[from Reservoir / November 28, 2007]
Once upon a time, and a very good time it was, technical music was exclusively the province of either extremely pretentious prog-rock acts cranking out double-digit-length songs or extremely pretentious metal acts cranking out harmony line after harmony line while singing songs about books, myths and imaginary universes. And while some of those prog-rock acts were pretty cool, and while Dream Theater is absolutely supreme, musical complexity has been one of the more divisive issues of the rock and metal communities. One side argues that the other is clinging to an outdated and elitist conceit of musicianship; the other argues that the other’s lack of chops are a disgrace and an affront to anyone who ever bothered to actually learn their instrument and their craft.
This is where Dillinger Escape Plan comes in.
DEP has always played music that is loud, fast and remarkably difficult, often cramming metal riffouts, punk screams and breakbeat interludes into the space of three furious minutes, and their latest Ire Works keeps up the band’s relentless fusion of every genre of heavy music under the sun. From the opening salvo of “Fix Your Face” to the surprisingly tasteful closer “Mouth of Ghosts,” DEP’s modus operandi is only to have no modus operandi. Psychotic double bass drum? Go for it. Quasi-classical piano lines? Sure. Whatever. For a school of music that’s allegedly died so many years ago, this album sure sounds alive in ways that so many of DEP’s contemporaries don’t.
The thing is, after so many years and so many ridiculous instrumental parts by the Alcatrazzes of the world, DEP has crafted an album of innovative, progressive, complicated metal that is almost entirely devoid of those over-the-top fills, solos, unison runs and bag-of-tricks interludes that have come to define what it means to be both heavy and forward-thinking. By eschewing so many of the cliches of what it takes to be either a metal band or a musicianly band, DEP has actually created a body of work that is in some ways even more metal and more musicianly than if they’d taken the time-honored route of six-minute guitar solos.
It goes without saying that DEP aren’t the first band to craft this leaner kind of technical music, and it also goes without saying that they’re not the only band doing this even today (see also Skindred or the brilliantly-named Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza). The difference is that DEP, unlike other bands that talk a mean game about “sonic experimentation” and “open-ended songwriting” and other such nonsense to hide the fact that they’re not as good as their hype and fanboys would suggest, stick to the basic tenet that this kind of music – and really almost any kind of music – is supposed to adhere to, and as two men very wise in such manners so brilliantly put it: it doesn’t matter if it is good, it only matters if it rocks.