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One step forward, two steps back
on 3 February 2006
I've never had such conflicting feelings about an album before, having at various times considered this an album of great invention and maturity, and at others a shallow MTV commercial sell-out. In truth it's probably a bit of both.
In short The Dillinger Escape Plan, having made their name by playing ferociously fast discordant jazz-timed metal, have discovered melody and BIG CHORUSES. Whether you believe that they have taken this route out of genuine musical inspiration or whether they are just selling out to the almighty dollar will therefore colour your opinion of the resulting album. It's not all melody - the opening song is typically fractured stop-start Dillinger, whilst the second track mutates from the standard Dillinger sound into a more heavy Neurosis / Cult of Luna dirge. The further the album goes on though, the more the songs alternate between melodic rock and Dillinger's more familiar aggressive sound. I can fully understand Dillinger wanting some variety on the album - as fantastic as their Under the Running Board EP was an entire album full of tracks that fast and furious would be overwhelming - what I don't understand is their gravitation towards big melodic choruses and simple 4/4 beats; it is possible to slow down without sounding commercial. As such then this is both innovative for Dillinger and also a massive step back, with the band now often sounding like Faith No More or Nine Inch Nails. The melodic songs reach their nadir in Setting Fire to Sleeping Giants, with its nasally whining pop-punk chorus making the band sound like Busted or Green Day (and yes - there's now a video on MTV of this track). |Then, just when you're about ready to toss the album into the garbage, the band kick in with the best song on the album in Baby's First Coffin. The heavier side of the band win out in the end, with about two thirds of the album leaning towards aggression and invention over commercial melody, so this is probably just a bit too extreme to accuse Dillinger of blatant selling out, but with Miss Machine the band are definitely taking a long hard look at the MTV trendy teen audience.
I started listening to bands like Dillinger to find interesting and challenging music, so I hope they step back from the brink of selling out their original fanbase for short term gain of a fickle trend based audience, a la Metallica, Machine Head and a million other once great bands. There's still some good material on Miss Machine - but it's a backwards step from Calculating Infinity. If you're into Nine Inch Nails and Faith No More you'll be blown away by how extreme this album is - but if like me you come to this as a fan of Dillinger's previous spastic grindcore you may well be disappointed. The jury's out on this one.
NB: This album is also available as a limited edition with a bonus live DVD, though the footage is so rough and bad bootleg quality its not worth paying loads more for; there's also an import version with two decent cover versions which is better - if you can track it down there's also an ultra-rare Japanese version with both the extra tracks and the live DVD.