The Dillinger Escape Plan has been wreaking musical havoc on a pretty unprecedented scale for nearly 20 years now. The band makes music that sounds like what mentally ill robots hear after their Kill All Humans switch has been flipped, and their legendary live shows have spread the group’s oddly geometric disease over the decades via onstage feats like fire breathing, instrument-drowning and uncontrollable defecation. They’ve got a new album out on their own label, and they’re generally as fascinating and terrifying as ever.
So why are they breaking up?
DEP guitarist/founder Ben Weinman broke the news back in August that the blasting and shrieking would be silenced for good once the band’s current tour wraps up; they arrive at White Oak Music Hall on Sunday. Certainly, nothing good lasts forever. But nobody in Dillinger is dead or in rehab, and presumably, they’ve all still got bills to pay. Is this really the end of one of extreme rock’s biggest boundary-pushers?
“This really, literally is a breakup,” Weinman says. “This isn’t a scheme or anything like that. It’s interesting, because a lot of people, including some of the guys in the band, were confused: We’ve never been more prolific; our last album was maybe our best-received and our shows are better than ever. Everything is really going great, so why would we call it quits now? And the answer is that just because we never want to be a band that just beats this thing to death.
“We didn’t really want to be a parody of ourselves,” Weinman continues. “We never wanted to do it just because we had no other options, or because we’re expected to. We never want to be a band that just ends because we have to, because of injury or because of life circumstances or because people stop coming to shows or we just don’t have anything to say creatively. We really wanted to be in a scenario like any great novel or other piece of art that has a definitive ending and purpose.”
It’s a decision this blogger can respect but still be saddened by. I never considered the Dillinger Escape Plan my favorite band, but they were always one of the most important to me. They arrived at just the right time: the late ’90s, a particularly fallow period for heavy music. The likes of Korn and Rob Zombie were the standard-bearers of metal at the time, and although some cool stuff was roiling in the underground, it failed to reach out and grab me until I saw DEP blow the roof off of Fitzgerald’s in ’99.
There were about 27 of us at that show, but I bet we all still remember it vividly. Dillinger performed the most challenging, fractious music I’d ever heard with a physicality I’d only read about in books and articles about Black Flag and Iggy Pop. They seemed deliberately striving to leap beyond both, and it’s hard to argue they fell short. That night, the Korn poster came down from my bedroom wall, and a whole new world of underground music opened up to me.
“Dillinger was really just formed as an effort to just create something that we wanted to hear, without any intention of tweaking some certain market or pleasing a fanbase,” Weinman says. “When we made this band, it was during the height of nu-metal, and we were like the antithesis of that. It was metal that was formulaic and predictable and catchy, and it catered to a large audience and radio. We were the opposite of that. I think we didn’t have any intention other than selfish satisfaction at that time.”
Their notoriety among people looking for the wildest rock and roll spectacle available grew quickly. Band members came and went, but Weinman, armed with his self-aware chainsaw of a guitar, remained the group’s chief visionary. In 2001, he found an important collaborator in vocalist Greg Puciato, who answered an open call on the Internet. His elastic voice and eye-popping intensity fit right in immediately, as did his rafter-climbing fearlessness.
Together, the band toured the planet and played big festivals. They opened for Metallica and Nine Inch Nails and put out a bunch of mostly unclassifiable records. The newest is called Dissociation, a fitting title for a group about to part ways. Musically, it’s manic, eclectic and darkly internal.
“A big part of the album, the idea that where we are right now in our lives and the things we want to change are on us, as opposed to on somebody else,” Weinman says. “That’s a big change about this album from the rest. We started out just using this band to just vent and scream in people’s faces and make music that pissed people off. It was a way to vent the week off. As we went through time, we used it to express that our lives were a pain in the ass because our relationships are just a mess and we’re always on the road.
“Finally, we’re at a point now that we feel we’ve gotten through all that, and we’re on a new level of emotional maturity,” the guitarist continues. “So, in a way, that’s it: We’re there, we made it! We’ve gotten through all the levels of the game. It’s time to go on and do something else.”
The group, he says, is not just emotionally ready for new challenges. After years and years of punishing gigs, they’re physically ready, too.
“Let’s just say my new girlfriend is a doctor,” Weinman says, laughing. “That’s not necessarily unintentional. There are definitely some surgeries in my near future once this is all over. The truth is, it’s the shows that keep you going. It’s the spaces in between that get harder and harder. That’s probably what I’m most scared of, is not having that outlet to take my mind off these injuries or these difficulties and having to just continually exist in that space between the shows.”
It will still be awhile before that existence becomes permanent. DEP has nearly two full years of touring ahead of them for Dissociation. Once that’s over, Weinman says, he’ll devote his time to his label, Party Smasher Inc., and other creative projects, like his new band Giraffe Tongue Orchestra. But he’s got no plans to embark on anything as ambitious as Dillinger Escape Plan has been.
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Frankly, it will be pretty hard to top.
“Honestly, I’ve met my musical heroes through this band,” Weinman says. “Some of them consider me a peer, which is insane to me. I’ve seen every corner of the earth playing music that I never thought anyone would even like. We’ve made a living; we’ve met some of the most important people in my life — people I want in my life for the rest of my life — through this band. I’m definitely really proud of everything we’ve accomplished.
“We always pushed the limits of what was possible, or even acceptable, within the subgenre of this music,” Weinman says. “We’ve also been a band that’s been able to just exist within its own space. We never really fit in anywhere, yet we continued to thrive. That’s something that I’d like to be remembered for, as a band that was able to accomplish that.”
The Dillinger Escape Plan and special guests Entheos, Cult Leader and O’Brother will make a few new memories at White Oak Music Hall on Sunday, November 6. Doors open at 7 p.m.