Like most other respectable genres, metallic hardcore is in the process of being cleaned up and assimilated by the mainstream. Whether it’s Avenged Sevenfold watering down riffs from scary European metal bands to create a TRL-friendly brand of aggressive pop music or Hatebreed stealing every chugging guitar of the underground in attempt to relate to angst-ridden trailer parks across the world, the bastard child of metallic hardcore is on the rise. Metal is the new emo, a haven for troubled pre-teens and misguided twentysomethings to get out just enough aggression before the softly sung chorus. With this seemingly hopeless shift in tact, the fate of aggressive music was placed in the hands of pseudo-veterans, the Dillinger Escape Plan being one of them.
Miss Machine, the band’s third full-length — and first since 1999’s mind-numbing Calculating Infinity — is a much-hyped metal opus. And the hype is not unwarranted. Since Epitaph released in 2002 the Irony is a Dead Scene EP, which served mainly as a showcase for Mike Patton’s unholy yelp, Dillinger Escape Plan has found a new vocalist in Greg Puciato and made a name for itself as metallic hipsters by touring with the Locust and Your Enemies Friends and releasing rarities on Buddyhead’s label. And since the band’s musicianship is high caliber, drawing equally from free-jazz, death-metal and straight-up hardcore, the Dillinger Escape Plan has the potential to shift the entire path of heavy music. But due to a hit-or-miss performance by Puciato and a lack of coherence toward its end, Miss Machine is only mildly impressive.
The album opens with technical ferocity similar to Calculating Infinity, while employing welcome changes. The alternating vocal parts on “Panasonic Youth” aids the song’s insane but memorable structure. “Sunshine the Werewolf” opens with similar intensity but soon breaks down to a melodic guitar part that builds back up to a slow but powerful dirge, complete with horns. The momentum is continued with “Highway Robbery,” “Van Damsel” and “We Are the Storm.”
Regardless of its experimentation, however, the album’s failings are inexcusable. It seems as if Puciato is trying to imitate Patton at times, and it’s detrimental. If Disturbed ever tried to cover the Blood Brothers’ Burn Piano Island, Burn, it would sound something like “Phone Home,” the album’s weakest track. “Setting Fire to Sleeping Giants” sounds too close to Bad Religion, and “Unretrofied” is just terrible. Puciato is not only to blame for this — the band gets carried away with banal experimentation. The second half of Miss Machine is unforgivable.
Those who claim to be fans of metal are probably immune to these doses of corniness by now. But for those who expected this album to save metallic hardcore, Miss Machine is a minor disappointment. When the Dillinger Escape Plan is on its game, the band is indisputably mind-blowing. But even for a band that has existed since 1997, the incoherence and downright cheesiness that marks this release perches them only at the brink of their unrealized potential.