The Dillinger Escape Plan (also the longest post of all time)

The Dillinger Escape Plan, and any type of metal, is not for everyone. Music like this is written based on the emotions of the artists, and to enjoy it the listener has to be able to relate/understand these emotions. DEP is full of rage, chaos, and dissonance. For me it is perfect. For most of you, it’s probably a load of garbage and mush thrown together by total idiots who don’t know anything about music or song writing. My goal with this post isn’t to convince you to like DEP, although it would be great if you did, instead the goal is to make you realize at least that the statement is not true.

Now to talk about the first example, this is DEP’s first ‘hit’ song. It was featured on Head Bangers Ball vol. 2 which is what lead me to discovering them. Head Bangers Ball was a TV show that used to run on MTV2 at 10pm on Thursdays that played the trending metal of the time. Of course since the show was about music they had to take it off the air. Due to this DEP managed to break out with their new singer Greg Puciato after their first vocalist left. This is the first song on the album Miss Machine. I know what you are thinking if you are a loyal reader, the hit is not supposed to go first. I still standby that statement, but I feel that DEP never intended for this song to be the hit on the album. I’ll talk more about which song I think is the strongest on the album a bit later. Panasonic Youth is about the human tendency to fight death through medical advancement while some other humans want to kill themselves. It sort of satirizes the way people in different situations seem to put a different value on a human life. “The lifeless test tube with infant in arms, the lifeless test tube look what she’s done.” This is a direct criticism of abortion, stating how it is hypocritical to get an abortion when you already have a child. It’s a specific situation, but it happens in our society. This is the type of thing DEP is disgusted with and what this song is about.

Now, at 2:10, listen carefully to the guitar line that is repeated until the end of the song. This will be important later on.

Another great song by DEP, but during their transition between vocalists, Mike Patton heard about them and decided to do a 1 time EP with them that only have 4 songs on it. This is one of these songs.

Sorry for going backwards chronologically, I thought by starting with their most popular song I might draw more attention. Mike Patton is the vocalist for Faith No More (which is a band you have heard of from the 90’s alternative scene. listen to the song Epic you will recognize it). This is a much different song than anything by FNM. This album is the only one that Mike Patton was involved with, and is what spring boarded DEP into fame and caused the success of Miss Machine.

Now what the hell is this song about? You know I’m going to be honest with you, I really have no idea what some of the lyrics can be made out to mean, but overall I can explain. One line in particular is repeated “I’m the best you’ll ever have.” This makes it pretty clear that this song is a breakup song. It has an angry/chaotic feel for the first few minutes of the song, representing the anger involved with getting dumped (he yells out single words about his feelings). Then at 2:05 the song changes completely. Each line seems to stand apart from itself. The artist is getting rid of the memories, in this case physical objects that remind him of her. Again the song takes a turn at 3:24. Most DEP songs do not have a tonal center; there is no key and no apparent chord progression. This part has both of those things. Now the lyrics start getting confusing to me. Mike seems to be talking about social environments and the fakeness of people inside of them. Of course at some point the original theme has to come back. At 4:07 “I guess it’s time to pay the bill, but you know I never will, I’m hungry still…” the singer is relating this environment back to what the song was originally about; getting dumped. Perhaps he met his  significant other in a place like this, it is never directly said, but I think that might be the case. Because right after this line the anger and chaos comes back. This is one of the best climaxes in the entire DEP back catalog. “RUN AWAY.” The singer needs to escape this place because he is being reminded of his lover and it brings back all the feelings he thought he got rid of earlier in the song.

After this the song goes back into the progression at 3:24 again. A second verse if you will. Its not very characteristic of the band to do verses, but they do it anyway. Now the singer is back to talking about the social atmosphere, could really be a club, a restaurant, a movie theater, anywhere. “In this crowded place I could swing a cat and not even hit a soul, just a lonely vacuum of human black holes.” People seem to be soulless and all the same in these situations. He realizes it is time to leave and calmly asks for the check, referencing the end of the first verse “promising to set me free, waiter, check please” and then repeating the RUN AWAY sequence once again. “mercy killing on the way, never thought I’d here you say, fall on to your knees and pray now.” Seems to be describing the exact situation of what happened during the breakup. He felt like he was dying, didn’t see it coming, and begged for her not to leave, but in the end all she could do was run away.

