The Dillinger Escape Plan - Calculating Infinity (retro review) (Cover Artwork)

The Dillinger Escape Plan

Calculating Infinity (retro review) (1999)

Relapse Records

Technicality has never been something closely associated with hardcore. One of the first albums to challenge this, however, was The Dillinger Escape Plan’s chaotic debut Calculating Infinity.

The album is relentless from the very start, with “Sugar Coated Sour” and “43% Burnt” being high-octane ragers with relentless guitar-wanking, drastic time signatures and atonal wailing from original lead singer Dimitri Minakakis. Many may find his shouting too one-note compared to future Dillinger frontman Greg Puciato, but it fits the feeling of Infinity perfectly.

The thing about this album is that, despite its overwhelming intensity and erratic tempo changes, it taps into a similar sort of catharsis as the more straightforward metalcore in the scene Dillinger came out of. However, rather than condensing these feelings into mic-grab-ready lyrics, it manifests in the manic stutter of the music itself. “Jim Fear”, for instance, literally sounds like it’s falling apart at the seams as you listen. I’ve never even read the lyrics to the track, but his throat-grinding vocals tell me everything I need to know.

That’s not to say that Calculating Infinity is just a non-stop onslaught. The instrumental “*#..” comes in-between two of the album’s most intense songs, giving the listener a breather while still keeping the unnerving, sinister tone of the album flowing. Additionally, the final two tracks on the album use long, unabridged samples to lead into the chaotic noise freak-out that brings the album to a close.

Something not immediately obvious about this album (or any of Dillinger’s later works) is the jazz influence. Ben Weinman namedrops Mahavishnu Orchestra when discussing influences just as much as he does Faith No More or Nine Inch Nails. Original drummer Chris Pennie was even classically trained in the sound. While it’s weird to think of an album full of blast beats and guitar grind as jazz, the patterns that make up what seems like discordant noise start to become a lot more apparent.

Ben Weinman has been very clear that Dillinger’s sound was a direct response to the perceived technical and ideological staleness going on in hardcore at the time. To say that response was heard would be a huge understatement. Calculating Infinity didn’t invent the mathcore style, but it was definitely the first album of its kind to be on a label as huge as Relapse. Its influence on the following decade of hardcore is undeniable. Bands like The Chariot, The Blood Brothers and Every Time I Die all clearly took from its playbook in some capacity.