon, Opeth, Lamb of God, Converge, Gojira, and Meshuggah, when you think about it, Dillinger were the first great one. By the time they had made Miss Machine in 2004 – the same year Leviathan and Ashes of the Wake were released – it had already been some time since they put to tape two of the greatest recordings of all time. Calculating Infinity is a rough, flowering tour-de-force, while Irony is a Dead Scene is a fleeting avant-garde masterpiece. Their early years reached an artistic peak, for them, that most bands go entire careers without achieving.

Then it got interesting.

A trio of albums – Ire Works, Option Paralysis, and One of Us is the Killer – did nothing short of completely redefine the boundaries of guitar-based music (and what I’ve heard from the upcoming Dissociation suggests that the album will continue this trend). They are such dense, mind-warping pieces of art, that I’m not sure any journalist, fan, or band has truly come to terms with just how radical, and most importantly, how personal they are. We’re talking Bobby Fischer chess; Tarantino in the ’90s; Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. Their output from 2007 to the present is one of the all-time greatest runs in art history. In metal, I’m not sure any band other than Metallica in the ’80s has had a run on that level – one that relentlessly grows, redefines, and challenges itself — all while remaining true to the principles of spontaneous, free expression.

This is because, unlike basically any band ever, these guys never once took the foot off the gas pedal. They are going out on top, Michael Strahan-style. Rather than fade away, they’re doubling down on their artistic vitality. They’re leaving behind a legacy on their own terms, decisively, as we can and should expect them to. The band, and more importantly, our experience of the band, is something special, something so much more than an album or song – a flash in time.

This flash happened during a strange time in music history. In an interview with Party Smasher, Refused told Ben Weinman that because the business has completely collapsed on a financial level, the very meaning of a band has a chance to be something special, something more personal, than ever before. Many of Dillinger’s peers — like Mastodon and Lamb of God — have gone on to be absorbed into what remains of the major-label, mainstream PR world. Meanwhile, DEP occupied a strange niche where they were at once a band popular enough that the machine had to deal with them, yet were always staunchly independent, remaining on the level of their fans and supporters.

This point is critical. Their independence — as a business and as creators, from the expectations of what it means to be a “band” or to be “punk,” from the expectations of their followers, and from their own self-definition — has been all-encompassing. Hell, this independence even stretches to their own freaking bodies, which they’ve ravaged through years of pure-batshit stage shows — which are also the closest thing we have to the spirit of improvisation during the golden age of jazz in the ’50s. Spontaneous, but with a purpose.

In that sense, their story is truly an American one, much like their namesake. John Dillinger was a messy, chaotic, dangerous bank robber. He wasn’t the best, he wasn’t perfect, but he went out in a disgusting blaze of glory that was all his own. DEP is great because they do not question for a moment their right to do whatever the fuck they want, and whatever is right. Not what’s punk, metal, “radical,” or expected, but what must be done. They are among the few remaining champions of free expression in music. That’s rare in any art form, let alone metal and punk music. We’ve had a few of these kinds of outliers within the system, like Frank Zappa, Led Zeppelin, and King Crimson, but only a few. Even the canonized, legendary giants of punk and hardcore music never reached the consistent artistic and daring heights that Dillinger did.

To paraphrase Ben Weinman, they’ve never let the system make them its bitch. They’ve made it their bitch. In an era of copycat bands, Vitamin Water-sponsored “punk” culture, keyboard criticism, and just plain conservatism, this band were never afraid to just be themselves. On the surface, their art is completely inaccessible and possibly inane. Yet the deeper you go, down to the minutae of their rhythmic and melodic ideas, the more rewarding the music is. While every other band was dolled up real pretty, playing the same tired old riffs, headbanging in unison, half-assing their shows, and giving the same stock press shlock, the lens of expression for Dillinger only widened.

It may not be the official music history narrative – but for those who know what’s up, who were there to bear witness to something truly special, The Dillinger Escape Plan are the defining band of this generation, and of the genre. Who else even comes close?

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