2018 Stock Watch: A Perfect Circle Up, Machine Head way down

Now that we are five whole days into 2018, it’s time to look at who is, and who isn’t, ready for the new year:

STOCK UP: A Perfect Circle

If you just accept that Tool won’t be releasing a new album this year and allow yourself DisIllusionedto be happy that a new record from Maynard’s other project is on the way, then I promise you that you’ll be much happier and full of joy in the new year.

A Perfect Circle has released two tracks so far that may or may not be on their upcoming album, which is still untitled and doesn’t have a release date (hooray for ambiguity!): “The Doomed” and “Disillusioned”. Both tracks skew heavily towards the mellow side of the metal spectrum, but both tracks have me all-in on A Perfect Circle this year (just don’t watch the video for “The Doomed” if you know what’s good for you). They’re a fantastic blend of prog and APC’s pseudo-radio rock stylings, coming across as both subdued and engaging at the same time. The drums alone of “The Doomed” are enough to get my blood pumping despite that track barely registering above a whisper until the final moments.

A Perfect Circle haven’t put out an entire album’s worth of original work since 2003’s Thirteenth Step (I’m not counting 2004’s Emotive, which is a glorified cover album), so we are long overdue for some new material. Judging from their first two tracks, we are in for a good one.

STOCK DOWN: Machine Head

I really, really want to be excited about Machine Head’s upcoming record Catharsis. I wasn’t exactly enamored with 2014’s Bloodstone & Diamonds, but 2011’s Unto the Locust was a phenomenal record, showing that the band is still more than capable of churning out accessible metal classics. In early interviews about the new record, Robb Flynn has been bracing fans for a more melodic, less heavy record, which in my opinion doesn’t play to the band’s strengths. But I approached the two lead singles with an open mind, wanting them to be the Machine Head that I’ve loved.

“Beyond the Pale” isn’t a bad track, but I certainly wasn’t doing backflips after my first listen. It sounded like a last-minute cut from Bloodstone & Diamonds, lacking the heaviness that I craved but not moving the needle too much otherwise.

“Catharsis” the second single, is a goddamn dumpster fire. The track combines the worst parts of modern radio-rock with the worst parts of late 90’s to early 2000’s nu-metal. It is borderline unlistenable. I was physically ill on my first listen of the track, culminating in a fit of laughter near the end when the whole “talk loudly through gritted teeth to sound extra angry” section of the song came one. How this track even made it on the album, let alone became one of the promotional singles, absolutely boggles my mind.

So I’m officially lowering my expectations for Catharsis. But considering how little metal is typically released in the first quarter of the year, it still may be the biggest metal release any time soon.

A Requiem for The Dillinger Escape Plan

Back in my freshman year of college, few albums received more spins than Headbangers Ball, Volume 2. The record spanned 2 discs and 40 songs from the biggest and brightest in the metal scene at the time. While Disc 1 featured the heavy hitters (Slipknot, Killswitch Engage, Machine Head, etc.), Disc 2 was filled with deeper cuts. Some of those bands eventually made it big (Trivium, The Black Dahlia Murder, Every Time I Die) while some, despite being quite good, faded into obscurity (Twelve Tribes, Bleeding Through).

Those two discs were the soundtrack to my first year away from home, but one track DEP last showstood out. Track 18 on Disc 2: The Dillinger Escape Plan – Panasonic Youth. I had to replay it immediately after my first listen, and then put it on for my roommate Jake. I didn’t understand what I had just listened to, telling Jake, “this barely qualifies as music”. Jake, a fan of the god-awful Bob Dylan, the even-worse Doors, and the categorically abysmal Dave Matthews Band, agreed.

With each subsequent listen (and this was well before music streaming services were a thing, so I played that album constantly) my attitude began to shift. What began as confusion shifted to disdain, which eventually shifted to mockery, which then became intrigue, and before long became an actual liking of the song. What at first listen sounded like the sonic equivalent of television static was revealed to be tightly controlled chaos, pushing music to the limit of what I was able to process and toeing the line of sanity for a frantic two and a half minutes.

Fast forward to Spring Break that year, and Jake and I were shopping for new music at Sam Goody (yes, I know, I’m very old). He, defying the odds, picked up a solid record (Queens of the Stone Age – Lullabies to Paralyze). I, perplexed yet intrigued by the muted-green grid paper covered by and emptied-out toy/tool box album cover, took the plunge and bought my first Dillinger Escape Plan record, Miss Machine.

