It’s been nearly ten years since this goddamn album was made available to the public, which, considering I was in high school at the time, is hard for me to believe. It’s furthermore unbelievable that the very same band ten years later, still active despite having only one original member in the lineup, is so popular that it charts on the Billboard 200 and makes music videos that get some play – whatever that means in the YouTube era. Now I am not so stupid as to think that such a band would never achieve respect and some popularity beyond the underground at some point, but knowing what I and many others know they have achieved this by leaving a significant chunk of the band’s mystique behind. This is something that took me a while to admit. I’m all for artistic growth and exploration – my love for Cave In will attest to this – but one must admit that Dillinger hasn’t really been Dillinger since their long incubation period between Calculating Infinity and Miss Machine. There are those who feel the need to push aside the post-Patton Dillinger as they remain transfixed by their debut album, and for this there is good reason.
Calculating Infinity can be summed up as one of those albums that exploded onto the underground scene with dizzying skill and originality that, every generation or so, becomes a certified classic. This is somewhat viable: led by a skilled, ambitious guitarist along with four other unassuming suburbanite punks from an unassuming part of the country, the album propelled hardcore into new plains of technical skill, speed and aggressive emotional catharsis. By this point such a comparison can either recall Calculating Infinity or Damaged. All Vh-1isms aside, it’s important to stress everything else that made this album great. Technical skill alone does not bring greatness upon a band. If writing terse blasts of crashing sound and finite guitar work that can just barely qualify for classification as a “song” then most of the Headbanger’s Ball playlist will be in line for canonization by way of stuffy hall of fame inductions of some form or another. But what separates bands like Dillinger and Discordance Axis from, say, Darkest Hour and Every Time I Die is atmosphere.
Part of Dillinger’s allure, for me at least, was its creepiness. Artwork for Dillinger releases little, if any band photography. In the case of Calculating Infinity it was photos of old sound and electronic equipment under lyrics that read thusly: “Alfresco slapsticked foam mouth sunshine/ Jim Fear has done it again/ Slash her and bash her porno freak/ Flaming hermit, lonely fool.” Both in sound and in presentation, Dillinger seemed to me a band of sinister perversion and undermedicated psychosis, but instead of using it to pander to an audience in search of digestible deviance they used it to enhance the personal emotion of their sound. Peers like Drowningman and Cable were also doing this, but their persona was more the raging lunatic or the nihilistic dickhead with a gun and a pill habit. Dillinger was more like a voice that we all know but keep within our skulls as much as possible. Listening to the album was like peering into someone’s sick, inarticulate thoughts. The music represented erratic pulses, cold sweats and head throbs. The rambling lyrics represent one’s thoughts once clam and pleasantness have been shattered and the only thing keeping one in control is sheer politeness. It feels like something that shouldn’t be listened to, but in thinking that, we can’t help but continue to listen.
Dillinger has since gravitated into a more conventional band with a very different frontman – monotone but effective Dimitri Minakakis left to be replaced by the showboating Greg Puciato – and a different mindset. A lot like late-period Ministry, they seem more content on rocking out and making terrible videos than pushing the boundaries of the odious and the ominous. Then again Calculating Infinity was so much all at once that all that was left to explore was only able to fit on an EP. Dillinger’s first full-length stands as an album that not only captures a major shift in extreme music sensibilities, but also makes a work of art that is an experience rather than just a bunch of crazy songs with fucked up riffs.
Mr. Bungle – Disco Volante
Genghis Tron – Board Up the House
Converge – Jane Doe