The feels…so many feels…

So yeah it’s just another song about a broken heart, but DEP tells the story in a much deeper way. He doesn’t simply just say “she broke my heart. I’m sad. Guitar chords.” He has to make you think about it so that once you understand, it hits you much harder. You feel it on a much different level when you have that much understanding of what the artist is trying to tell.

That was a lot of words. On to the next example. Were going forward in time to their most recent album (as of post) Option Paralysis, back with current front man Greg Puciato.

Now remember that guitar line I told you to remember from the end of Panasonic Youth? Listen to the last 30 seconds of it again to be sure. Then play Farewell, Mona Lisa. Do you hear the same exact motive used again? A motive is a short sequence of notes or a rhythm that is often repeated. Usually it represents a particular idea or feeling. In this case it is to represent their style on Miss Machine, as it is the closing groove from their biggest hit Panasonic Youth. Why did they do this? Explaining what the song is about will help you understand, and hopefully blow your mind as much as it did mine when I came to this realization.

This song is about the changing style of DEP, and how it was critically received by fans on the album Ire Works. Ire Works had many similarities to Miss Machine, but they tried many new things and as with all change, a lot of people did not like it. Isn’t that stupid? Greg appears to agree with me here, “don’t you ever try to be more than you were destined for or anything worth fighting for” is the chorus of sorts in this song. That is a pretty depressing set of lyrics taken out of context. What the singer is saying is, if you try new things, if you try and make a statement or evolve as a band, nobody will appreciate it so you might as well do the same thing over and over. At 3:38“What did you expect, that we would never leave home?” This is DEP speaking directly to their fans and listeners. Their music is so different and chaotic to begin with, of course they are going to change. They have to leave home because they are nothing but “murderers and liars and rapists and thieves” of the music industry. “you should never put your trust in any of us.” If you don’t expect them to try new things. At:3:55 the motive from the beginning, and from Panasonic Youth, returns as they repeat “that we would never leave.” Not only are they just talking about the “home” or the style of miss machine that everyone liked, they are using the motive from the first song on that album to reference this “home.”

Absolutely mind blowing how effectively they re-used a motive from a song from an earlier album to get their point across. This is the appeal of DEP to a metal head, the absurd amount of thought they put into their song writing. Even the song title, Farewell, Mona Lisa, means something within the song. Mona Lisa was a masterpiece that defined da Vinci’s career as an artist, just like Panasonic Youth did for DEP. They are saying farewell to their masterpiece as they move forward as musicians and people have to accept that they will never try to recreate that album.

I saved this next example for last, because it is absolutely my favorite song they have ever written. It is definitely because of a personal relation to the story in the song. Think of your favorite song, if you have one. It speaks to you. It understands you. It helps you understand the truth of your own feelings. To me this song does all those things.

This song again is about a breakup. Most songs about love/loss are from the view of the one whose heart was broken, and this is no exception. They play with this perspective a bit though.

The first third of the song is definitely an angry chaotic feel that DEP does so well. The protagonist in this story seems to be very angry at his ex-significant other. “I’m burning alive tonight, you know we couldn’t get it right. Come save your life tonight you know we’ll never get it right.” “Don’t try to swim to shore because you can’t go back” “say three words, they’ll be the last you speak.” All of these phrases are directed at the antagonist in anger, as if they came back and wanted to get back together, but he refuses them. At 1:25, right before this remember that he says “dropping curtains down concealing appearances of heaven.” And the middle part of the song begins. As I noted in my song structure post, you can assume based on how completely juxtaposed this is inside the song that something different is about to happen. The guitar plays minor chords, in a 4 chord fashion as per most pop songs. The chords aren’t the same progression as the one discussed in my cadence post, but it still a 4 chord repeating cycle. Why would DEP do this? They are a band founded on chaos dissonance and anger. Aside from the project they did with Mike Patton this is unheard of. Because of this, and the line “curtains drop”, I believe that this part is supposed to be his true feelings and the first part of the song was the singer acting all tough and angry when really, he feels differently. Observe 2:06. After you pick up your melted face off the floor, we can try and figure out what it means. “DESTROYER, there’ll be another just like you, you’re not the only one, I’m not the only one/DESTROYER” The words here, tell the story of how he really feels. At first, I thought that his life is so shattered by the breakup that he calls his ex the destroyer. After a closer look though, notice the word play at the end of this line. He says one and destroyer at the same time. He says HE is not the only destroyer. Now this completely changes the meaning of the whole song. So what does he mean by destroyer, since so much emphasis is put on this single word? I believe after years of listening to this song that the protagonist in the story is the destroyer, not the ex. The ex was the one who was heartbroken, which is why they wanted to try to “swim back to shore.” The protagonist realizes that he has completely broken their heart and he feels terrible about it. “Walking where time stands still, see  how this love kills.” Walking where time stands still refers to this section of the song, in between the “curtains drop” line (there is one directly before and directly after) meaning that in this part of the song where he is revealing his true feelings. You can see that I too was harmed by this breakup, because I couldn’t bring myself to love you and I have destroyed this perfect relationship we had at no fault of your own. I am the destroyer. Loving me Kills. “you’re not the only one” meaning that he has been through this before, he is unable to love anyone and ‘destroys’ every good relationship he has ever had. This is why he is upset, not because of the one heartbreak.

