It’s been a couple of weeks since One of Us Is the Killer, The Dillinger Escape Plan’s fifth studio album, was released on May 14, 2013. During that time, I’ve been listening to the album nearly nonstop, trying to get a good sense of it in order to accurately review it here. The result: this album is everything we could have hoped for in a new Dillinger album, breaking new, somehow even darker musical ground than in previous albums.
The Dillinger Escape Plan has always been intense, often dragging the listeners into frenetic, impassioned, angry catharsis with their music. Frontman Greg Puciato has proved to be invaluable in this respect, providing apt emotional lyrics and vocals to Ben Weinman’s impossible guitar work. However, the music in past albums has been much more heavily weighted toward the instruments, and the songs stop, start, and jangle along, displaying masterful technical skill that is often tempered by heartfelt passages of lyricism. The balance between cacophony and accessible song has defined The Dillinger Escape Plan, attracting new fans into the band’s unique brand of mathcore.
On One of Us Is the Killer, however, Puciato’s lyrics and vocals seem to be at the forefront. Take a look at the album’s lyric book if you can; the words seem to be scanned directly from Puciato’s written notes, containing corrections, pictures, and other handwritten elements that give the lyrics a sense of immediacy. To emphasize this, the music seems to follow Puciato more than ever, which is fascinating as the band usually writes instrumental music first and vocals second. This is a testament to Puciato’s ever-improving skill, as he is able to make the songs sound as though they were formed around his lyrical and vocal ideas.
One final note before we go into individual tracks: while I never ever categorize Dillinger’s music as “wanky,” this new album seems to be even less wanky than previous albums. The band’s music often focuses on the impossible rhythms and calculated screeches of Weinman’s guitar and Billy Rymer’s drums, often purposefully diverging into longer instrumental experimentation. However, ever since 2007’s Ire Works, Dillinger has been including all aspects of their music into more cohesive creations, and on One of Us Is the Killer, no one aspect of the band seems to dominate another. The musical technicality serves the songs themselves and the vocals enhance the instruments rather than merely sitting on top of them. While Dillinger has been moving in this direction, the new album reaches new heights of this glorious musical integration.
At the beginning of the album, opening tracks “Prancer” and “When I Lost My Bet” immediately unsettle both newcomers to the band and longtime fans alike. For newcomers, these tracks showcase Dillinger’s initially inaccessible nature, hitting them over the head with unbridled aggression and extended clashes. For fans, these tracks, while very Dillinger in feel, seem to be pushing forward into the next idea, never allowing our focus to be on the track itself. This was undoubtedly frustrating for listeners like myself who heard these tracks when they were released before the rest of the album and wondered, “Where is this going? These songs are amazing but they seem unresolved.”
The answer came, as I hoped it would, in the following tracks. Title track “One of Us Is the Killer” creeps in with a mellow introduction, building up slowly to the chorus. In the lyric book, Puciato emphasizes the word “shine” that comes before each chorus by giving it its own line and drawing a rising (or setting) sun on the horizon. This track does indeed shine, with Puciato singing extremely melodically the entire time, proclaiming his darkly shimmering ideas. This is easily the most accessible moment of the album, including some subtle rhythmic changes in the chorus that remind us that this is Dillinger, not Foo Fighters, that we’re listening to.
The next track, “Hero of the Soviet Union,” is a splash of cold acid to the face. After about a minute of chaos, Puciato does something new – he switches back and forth between vocal styles to create a dramatic effect. Sardonically questioning the object of his wrath, he croons “My aren’t you” and screams “Surely finest of the brigade” and other false praises before devolving into a singular, screamed condemnation: “You smell like shit, not the truth. Full of device, not devotion.” After a beautifully straightforward closing section that drips with rage, we move into the next track “Nothing’s Funny.” This track, starting with a stomping, semi-melodic riff, gets strangely ethereal in its pre-chorus, reminding me of moments from Between the Buried and Me’s newest album. The song, along with the title track and “Hero of the Soviet Union,” lets us know that Dillinger means business when it comes to musical progression, and they are not afraid to wax melodic in combination with (not instead of) their unique musical frenzy.
