Weinman wears his punk influence on his shirt-sleeves, literally, during a 2011 gig in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Less obvious are his strikingly diverse guitar influences, which include SRV, King Crimson, and John McLaughlin.
Photo by Chris Kies
Heavy metal has an unfortunate way of homogenizing itself over time. For a form that reveled in originality and defiance at its advent, there remains much myopic worship for the genre’s past, and plenty of focus on fusing various styles to achieve new levels of “heaviness.” But less often does a band forge a truly unique voice. Dillinger Escape Plan is one group that hasn’t ridden coattails to the cutting edge, but in large part tended to its very sharpening since emerging as a whirling maelstrom of aggression from New Jersey’s metal and hardcore scene 20 years ago.
Since the release of their debut full-length, 1999’s mind-bending Calculating Infinity, Dillinger Escape Plan has fearlessly created music that challenges with its speed, astonishing aggression, jazz fusion-informed guitar work, and mercurial shifts in meter and dynamics that have become the band’s trademark. The potent, if often terrifying, sound the Dillinger Escape Plan has crafted for itself has influenced and inspired a generation of metal fans to seek a world beyond the walls of 4/4 time and the pentatonic riffs of yore, and is largely responsible for defining the archetype of the “mathcore” sound. Add in a legendary live show spawned from the instinctive, violent, self-immolating performance art of punk’s glory days, and the Dillinger Escape Plan remains one of the most important groups in the contemporary metal underground.
With the release of the band’s sixth album, Dissociation, the Dillinger Escape Plan has given the world its swan song. Adopting the philosophy that it’s better to turn out the light on your own terms—as it shines its brightest—rather than suffer the trauma of burning out, the Dillinger Escape Plan has announced that Dissociation will be its final release.Citing the band’s impending 20th anniversary and the reality that its members won’t physically be capable of the violent onstage catharsis that is almost as entrenched in DEP’s legend as the music itself, the genre-forging group from Jersey has given itself one hell of a nail to hang its hat on.
Rendered in flourishes of musical schizophrenia that jut between the band’s manic heavy metal, melodic rock, and even electronic elements, Dissociation is beholden to absolutely nothing in the way of sonic boundaries, yet is somehow as cohesive a statement as the band has ever released. It’s a triumphant final work that displays what’s possible when a volatile group matures without sacrificing its original intent.
Guiding the Dillinger Escape Plan’s chaos is founder, creative architect, and guitarist, Ben Weinman. A dexterous and adventurous player and songwriter, Weinman has looked after Dillinger’s garden of sonic insanity through lineup changes, record label fallout, and the general turbulence that plagues artists who create unapologetically outside the easily digested norm. We spoke with Weinman about his guitar and composition philosophies, his unexpected musical roots, and the process of giving life to an album that bears the weight of finality.
Had the band already agreed this album would be the last when you hit the studio to track it?
It was discussed during the early stages of songwriting, but finishing the songs and completing the lyrics was done with that knowledge.
Was there something specific you wanted to say with Dissociation—a final statement for this band?
It’s really hard for us to be objective this close to it. It’s always something that comes with the clarity of time, but that’s a hard question to answer. We’ve never done concept records where we go in with an idea about how we’re going to do things or some specific narrative, but I’d say the main difference this time around is that we didn’t let people sway us during the process.
This statement is entirely ours and we wanted to do what we wanted to do this time, and we didn’t allow anyone else’s agenda to impact us. For example, Greg [Puciato, vocals] wasn’t feeling it immediately, so we pushed the album release date back and gave him more time to spend with the music before tracking vocals, which is atypical because we’re usually on a schedule with the label and what not. Greg didn’t finish his vocals until two months after the rest of the album was completely finished.
We didn’t want to have any regrets and we didn’t adhere to anyone else’s guidelines, even to the extent that people would tell us we’re doing things wrong and our battle cry became “there’s more than one way to skin a cat!” I think that phrase came out of my mouth a thousand times throughout the recording process—both in reference to musical and management decisions.
Another example is that we wanted to mix our album with our longtime friend Kurt Ballou of Converge and he was only available during a specific time, and we thought the record would be ready by then, but it wasn’t and the vocals weren’t done, so we just mixed it without vocals. Everyone around the project was like “you can’t do that!” and we just went with it, and the result didn’t suffer for it, in our opinion.
FACTOID: Dillinger Escape Plan wanted Kurt Ballou to mix Dissociation, their sixth and possibly last album. Because the vocals hadn’t been recorded when Ballou was available, he mixed the album without them.
It sounds extremely cohesive and that speaks to how carefully the band put it together.
I will say that, while it’s hard to believe because of how united we all are now and how proud we all are of this album now, the only people that had faith in it during the majority of the process of making this album were Billy [Rymer, drums] and I. Everybody expressed things like “this isn’t Dillinger” or “this isn’t good enough” or “this is too weird for us” and every now and again, Billy and I—who generally complete much of the musical side of things in this band before any other people get ahold of it and do their thing—would have to separate ourselves and get away from the team, and get back into it and confirm that where we were headed was right.
We constantly had to say “trust the process” and ask others to trust us. There was a lot of negativity, and people were living in different states and it was a mess. I constantly had to say to myself and everyone else, “I may not be good at almost anything else in this world, but I know how to fucking make a Dillinger Escape Plan record because for 20 years that’s the only thing I’ve confirmed that I can do—so shut up and trust the process!” And then, as everyone started taking it in and adding their parts to it and gluing it all together, it suddenly became everyone’s best performance. Everybody feels that way now.
There are no regrets. I think it’s particularly Greg’s best performance and the most honest he’s ever been on any album, which is ironic because he wasn’t confident in it at first. I think he’s matured to the point where he’s being truly reactive to the music and not thinking about what’s supposed to be happening during something or what I would want over a part. He reacted to the songs and added something really special because of that. And we had to trust Greg’s process, too! That was another side of it, giving him the space he needed.