The Dillinger Escape Plan – “Option Paralysis”
Short Version: This record slays every other heavy record sent to the ‘head in a long time. Pick it up.
When you’ve put out arguably the most landmark heavy record of the last 15 years or so, the worst thing you can do is try to recreate it over and over again. Fortunately for us (and unfortunately for many a mouth breather out there) The Dillinger Escape Plan didn’t go to the Slayer school of music and never tried to regurgitate Calculating Infinity. Miss Machine and Ire Works may not have had the paradigm shifting impact of Calculating, but they were both balls-alicious artistic statements, putting fans and musicians of all genres on notice as to just how much can be accomplished with guitar, bass, drums and a few other odds and ends. Despite all of the interesting and surprising stylistic left turns DEP have taken in the 11 years since Calculating, perhaps the most surprising thing to us here at the ‘head is just how vocal some people seem to be about DEP supposedly blowing it by occasionally incorporating clean vocals, catchy hooks, some electronics or a piano. Since the release of Miss Machine, these guys (let’s be honest there’s probably very few if any gals in this conversation) have been bumming on DEP and crying how about they’re not as crazy, technical and/or brutal as they used to be. Well fellas here is Option Paralysis, you can go ahead shut the fuck up now.
With their fourth LP The Dillinger Escape Plan have upped their game on every level. Each song on Option Paralysis plays like it is single-handedly making a different sub-genre of music obsolete. For all of you aforementioned kids who only dig “crazy Dillinger” there are 6 tracks on here that absolutely shred anything the band has ever done in the past. Since everything this band has done already shreds the back catalog of pretty much any other contemporary out there, you should probably be sitting down when you listen to the tracks “Farewell, Mona Lisa”, “Good Neighbor”, “Crystal Morning”, “Endless Endings”, “A Room Full of Eyes” and (especially) “I Wouldn’t If You Didn’t”. The level of musicianship, intensity and originality on display in each of these songs matches or surpasses anything on Calculating Infinity.
Opener “Farewell, Mona Lisa” works as a sort of mission statement for the record, marrying a refined and heightened version of the chaos The Dillinger Escape Plan usually unleashes with the brand of off beat melodic experimentation they’ve been quietly perfecting over the past decade. They’ve attempted similar feats before on tracks like Miss Machine‘s “We Are the Storm”, but never this successfully. ”Good Neighbor” follows, sounding like a streamlined version of “43% Burnt”. Don’t let the smoothness of the song’s forward motion fool you- the fact that things sound less jagged here than on previous DEP tracks of its ilk reflects only that the band has dramatically refined their songwriting skills, not that they’ve eased up on their unparalleled technical prowess. If you still have doubts, check out the intro to “Endless Endings”. No other group we’re familiar with, including DEP circa 2000, could make something that insane work so well. The last of the heavy jams “I Wouldn’t If You Didn’t” contains some of the most exhilarating moments on Option Paralysis. One can hardly do more than laugh in amazement at what this band is capable of during the first two minutes and, just when you think things can’t get anymore jaw dropping, legendary avant garde pianist Mike Garsen comes in and blows everyone’s mind during an unexpected melodic break.
That leaves us with the other four tracks, or what many many lazy rock journalists will be referring to as the “Faith No More inspired tracks” when reviewing Option Paralysis. While there may be some vague similarities to FMN that have crept into The Dillinger Escape Plan’s work, not one track on this record sounds like any FMN song we’ve ever heard. Mike Patton did one EP with DEP people, get past it. The most striking aspect these tracks share is how well they fit in with the more intense material. DEP albums past have contained songs that, while individually excellent, did not always fit well amongst the insanity going on around them. “Chinese Whispers” plays like DEP stripped to their punk essence, complete with quite possibly their biggest hook ever. “The Widower” initially revisits some of the territory covered by the Ire Works‘ track “Mouth of Ghosts”, but quickly differentiates itself with a more complex arrangement. Featuring more piano shredding courtesy of Mr. Garsen, “The Widower” sports a late song transition that unfolds something like the musical equivalent of the ending to “The Usual Suspects”. “Parasitic Twin”, the epic closing track, is the band’s most ambitious experiment to date. Creepy electronics and piano provide the foundation for guitarist Jeff Tuttle and vocalist Greg Puciato to pull off a sort of duet culminating in a Beach Boys-esque sing along that would have previously seemed incomprehensible on a DEP record. On repeated listens, this track just might prove to be their finest work.
The most heartening thing about The Dillinger Escape Plan’s performance on Option Paralysis is that there are no weak cogs in the machine, everyone shines. New recruit Billy Rymer has the unenviable job of filling the shoes of both Gil Sharone and, of course, founding DEP drummer Chris Pennie. Fortunately, it seems like Billy is a “can do” kinda guy, cause he can play like those drummers and might have even taken things a step forward here. Rymer and veteran bassist Liam Wilson lock in together on Option Paralysis to a degree unmatched on any previous DEP record. Jeff Tuttle’s vocal contributions add considerable depth to the proceedings, allowing a greater use of vocal counterpoint. Greg Puciato’s vocals are in top form here, proving once again he is one of the most talented, versatile and (most importantly), un-cheesy vocalists working in heavy music right now. Finally, the man behind the curtain, founding guitarist Ben Weinman, injects his already iconic guitar work with a more organic feel. His one of a kind playing shines through equally during the frantic runs of songs like ”Farewell, Mona Lisa” and the murky atmosphere of tracks like “Parasitic Twin”.
The Dillinger Escape Plan have always been about breaking as many musical boundaries as possible. With Calculating Infinity they broke down almost every boundary for heavy music of that era. A decade later, with Option Paralysis, they’ve achieved a feat even grander in scope: they’ve created a heavy record that breaks musical boundaries even outside of the sphere of influence the band normally operates in. Option Paralysis stands as not just an achievement for extreme music, but a step forward in multiple genres simultaneously. If its impact does not exceed that of Calculating it’s only because, as the title alludes to, we are inundated with so much chaff, we no longer know how to recognize the wheat.