Friday, April 1, 2011

5 Star Corner: The DIllinger Escape Plan - Under the Running Board (Relapse)

Seven-and-a-half minutes.

Four hundred and fifty-three seconds.

In the half hour I dedicate to listening to a given EP when I'm sitting down to review it, I can listen to Under the Running Board four times.

If I did my usual thing and wrote the review as I listened to it one final time, I doubt the review would make it to 200 words (I'm a slow typer, so fucking sue me)

Seven-and-a-half minutes, and yet this is the standard bearer for an entire subgenre.

Is it wrong to heap that sort of a plaudit onto a release so small? Well, keep in mind that the subgenre we're talking about here is one where quick-change acts are the raison d'être, or at least the dominant feature. So a seven-and-a-half minute stretch in mathcore circles is more than enough time to get all manor of ideas across. Hell, even in the sub-two minute ball of fury that kicks off Under the Running Board there are at least a half dozen distinct movements, and that's the shortest of the release's three tracks. So in terms of ideas, there's more than enough time here to assert your dominance over your peers, to provide a sort of benchmark for your followers, to create a release that even you can't ever match up to as you go on. A release like Under the Running Board would be an appetizer for most other artists, for The Dillinger Escape Plan it's a challenge.

The gauntlet is pretty handily laid down by the opening track, the aforementioned "The Mullet Burden," which lays out everything that this EP will be doing in less than two minutes. As I said, there's a wealth of distinct movements herein, but the key is that they all work together to create a compelling whole. It would be one thing to lay out the various pieces that make up the track and play them as is - this is the sort of thing that I think Coalesce did at this point, one of the reasons they never really worked for me - but another to find ways to integrate them into each other, to make them work as a song and not just as unrelated pieces. There's also the fact that even though the various movements barely last more than 20 seconds apiece on average, they all make an impression. Whether it's the interlocking scales that end the song or the weirdly arrhythmic solo that's underpinned by chords that wouldn't sound out of place on a jazz album, each tiny piece of the whole leaves a mark.

That's even more true on "Sandbox Magician," where my single favorite part of the song is the unprecedented clean guitar break that interrupts the burgeoning rhythm riff at the start. It comes almost out of nowhere, it's never even hinted at again, but it winds up being the song's defining moment for me. Maybe it's just that it distills the thing that I love most about this EP, the sense that anything can happen, and will happen, if only for a few seconds. There's similar interruptions at other points in the song too, but that first one stands out most, probably because it's never explained or revisited. It could also be a function of the more straightforward nature of the song. Sure, there's still an array of distinct pieces in play, but they're much more uniform in their tone. Of all the tracks on there it's the closest to straight up metalcore, heavily rhythmic and breakdown-y though not without its flourishes.

Similarly straightforward, but better overall, is "Abe the Cop." In the scope of this EP, "Abe" is epic and sprawling, a whopping three minutes long, which does something that the other tracks can't do: it lets the movements breathe. There's also a greater sense of escalation, building up to a slightly more intense, oddly timed breakdown from a less grandiose set of early movements. It's also the EP's best showcase for vocalist Dimitri Minakakis, whose intense, foreboding vocals carry the song much more so than the tightly interlocking instrumental underneath. More than that though, it's the biggest hint that the band's compositional style has more to it than being well executed riff salad. The way that the song loops back around to the initial theme after it climaxes shows a lot more thought that those who write this off as complexity for its own sake would believe.

So yeah, in less time than it takes to properly barbecue a burger, Dillinger Escape Plan made the entire nascent mathcore genre their bitch. I don't think any other release in this particular arena has come close to the sustained level of quality that this EP offers - even Calculating Infinity has a couple of moments that just don't quite work - and even if its a slighter offering timewise it more than makes up for that with just how much it gets done within that period, and how well it makes excess of information work as individual songs. It's still hard to believe just how much this accomplishes in so little time, but any time that I convince myself that I'm over-praising it, one listen sets me straight. [9.7/10]

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