(BadWolf reviews the new album from The Dillinger Escape Plan.)
Originality is The Dillinger Escape Plan’s stock-and-trade. Their blend of atonal mathcore and pop hooks still stands out a decade after they first perfected it, despite the run of knockoff bands. However unique their style remains, they’ve done fairly little to change the formula since their sophomore record, 2004’s Miss Machine. The two albums since more-or-less re-tread that amazing album’s ground, albeit with a few different experiments here and there. And every record since has been incrementally less brilliant. Until now.
2013’s One of Us Is the Killer is another stab at that classic album’s formula, but it comes closest to catching that record’s spark. While Dillinger always produce excellent records, they progress more like books of Bukowski poems than novels—by that I mean they’re often best digested a few random songs at a time. (I wonder how much time DEP spend on track-listing their albums.) And of course, as is often the case with experimental music, some songs work better as stand-alone pieces, and some don’t work at all.
Each song works on One of Us Is the Killer. It dials down the bullshit: only one laptop interlude a la Ire Works, and no six-plus-minute trudges—I expected the album to tack toward radio play after DEP signed to Sumerian Records, who seem more interested in pimping Asking Alexandria than making good metal these days, but I found myself pleasantly surprised. The record sounds more savage than Miss Machine by a hair’s breadth.
The pop-styled balladry that has become Greg Puciato’s trademark is kept at a (still indispensable) minimum. He starts his clean signing in earnest three songs in, on the title track. “One of Us Is the Killer,” by the way, deserves a permanent slot in DEP’s live repertoire. Then again, so did “Black Bubblegum” before it. In retrospect, DEP has always had a particular knack for the soft songs, which is why paring them down works in the band’s favor—it’s difficult to enjoy Ire Works when you know “Black Bubblegum” is coming up, or has passed, because it’s so excellent and so different from the rest of the album. The title track here blends in with the songs around it more smoothly.
Actually, every song fits snugly with the rest of the album, and One of Us Is the Killer flows better for it. “Prancer,” already released, starts the album with a tantrum as well as a great anthem, and the songs that follow show a remarkable amount of focus: “Hero of the Soviet Union,” “Nothing’s Funny,” all the way down to “The Magic That Held You Prisoner”, all make room for at least one powerful hook. In that sense it is actually the peppiest DEP album, despite the more furious track-listing. And trust me, it is furious—“The Magic…” actually made me panic in my earbuds the same way “43% Burnt” did when I first heard it. Even the second ‘ballad,’ “Crossburner,” has a menace to it that DEP’s previous ballads did not; and it pulls out of mellowness into white-knuckle rage by the end, anyway.
One of Us Is the Killer is an album full of red herrings. What starts off with a straightforward thrash riff will descend into fret-tapping madness. What begins with Converge-levels of hatred might find a mellow, electronic interlude. Even the closer, “The Threat Posed by Nuclear Weapons,” can’t really decide what it is at the start, a third ballad, or the meanest track on the record. The title of that song, and “Hero of…” both suggest political subtexts, but Puciato’s lyrics sound as personal as ever, even though he’s apparently happily dating Jenna Haze (or at least was when I last checked). The album’s art suggests tar-and-feathering, and certainly these DEP songs sound like pointed indictments—but are the mathcore cowboys the vengeful scapegoats, or the grand inquisitors? One of Us Is the Killer offers no easy answers, just seriously pissed music.
EDITOR’S NOTE: One of Us is the Killer will be released tomorrow, May 14, on the Sumerian label in North America. DEP’s Facebook page is here, and the entire album is now streaming at Pitchfork, via the link below, and after the link you’ll find all of the songs and videos that have individually premiered to date: