How The Dillinger Escape Plan changed metal

Greg Puciato bleeding from his head
TDEP are bloody good (Image credit: Getty)

In 1998, System Of A Down played their debut UK shows, opening for Slayer and Sepultura over three nights at the now defunct London Astoria. It’s fair to say they confused people. Heads were scratched, arms remained folded and – save for a handful of clued up hardcore fans at the front – traditionally-minded metal fans didn’t appreciate the weird collision of sounds SOAD were dishing out. Fast forward three years and System Of A Down were in the UK again, touring their Toxicity album. Once again, the opening band were receiving a hostile reception from a partisan crowd. But this time it was System’s crowd. System’s popularity had exploded by that time, and the band they hand-picked to open for them, and who were experiencing such outward distain from the gathered masses, were the little known The Dillinger Escape Plan.

We bring this up not just to highlight the fickle nature of how a band’s fortunes can ebb and flow, but also to point out that The Dillinger Escape Plan have always had an undeniable kinship with rock and metal’s most pioneering acts; from SOAD to Nine Inch Nails, to Faith No More and The Dead Kennedys. Dillinger are unique, surprising, untameable and they’re impossible to second guess. This weekend, they announced that their forthcoming album Dissociation will be their last. Just like with everything they do, we didn’t see that one coming… But it makes sense. Why not invent a genre, reinvent yourselves just as your peers thought they were getting tantalisingly close to emulating what you did, continue to push yourselves, refuse to grow stale, never become redundant, influence countless bands, experience the sort of commercial success that would have seemed impossible when you first formed and go out whilst people are still hungry for you? Sounds like the perfect career plan, right? Well, Dillinger have just executed it.

Greg Puciato and Ben Weiman head out into the crowds

Greg Puciato and Ben Weiman head out into the crowds (Image credit: Getty Images)

So what is it about DEP that took them out of the underground hardcore scene of the late 90s, ahead of exceptional cult peers Coalesce, Botch, Drowningman or Candiria, and onto some of the biggest festival stages in the world? When the game-changing Calculating Infinity tore a hole in extreme music in 1999, it was clear DEP had made an album that redefined what metal, hardcore and technicality meant. It was compared with Napalm Death’s classic Scum by the music press at the time, in that at that point it was something no one could even have conceived of, let alone heard before. It influenced the proto-tech metal of Sikth – who supported the band on one of their first UK visits, and have gone on to help influence an entire genre themselves – and paved the way for bands like Poison The Well, Converge and Cave In to reach a whole new audience; bands that, before DEP, had the doors of the mainstream firmly shut to them. When Greg Puciato replaced Dimitri Minakakis and the band unleashed Miss Machine in 2004, he brought melody and hooks to a type of music that had previously been considered impenetrable to a ‘normal’ person’s ear. It’s a trick that Bring Me The Horizon, Architects and many others have done their best to pull off since. And still they continued to progress, with Ire Works in 2007 having actual singles, like the serial killer pop of Black Bubblegum, and with 2010’s Option Paralysis, where every song was a perfect encapsulation of their aesthetic.

But, as much as they’ll be remembered for their flawless back catalogue, they’ll be remembered for the live shows that have passed into legend. Sure, bands had played hard and let themselves go wild before; from The Stooges’ proto-punk antics, to Bad Brains blowing everyone they went near offstage in the early years of hardcore, to David Yow and The Jesus Lizard stalking their audience in the early 90s. But the wild abandon of a Dillinger show took all of that to the extreme… while playing a style of music that most musicians would struggle to grasp even when sat down. Since then Gallows, Heck, Fucked Up, Feed The Rhino, Trash Talk, Letlive. and many other bands have been tagged with the ‘amazing live act’ brush. They all owe a debt to the physical exertions of The Dillinger Escape Plan.

If you haven’t seen them, you’ve got one more chance. Take it. This won’t be a group going through the motions for a pay cheque one last time. It will be one of the 21st century’s most important and enduring acts doing the thing they’ve always done. It’ll make you redefine in your own mind just what you consider a ‘good’ band to mean. It will be emotional, it will be unforgettable and it will be sugar-coated sour. RIP DEP.

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Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.