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A SCENE IN RETROSPECT: The Dillinger Escape Plan – “Calculating Infinity”

Get out your calculators, kids, it’s time for a math(core) lesson! For the twenty-eighth episode of A Scene In Retrospect, we have chosen to tackle one of, if not the most important releases of mathcore’s formative years: Calculating Infinity by The Dillinger Escape Plan. Over the following 1000 words or so, It Djents PR/social media manager Inter, as well as staff writers Jud and John, will share their thoughts on this immensely influential record. Enjoy!

 

Jud Widing

There’s this movie called The Agony and the Ecstasy that opens with a long revue of Michelangelo’s sculptures in a museum, followed immediately by a sequence of detailing the laborious process by which their marble was hewn from the Earth in David-sized slabs. That’s the best way I can describe my relationship with Calculating Infinity.

As someone who didn’t get on the Dillinger train until Ire Works – when the band firmly staked their claim to all-timer status – and never actually got around to listening to their first LP until after the release of my personal favorite, Option Paralysis, the songs on Calculating Infinity feel less raw than unfinished. I can’t help but hear the dissonant thunder of “43% Burnt” and think of “Sunshine the Werewolf”, or listen to a moody instrumental track like “*#..” without comparing it to some of Ire Works’ more experimental turns.

If anything, what’s remarkable about Calculating Infinity is how boldly it foreshadows so much of The Dillinger Escape Plan’s future, even before the inestimable influences of heavyweights like Mike Patton, Greg Puciato and Billy Rymer entered the frame. That the pieces were all in place this early in the band’s history is both a testament to the immutability of co-founding member Ben Weinman’s vision, and a tremendous account of how much the aforementioned players brought to the table.

To write this album off as little more than a first swing at what would become a nearly untouchable batting average probably isn’t fair or productive. Unfortunately, though, it’s all I can do. Calculating Infinity is an immense, brutal, brilliant album that has been dwarfed by every single subsequent Dillinger Escape Plan release. That doesn’t make it any less essential a listen, but it does make it a slightly less enticing one.

John Westbay

I saw The Dillinger Escape Plan live in Ft. Lauderdale, FL a few years after Calculating Infinity came out. It was February 2002, and I was a senior in high school. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The previous few years were spent wearing out Dillinger‘s debut album, which came out September 1999. I was playing in a metalcore band at the time. Little did I know that witnessing Dillinger live would change the way we would look at stage presence. Till this day, I have never seen a live set so energetic, intense, and also horrifying all at once. By this time, the vocalist on Calculating Infinity, Dimitri Minakakis, had been replaced by Greg Puciato, but that didn’t matter, because when they closed with “43% Burnt”, Puciato was spitting fire into the crowd during the song’s insane breakdown outro. The coolest thing followed that unforgettable live experience: for close to a year after that show, whenever I heard “43% Burnt”, I would smell fire.

I had Dillinger‘s first two EPs, and those are both mind-bending and technical. But there is something special about Calculating Infinity. I personally thought the record’s title referred to the time signatures used throughout the record. According to Minakakis, the lyrical content was based on bad and failing relationships experienced by the vocalist. They were very fitting for my late teen and early 20’s self. Just angry, all the way though. No clean vocals here. No ballads. Just pure brutal technicality. As a drummer, listening to what Chris Pennie can do on a drum set, and also seeing it with my own eyes in concert, I’m still blown away by his brilliance!

From the first second of the opener “Sugar Coated Sour”, you get punched right in the face with fast-paced riffage from Brian Benoit and Ben Weinman (who also played bass on the record because original bassist Adam Doll broke his back in a car accident). There are three instrumental interludes scattered throughout the album to break up the pace so you can take a breather from the sonic fury that your ears are experiencing. For a 37-minute album, a whole lot of intricate and energetic bangers are compressed in there; my favorite joints on the record are “4th Grade Dropout” and “43% Burnt”.

I took an acting class in my freshman year of college, and our first assignment of the year was to lip sync a song to break the ice between classmates. Of course, I chose “43% Burnt”. I climbed on top of a table and did a front flip onto the couch. Then I proceeded to channel my inner Greg Puciato and ran all around the room like a maniac. No one said a word to me for the rest of the year!  Thank you The Dillinger Escape Plan!

Inter

Speaking about Calculating Infinity means speaking about one of the most impressive careers in metal of the last 20 years. The Dillinger Escape Plan reached incredible popularity during their run, depsite their rather unpopular style of music, and said album is the beginning of this special journey.

Before Greg Puciato scared the shit out of the crowd and security people, Dimitri Mankakis was the man behind the mic, while Ben Weinman recorded all bass and guitar parts on his own due to an injury which rendered orginial bassist Adam Doll unable to play his parts. Chris Pennie delivered the drum parts (and later joined Coheed and Cambria). The production of Calculating Infinity was very difficult, since the band recorded everything on tape and quickly ran out of money, which led to a not-so-good deal with their former label, Relapse Records. Some young guys, living in the moment, probably not aware about how that record was going to change the metal and hardcore landscape.

Collecting influences from hardcore, grindcore and metal, as well as several experimental ideas, Calculating Infinity shaped mathcore in an untouchable way, definitely on the same level as Converge, Botch or Coalesce did. We have to thank TDEP for all their pioneering work, and for the great work ethic they’ve never lost in their career.

Don’t get fooled by my comparatively cold view. This band transcended me with mind-boggling hours of listening, and dangerously intense live experiences. And while Calculating Infinity isn’t my favorite  TDEP album, it’s a damn great start for a damn great band.

That’s it for another episode of A Scene In Retrospect! What are your thoughts on this album? Can you think of any particular band/album you’d like to see included in this feature? Leave it all down in the comments!

Make sure to tune back in fourteen days from now for yet another classic review; I can already promise you that you’ll be very excited about the record we’re going to cover! Until then, stay safe, and as always…

…thanks for reading!

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