Up next is “Understanding Decay,” which is currently my favorite track on the album. At first listen, the track seems relatively normal; there isn’t anything that initially stands out or punches you in the face. However, once I read the lyrics while listening to the song, a whole new world was opened before me – a world of cryptic religious imagery and mysticism cloaked by anger. The “Call the name out” section takes on a whole new meaning when you read “The cradle wipes blood, red, fresh, and through you, the host has chosen a name. Call the name out.” It honestly gives me the shivers. By the end of the song, in which a quiet, almost chanting set of lines hums the listener into a lull before Puciato bellows the prophetic “Push your fate inside me so that I can open all the passages to other worlds,” my mind is spinning and I feel almost haunted by the imaginative scope of his lyrics. “Understanding Decay,” in my opinion, is the most rewarding tack on the album and it takes several listens, as well as a look at the lyric book, to fully appreciate.
Next is the exciting track “Paranoia Shields,” in which Puciato sings a chilling indictment to a previous lover. In the midsection of the track, we get an instrumental divergence that evokes “Setting Fire to Sleeping Giants” before the song winds itself back to the final chorus. Then the instrumental interlude, “CH 375 268 277 ARS,” rather than being an extended exploration of Weinman, Rymer and bassist Liam Wilson’s musical prowess, pushes the album forward from the dark prophecies of “Understanding Decay” and the snarling lament of “Paranoia Shields” into the curious moment that is “Magic That I Held You Prisoner.” Arguably the only overtly positive moment on the album, the track boasts raucous guitar harmonics and melodic xylophone riffs that break forth from the characteristic Dillinger madness that opens the track. In the main body of the song, which somehow maintains energy even in its changing tone, Puciato sings lines like “But still there is a glowing unconsumed that grows new” and “You don’t have to burn for anyone. You hold grace you can’t see…Now shine out the light from the dark.”
However, this brief moment of hope is quickly absorbed by the almost nihilistic tracks that end the album. “Crossburner” marks Dillinger’s first foray into a slower, elongated form of metal. The track crawls menacingly, building up to a frenzy before Weinman’s chaotic tapping ushers in the final, slower refrain. The lyrics are apologetic, hateful, violent, and despairing all at once, highlighted by the line “I’m sorry it’s so far away” written in tiny letters and separated from the rest of the words in the lyric book. Closer “The Threat Posed by Nuclear Weapons” is equally hopeless in tone, beginning with an almost existential questioning of God that is met with silence. The music constantly shifts between sections, returning on several occasions to the haunting opening guitar part that leads up to the song’s climax, in which a single, chugging note underscores Puciato’s horror-stricken view of humanity’s future: “We’re fucking spiders, spinning to pass the time. Soul dividers, we eat our kind alive.” The song ends with a plea to future generations to learn from current woes before concluding with “Now let’s burn this we created.” The track is equal parts despair and resolve, leaving listeners with an extremely strong, though clearly unresolved ending.
All that being said, I think that what we have here is an album that displays an already exceedingly mature band maturing even further, especially when it comes to lyrical concepts fusing with musical ones. The Dillinger Escape Plan has already proved to us, time and time again, that they are capable of some of the most intense, experimental, and conflictingly inaccessible and accessible sounds in the realm of forward-thinking heavy music. However, with One of Us Is the Killer, they show that they have finally become so comfortable with, to use Ben Weinman’s words, the “musical language” of Dillinger, that they are able to express more complex, fascinating, and ever-engaging ideas and concepts to listeners of multifaceted musical interests. This album should be an enlightening experience for fans and new listeners alike, and it most definitely deserves even more love and attention than I have attempted to give it here. They did it again, they “DID IT LIVE!”