From the frenzied madness of “Panasonic Youth”, the lurching darkness of “Sunshine the Werewolf”, the industrial beauty of “Unretrofied” or the unhinged terror of “Baby’s First Coffin”, Miss Machine grabbed my love at first listen and never let go. The diverse yet focused approach of the record laid out a path for TDEP’s career, where their ever-softening and experimental sounds has never led them too far away from their intrinsic heaviness. While there have been many lineup changes and two lead singers (Dimitri Minakakis was great, but I will defend to the death Greg Puciato’s place at the forefront of Dillinger’s personal Mount Rushmore), the frantic mathcore sound that the band pioneered is present throughout their work. No matter how much hardcore punk or jazz fusion they’ve introduced in their later works, they’ve always stayed true to their roots. Just because they’ve grown doesn’t mean that they’ve changed.

I can objectively look back on TDEP’s entire catalogue and recognize that Miss Machine is not their best album. I would be very hard pressed to say that it is better than One of Us Is the Killer, or Option Paralysis, or Calculating Infinity. But it will always be my favorite Dillinger record. Nothing in my young life had prepared me for what I heard on that album. Metal fandom tends to progress linearly, as you won’t find many people who woke up one day to find out that they loved Cannibal Corpse. A love of rock can become an affinity for hard rock, which if you’re lucky enough may lead you to some entry-level metal (my own path followed the Green Day/Offspring à Sevendust à Slipknot route). For some the journey doesn’t stop there, as there is a wide world of metal (and metal sub-genres) genres to enjoy, with interconnecting sounds and subtle, if nearly indistinguishable, differences making it easy to discover and enjoy metal for every type of occasion. But nothing before, and nothing to this day, leads or follows The Dillinger Escape Plan. They are alone in the Metal Universe, an isolated outpost at the edge of extreme music.

The Dillinger Escape Plan didn’t earn their reputation for the wildest live band on earth by accident. At this point, it’s hard to separate what happened from what are just urban legends. Did I ever see the band throw a giant box fan into the crowd while still plugged in? No, no I did not. Did I ever witness Greg Puciato shit on the stage and then smear it on his face? No to that as well. But these events supposedly happened at Dillinger shows. Head on over to the YouTube and you’ll find no shortage of testimonies to how bat-shit insane these guys are in concert.

I last saw Dillinger at Webster Hall in October 2016. The show gained national attention from various metal sites when lead singer Greg Puciato stage dove from the 2nd floor balcony surrounding the pit, risking life and limb of not only himself but the rabid fans below (including myself). The show ended with what must have been close to 100 fans up on the stage for the closing song, with Puciato and guitarist Ben Weinman finishing the show standing atop walls of stacked speakers, belting out “43% Burnt” over a sea of fans surrounding the rest of the band on the stage. This, compared to the stories of the early days, might sound somewhat tame. I can assure you it was not. I have never been so enthralled with a performance. With every note, with every piercing scream the show seemed like it was devolving into anarchy. There is no barrier between the band and the audience when you attend a Dillinger show. You are part of the act. You are right there with the band, seeing how close to hell you can get. Before his dive from the balcony, Puciato told the crowd “If I’m gonna die, let it be tonight,” an ever-present attitude in each of their records and live performances.

All the chaos, all the madness, all the hysteria that is in a perpetual state of spiraling out of control, ends tonight at Terminal 5 in New York City. I had two thoughts when I found out the band was calling it quits: 1) I will be there come hell or high water (or snow and temperatures in the teens, as it turns out), and 2) Why? Why would a band that has shown no signs of slowing down, no signs of decline, no signs of infighting decide to walk away? As much as I want the band to keep making music and touring together, part of me realizes that this might be the best option. No matter how talented Greg and Ben & co. might be, no band can keep churning out extraordinary music every 3-4 years forever. TDEP have never produced anything approaching a bad album, but how would I handle the band’s St. Anger? The problem with pushing boundaries is that eventually you run out of space to explore. Would it be worth another great album or two if we then had to witness the band’s plateau and eventual decline?

The Dillinger Escape Plan cannot go out with a whimper. It’s not in their DNA. If any band was ever mean to go out with a bang, it’s the Dillinger Escape Plan. I’ll be there for the hopeful bang tonight, not angry over losing what has been my favorite band for nearly half of my life, but ecstatic that I get to see that band go out on their terms, walking away at their peak and leaving behind a flawless catalogue of music, a larger-than-life reputation, and a legion of adoring fans that never had to worry about defending their love for the group.

So thank you, Dillinger Escape Plan, for all the joy, the pain, the bruises, and the fun that you’ve brought me over the years. You will never be replaced, and you will never be forgotten. You will, however, be forgiven if you decide to come back for a reunion tour (fingers crossed).