As any grindcore, thrashcore, hardcore, or fucking-heavy-as-hell-core fan will attest, there's something absolutely exhilarating about being pulverized by fast, bludgeoning, ear-shattering, nerve-decimating, synapse-shredding guitars, kick drums, and guttural howls for a CD's entirety. It can leave you completely drained, as if you've spent 45 minutes sprinting through a cornfield with a tornado hot on your heels.
But there's also something to be said for pulling back every now and again, infusing the carnage with quieter, more atmospheric passages that allow the listener to catch their breath, all the while aware that the next crushing blow will be upon them at any moment. That the members of New Jersey's Dillinger Escape Plan -- who are mighty capable of not only grabbing one's head with extreme riffage, but twisting it with remarkable technical prowess, heretofore-unknown time signatures, and insanely intricate structures before ramming it into a brick wall -- have evolved into an outfit both willing and able to finesse such breaks into their heaviness and enhance the overall intensity rather than dilute it, is what makes their long-anticipated Miss Machine so brilliant and engrossing.
A bit of backstory might help explain the metamorphosis: In 1999 its debut album, Calculating Infinity, caught the ear of Mike Patton, who brought DEP out on tour with Mr. Bungle. But after DEP recruited a singer, Greg Puciato, in 2001 to replace the departed Dimitri Minikakis, it instead turned to Patton for vocal duties on 2002's Irony is a Dead Scene EP. Puciato was obviously taking notes -- though he can scream bloody murder with the best of them (check out the neck-snapping Miss Machine opener, "Panasonic Youth"), he shows off his Patton-like tone, versatility, and mood-altering ability throughout by shifting from a shriek to a menacing sneer to a melodic croon, oftentimes within the confines of the same song.
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Instrumentally Dillinger Escape Plan follows suit. "Highway Robbery" launches with a careening, bass-driven, Jesus Lizard-like groove, then swims into hazy, almost trip-hoppy territory before reclaiming the fury a minute later. "We Are the Storm" is similarly structured, and its midsong breakdown is even more ethereal. But those relatively lighter moments are balanced out by the Infinity-like guitar brutality of "Van Damsel," and the closer, "The Perfect Design." Miss Machine, in fact, might be the most perfectly designed and awe-inspiring heavy rock album you'll hear all year. -- Michael Alan Goldberg