Album Review: The Dillinger Escape Plan’s “Dissociation”

After 20 years, The Dillinger Escape Plan (DEP) is breaking up following the touring cycle for their new album, “Dissociation.” DEP is known for pioneering “mathcore,” a subgenre of punk rock defined by rapidly-shifting time signatures and tempos. On “Dissociation,” released on Oct. 14, DEP continues to rage against genre boundaries.

The album is much more well-produced than other works in the genre. Electronics can be heard throughout the album, along with strings performed by SEVEN)SUNS, a Brooklyn-based quartet. While DEP has dabbled with this sort of ornamentation previously, it is very prevalent on “Dissociation.” These additions do not draw away from the five main band members’ performances, thanks to a strong mix by Converge’s Kurt Ballou. The rhythm section has a punchier low end, and the guitars and vocals are very present. The nuances in each musician’s performance can be easily heard, which is oftentimes not the case with the extreme music that DEP plays.

Compositionally, “Dissociation” stands out from other works tagged as “mathcore.” Many of the songs are close to five minutes long, a far cry from the two-minute outbursts common to the genre. Further, the band incorporates a wide dynamic range across the album, juxtaposing heavy sections with more restrained passages. On “Low Feels Blvd,” the band jumps into a jazz fusion section during an otherwise aggressive, chaotic track. “Fugue” is a four-minute electronica interlude reminiscent of Aphex Twin, and other tracks interweave electronics into DEP’s sound as well. Strings appear throughout the album, but are most prominent on the album’s final two tracks, “Nothing to Forget” and “Dissociation.” Although these tracks are not as musically interesting or complex as those preceding them, DEP’s decision to have their final album end in a fashion this far outside their genre’s norms is a bold statement.

As with many releases in extreme music, the vocal delivery will make or break “Dissociation” for many. Much of vocalist Greg Puciato’s work on this album is very raw in both delivery and content. The album’s lyrics are dark and intensely personal, covering Puciato’s struggles with mental illness and personal relationships. During the midsection of opener “Limerent Death,” he repeats “I gave you everything you wanted/you were everything to me,” first as an aggressive shout, but slowly crescendoes into a banshee-like howl. While Puciato does use his trademark aggressive vocal style on much of the album, he incorporates melodic singing as well. However, the lyrical content he expresses in these sections is no less dark; the album ends with the line “finding a way to die alone.” If you are looking for easy-to-digest lyrics, look elsewhere.

Overall, “Dissociation” is a challenging listen. It will not convert the average music fan to the band, and its production may steer away diehard punks. However, DEP is ending its run on its own terms: not with a bang, but with an eviscerating howl.