The Dillinger Escape Plan, extreme metal pioneers from New Jersey whose lineup has been about as predictable as their music, made an apparent lurch toward accessibility on their last album, 2007’s Ire Works, by incorporating aspects of disco and arena rock into their mathy brand of post-hardcore. But with Option Paralysis, heaviness prevails once again. Sure, DEP retains something of a pop sensibility on their latest effort, and they occasionally let it come up gasping for air before submerging it in a morass of intricate riffs and rhythm, but the melodic moments aren’t anything that any human being raised on pop radio would recognize as a conventional pop or rock song. “Farewell, Mona Lisa” begins the album by ping-ponging between visceral grindcore and synth-addled speed metal, but only for the first two minutes, at which point the song (briefly) transforms into a gloomy ballad. This is surely an egalitarian gesture: DEP’s fanbase contains many who like their music extremely noisy and no way else, and I take it the band wants to make sure those fans feel as alienated as any other listener.
Nonetheless, the contingent that likes DEP best when they’re at their most abrasive will find Option Paralysis more satisfying than anything the band has released since their debut. “Good Neighbor,” “Crystal Morning,” and “Endless Endings” are red meat for the hardcore set, a trio of two-minute tantrums packed into the album’s first half. That’s probably good politics, but it also means that, excepting the mercurial opener, the most interesting aspects of DEP’s sound go unexplored until the album’s second act. The turning point is the genuinely gorgeous “Widower,” which is driven by jazzy piano lines courtesy of Ben Garson, whose playing Bowie fans will recognize from Aladdin Sane, but which benefits just as much from new drummer Billy Rymer’s nervy percussion, not to mention the most versatile vocal performance of Greg Puciato’s career. The six-minute runtime, which makes it the second-longest track in the DEP catalogue, gives each musician the chance to show what they can do at a variety of tempos and volumes, but it’s Puciato’s pipes that drive home the song’s explosive finale.
There, and on the succeeding four tracks, DEP demonstrates that they haven’t forgotten everything they learned about tunefulness for their last release. The second half of Option Paralysis is heavily indebted to Nine Inch Nails: On both the absurdly heavy “Room Full of Eyes” and the melancholy “I Wouldn’t If You Didn’t,” an industrial ambiance pervades, and Puciato’s sardonic intonations on the latter could be mistaken for Trent Reznor’s. But just because they’re taking cues from underground metal’s biggest mainstream success doesn’t mean that DEP has anything like a crossover in mind. Rather than including something that’s radio friendly from start to finish, they instead put melody in the service of mayhem, with piano leads and clean-sung bridges surfacing to destabilize a locked-in groove or soften up the listener for another bout of thrashing metal riffs. With DEP, there’s nothing too pretty to be made into a weapon, and if they give you anything to hold on to, it’s probably made of barbed wire.
The downside to this approach is that it reduces melodicism to its function in a given track: What DEP wants is the drama of a big sing-along swelling out of a fantastically heavy breakdown, or the WTF-factor that comes with having Ben Weinman close the album with a bluesy guitar solo instead his characteristically proggy shredding. What they aren’t especially interested in is hooks. That’s too bad, because it’s not as though their aesthetic would be totally undone if these sorts of passages were unpredictable and catchy—as were many of the last album’s standouts. It’s clear that Option Paralysis is difficult by design, but the upshot is that anyone who can make it through the first two tracks will probably find one of their favorite albums of the year.