Hall of Fame Countdown: The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Calculating Infinity

At the time of Calculating Infinity’s release, the Dillinger Escape Plan were far from being an untried act.  Their history was already littered with memorably bombastic performances and a pair of transgressive EPs.  Lineup changes hit hard and early, and would become part of the band’s identity throughout their career.  Bassist Adam Doll was critically injured in a car accident, and guitarists Derek Brantley and John Fulton had rotated through their duties and left the spot open for Brian Benoit.  Bassist Liam Wilson’s entrance was still on the horizon, and vocalist Dimitri Minakakis’s time with the band was drawing to a close.

Still, Calculating Infinity was DEP’s first full-fledged album attempt, and the results are mesmerizing.  The record remains one of those perfect packages:  These songs in this order add up to an unmatched experience.  The red-lined, red-faced wrath mixes with gouts of noise, rhythmic chaos, jazzy runs and cinematic interludes, lacing together an uncompromising, precisely paced assault.  Listening to it now, it is possible to hear Calculating Infinity as a primitive version of the ideas that DEP would both finesse and fuck with in the future, but that misses the point.  On its own merits, entirely outside the context of the five masterworks to come, Calculating Infinity spits its own impressive fire and has most certainly made its own tempestuous mark on the heavy music of the past seventeen years.

This year, we bid farewell to the Dillinger Escape Plan, though the current band is now many generations removed from the one that recorded our 22nd Hall of Fame entry, Calculating Infinity.  I considered bringing a fresh approach to this countdown, like ordering the list by decreasing time signature, but I got lost somewhere around a section clearly written in 17/5 but played like a drunken 6/8 sway trying to fit into 9/16’s jeans.  Or something.  So we’ll settle for arranging the songs simply from eleventh most face-ruling to “43% Burnt.”

Shit, did we just give away the surprise?

11.  *#..

This early breath of fresh sweat jettisons the metallic hardcore for a short time, but miraculously retains the twisted, aggressive tone of the album.  Ambient sound events are slowly overtaken by an insistent beat and impish guitar anti-melodies.  Layers fold around each other to build anticipation for the onslaught to come.

10.  Jim Fear

Atonality continues to rule the day here, but much of this track seems more like straightforward slugging rather than the complicated martial arts employed through the bulk of the record.  The mix and performances are designed to overwhelm rather than impress, but the impact is no more or less visceral than anything else here.  “*#..” is a necessary aside after the beating “Jim” lays down.

9.  Calculating Infinity

The title track boasts a structure that the album’s other instrumentals lack.  Its primary guitar part ping-pongs between high-end and low-end crunch, everything slowly ratcheting up toward maximum, strung-out tension that demands for the release offered early in “4th Grade Dropout.”

8.  The Running Board

This song is like a western noir that plays out a complete drama in three minutes.  The theatrical highs and lows, the hinted-then-realized musical depth, the thematic structures – none of it should be possible (or allowed) on an album this ‘roided out, but “The Running Board” denies the meathead bros their nuanceless hardcore anthem.  Here, and elsewhere, you can feel the intensity of the band’s live potential, as they work sweat-sopped breathers into all their whirling and smashing.

7.  Destro’s Secret

This song only benefits from Minakakis’s downtrodden (exhausted?) grumbling and chanting, along with the track’s jazz-inflected interior and the painful treble blunt force dissonance that accompanies the song’s most violent sections. 

6.  4th Grade Dropout

One song that includes all of Ben Weinman’s noodly string-terror strikes and a drum break that feels like Jason Roeder (of Neurosis and Sleep) snuck into the studio?  Sign me up.  Repetition at hyper speeds increases the aural damage points delivered here.  The album should have run out of creative steam at this point.  Nope.

5.  Weekend Sex Change

As a sound collage so late in the record saddles “Weekend Sex Change” with all the weight of a summative statement for the album as a whole.  It holds up admirably under this duty and somehow provides commentary and contextual framework for the rest of the record.  These are the moments that raise Calculating Infinity out of the tech-me-all-night-long mire and turn it into a repeatable half-hour of glory.

4.  Clip the Apex…Accept Destruction

Fucking show-offs.  Dillinger flaunt their impeccable tightness on this seventh track.  Whiplash start-stops pepper the song, rhythm and lead guitars get all tangled and deconstructed, and just when you think the band has settled their in-studio feud with a little space and sanity, the whole thing culminates in a rising mountain of amp-ruining noise.

3.  Variations on a Cocktail Dress

“Variations” is a surprisingly memorable closing argument for the record, marrying the album’s taut destructive force to the looser jazz proclivities that make the whole creation so interesting.  Movements butt against each other at strange but flush angles.  Minakakis roars out the final lines and it all drops suddenly to silence, later to be painted eerie hues through the use of grating noise and samples a 1959 film of The Diary of Anne Frank.

2.  Sugar Coated Sour

Dillinger charge out of the gate armored in utter confidence.  The percussive barrage immediately sorts capable hangers-on from the weak-minded.  Minakakis’s feral bark insists that brutality will be served with your choice of side brutality and a cold glass of brutality to drink, and then we’re forty seconds in and their inner jazz band comes out of nowhere before descending again into a staccato treatise on the most artful way to punch holes in Sonny Corleone’s body.  Upon first listen, this is the kind of song that can turn you inside out, and nothing else on the record does anything but compound that inversion.

1.  43% Burnt

It’s hard to take credit for choosing “43% Burnt” as Calculating Infinity’s most important track.  The fans latched onto this song long ago, and the band have encouraged that love affair by never leaving it behind when it’s time to hit the stage.  The opening chords (?) screech across your skull.  They’ve become their own mini-anthem; by the end of the song, they’re a mantra that’s downright trance-inducing.  If that’s all the song had to offer, it would still be pretty potent, but there’s also Mick Barr-esque wankery, a playful midsection, washes of atmospheric guitar, enraged lyrics and enough tempo shifts for most bands’ entire albums.  Surviving this thing at a Dillinger live show is an act of beautiful defiance.