Review Summary: When Good Bands Do Bad Things
Dillinger Escape Plan - Ire Works
We live in a strange world. The group of people responsible for creating the music heard on the albums Calculating Infinity
and Miss Machine
, Dillinger Escape Plan, are essentially legendary. Both of their previous albums were heralded as insanely inventive and technical. Let me tell you, they are. Dillinger Escape Plan are relentlessly brutal and sometimes even unpalatable, but their music has always been strikingly original and interesting. Even if you can't really wrap your mind around the octatonic guitar riffing or the alternating asymmetric time signatures, hearing what probably sounds to you like a very heavy version of circus music will at least pique your interest, whether by inspiring fear and disgust or awe and admiration. Calculating Infinity was a more brutal release. There wasn't one corner of that album that didn't challenge the norms of what it meant to be "technical" in metal in 1999. Even tracks like "Weekend Sex Change," which were highly atmospheric and electronic, were compositionally technical in a way other heavy music wasn't. The landmark tracks like "Sugar Coated Sour" and "43% Burnt" were memorable and stunning, ripping through the cheesy shred of a band like Dragonforce with ease. Miss Machine
, though not as revolutionary as CI
, was DEP's most profound release. Instead of the technobabble of a track like "Destro's Secret," the listener was presented with oddly potable tracks like "Sunshine the Werewolf" and "Setting Fire to Sleeping Giants." Even the more crushing tracks like "Panasonic Youth" were anthemic instead of acerbic. The single track though that represented DEP's change was "Unretrofied," which featured a tonal, consonant, 4-bar chord progression as the reprise, and a verse-chorus-verse song structure to boot. Despite this straight-forward approach to songwriting, DEP still crafted a challenging and interesting song that was catchier than anything they had previously recorded, yet still in the spirit of Dillinger Escape Plan.
Now, it's 2007, and Calculating Infinity
is part of some math metal mythology as much as it's part of Dillinger Escape Plan's discography. Miss Machine
is still a shining example of DEP at their best. Ire Works
is just sort of poopy by comparison. On a whole, Ire Works
is a boring reduction of their previous styles that fails to elevate the technicality, songwriting, melody, production, really anything, of the previous releases. But before ripping into this album failings, let's at least enjoy its successes. On a song to song level, Ire Works
contains some blistering songs. The album starts admirably, albeit predictably, with "Fix Your Face" (or as I think of it "Panasonic Youth pt. 2") and "Lurch." Both tracks serve as a reintroduction to how brutal and challenging DEP can be. Other tracks like "Nong Eye Gong," "82588," and "Part Smahser" pretty consistently bring the mosh and teched out time changes in the typical Dillinger style. DEP also succeeds in their experimentation on some of the tracks. "When Acting as a Particle" begins with some gamelan-esque metallophones that permeate the sound of the interesting 1:28. To mix those rhythmically regular yet ominous tones with math metal is pretty inspired and awesome. "Mouth of Ghosts" also makes positive strives towards experimentation. Its production and post-rock song structure are really refreshing considering the typical Dillinger sound. The piano and other ambient effects are especially effective and even make the cheesy Romantic chord progression really cool. Lastly, an important yet obvious positive of Ire Works
is that instrumental work is insanely impressive. DEP are a chops band for people who hate chops bands. The playing on this album is just as jaw-dropping as those on previous albums. In particular, the bass playing is much improved, or at least is more prominent, as I found myself enjoying little fills and what can even be described as lead bass riffing.
Despite these positives, this album is tarnished by an overwhelming number of negatives. First off is the production. While on some tracks like the two "When Acting..." tracks, the production is incredibly interesting and makes the songs, on other songs it's just frustrating and cluttered. The instrumental breaks on "Milk Lizard" are messy and discombobulated. Piano bounces off guitar and ambient noise tracks with no real differentiation between parts, nor a gratifying sense of wielding noise. It's just mush without flavor. The songwriting is also weaker. There are a few cool new additions in the motif-based "Mouth of Ghosts" and the percussion-based "When Acting as a Particle," but in general there are three types of songs: metal mindfuc
ks, "experimental" ambient tracks, and goofball pop-metal tracks. The first form is good but not great. DEP has mastered the chaotic mini-epic. Being dragged through miles of different time signatures and jagged riffing in 2 minutes or so has been mastered, but it's somewhat predictable in 2007. The experimental tracks aren't as claustrophobic and crazy as the ones on Calculating Infinity
and not as brooding as "Phone Home" from Miss Machine
. "Sick on Sunday," while cool in premise (heavy breakbeat and other electronic sounds mixed with grind), sounds like a poor man's Genghis Tron in practice or an imitation Venetian Snares. Lastly, the pop-metal tracks are immediately not as likable or as well-conceived as "Unretrofied," the only previous poppy track in DEP's discography. "Black Bubblegum" barely crosses its own finish line with a tedious 4:10 run time and "Dead as History" though pretty cool in the beginning, ultimately becomes a goofy regurgitation of stock Coheed and Cambria riffing and chord progressions. That's right I said it: "Dead as History" is just a weak Coheed song. Maybe DEP were sardonically alluding to Chris Pennie leaving to play for Co&Ca (which would be fairly genius in terms of self-aware songwriting), but more likely is that they fell trap to the cheesy loftiness of bands they seem to hate. My last big gripe on this album is with the vocal performance. Greg is an amazing vocalist. He really is. However, he needs to get out of the shadow of Mike Patton. Miss Machine
was a chance for him to get his bearings within the band, and as one may imagine he relied on Patton's style to some success. "Baby's First Coffin" was one particular song where Greg's ability to invoke Patton took the song above and beyond. On Ire Works
such invocations are strained and obvious, and moments where Greg is being more straight-forward or singular feel flat. Some moments on the album are vocally gripping, but in general it's just more of the same.
And while I've sufficiently pooped all over this album, I still sort of like it. I'll admit that it's a fun time. I like the idea of the unexpected appearances of breakbeat, glitch, pop, prog rock, etc. but ultimately these influences are kitschy instead of catchy. I can't help but admire the wondrous technicality of the band members, but I wonder if they could have deployed it in a more tasteful way. In general, I even like Greg's vocals as they are powerful and cut through the mix, but in the end he hasn't really stretched himself since Miss Machine
. I feel like the shortcomings of this album are not a result of bad ideas or a stunted creativity - DEP has reams of good ideas - it's just the execution that holds this album back from being great.