After this the “curtains drop” and conceal appearances of heaven once again. The singer puts back on his angry face and acts all tough, because he doesn’t want her to know that the true reason for the heartbreak was that even though she was perfect, he didn’t love her. “Without my existence, you are nothing. Without my affection, you wilt.” He knows she is completely crushed and destroyed, but he is acting like he doesn’t care. Even though as the middle section suggests, he does.

Like I said at the beginning, 2390 words ago, The Dillinger Escape Plan is not for everyone. Even if it is, you probably need to listen to it more than a few times to understand what the songs are about. They are releasing a new album in May called One of Us Is the Killer and I can’t wait to get my hands on it and have my mind blown over and over again. I hope that the next time you hear any song that is outside of your comfort zone you give it another chance and try to understand why they wrote the song that way. Sometimes it might surprise you.

This is probably my last long post. From now on I will probably start to do individual song reviews and analysis, as usual of both pop and metal. I hope you don’t think I’m crazy based on my music preference, and I hope you stick around to read more.

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2 thoughts on “The Dillinger Escape Plan (also the longest post of all time)

  1. Obviously it’s very much open to interpretation, but I think there’s more to WGDDBT than you present here.

    You’re right about the opening being about love. He’s madly in love with her, but not she with him. In fact, she leaves him for another man, and it rips him apart. “MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY” – the cry of someone who doesn’t know how to deal with all these emotions, all this rage that he didn’t ask for but which seems to be here to stay.

    What happens next is where my interpretation diverges. I would say he sneaks into their house in the middle of the night and kills. Maybe her, maybe him, maybe both, I’m not sure. Regardless, he’s careful, meticulous, making sure to “listen through the walls / the sound of quick footsteps sneaking down the hall”. This man may be broken emotionally, but he is mentally 100% intact, probably even more ruthless than before. “A speck on your bedroom wall / A blood red waterfall” – he’s about to annihilate them, and they’ll never even see it coming.

    Clearly he must be the best she’ll ever have, because she’ll never have another.

    The next bit (with the more wispy, airy feel), is the murder itself. Time stretches out, a single moment lasting for a thousand years “Dance and sing under gunfire \ Open wings slowly take flight…” – finally, they are dead.

    In the final segment (verse, recapitulation, verse, recapitulation), the protagonist begins a life on the run, as a wanted man. We see him siting in a diner, reflecting on what he’s done. He hates the world, he hates humanity, he hates himself, and while “A fly can live a thousand years \ but a man cannot die soon enough”, that’s all he has left: to wait for his existence to cease. Even so, he continues to run. He “hears them [police sirens] howl” at him over the sounds of the diner, and knows it is time to leave. His future is uncertain. He has a vision of himself going on a rampage, destroying this pathetic excuse for an existence. But in the end, his courage or his strength or his rage fails him, and he settles up his bill and walks out into the dark, dark night of the city.

    • I have never picked up on the former part of the song before. it is common for DEP to have themes of murder, I believe you are correct in this interpretation. I admitted before my analysis even I was confused as to what the song was completely about and I think you have hit the nail on the head. It truely is amazing to me that after years I can still learn something new about these songs.

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