There is a place where discordant notes collide in fitful harmonies; where tempos and time signatures shift like windblown sands, and where tormented howls echo from every shadow. That place, my friends, is The Mathcorner – and together we shall plumb its caliginous depths.
Last week I pledged that the next few columns would focus on some of mathcore’s early classics but, while I do sincerely plan on eventually making good on that promise, this week I have instead decided to narrow my focus down to a single record that is of tantamount importance to the musicological and journalistic missions of The Mathcorner. That record is Calculating Infinity, the debut album by mathcore founders and progressive metalcore heros The Dillinger Escape Plan. Let’s begin at the beginning – shall we?
According to internet legend, Calculating Infinity is the first full-length album to be labelled with the generic title of “mathcore”. Regardless of whether that historical tidbit is entirely accurate, it is appropriate to describe Calculating Infinity as the first fully-fledged mathcore record (for the sake of discussion, I will set aside the band’s prior short-form releases). While there are various bands and records that helped to shape what mathcore would become – influential artists and albums that will be covered in more detail in upcoming volumes of The Mathcorner – Calculating Infinity is the prototype for the entire subgenre. Even if you disagree with this statement, please humor me for now, if only to avoid one of the endless, mind-numbing arguments into which genre debates can so quickly devolve.
It is a rare record that establishes an entire subgenre, creating a sonic template for subsequent bands to follow and extrapolate, but Calculating Infinity does just that. Many of the tropes that permeate the existing body of work that constitutes mathcore – from the jarring stop/start pacing to sudden jazzy passages – make an appearance on The Dillinger Escape Plan’s debut. Strange, haunting lyrics like “And now i’ll hang my skin/ This skin/ Transparent words of sin/ My love so sweet”, are the norm in the genre, twisting hardcore’s aggressive sentimentality with metal’s penchant for the macabre. Instrumental pieces like the album’s groovy title track, the sample-laden “Weekend Sex Change”, and the experimental detour “*#..” have since become standard fare in mathcore, providing listeners with necessary palate-cleansers amid the constant clamor that is the genre as a whole.
Although one album cannot contain all the value of an entire genre or subgenre, it is difficult to understate how much the mathcore world owes The Dillinger Escape Plan, as almost everything on Calculating Infinity is reflected in the work of the bands that have followed in their wake. Setting the tone for almost every mathcore release ever, the songs on this album get out of the gate in a hurry – no introductions, no frills, no prisoners taken. Even the album itself has no preface but a two second wanky riff before the frenzy comes out to play.
Mathcore-makers generally seek to merge the technical proficiency of metal and its variants with the furious immediacy of hardcore punk and the emotionally-charged immediacy of post-hardcore. This manifests in the creation of complex, non-traditional song arrangements populated by fervent lyrics, impassioned screams, and jagged riffs. It’s hardcore for virtuosos or metal for poets or some other gross generalization reminiscent of a college course nickname. Perhaps that is part of the appeal of metal/hardcore fusion sub-genres; these hybrids have the potential to reach across the boundaries of larger, more established genres and incorporate diverse sounds and techniques into new styles with emergent properties all of their own. Mathcore creates the opportunity to have disparate generic elements coexisting in a single clusterfuck of a subgenre.
It is readily apparent on Calculating Infinity that The Dillinger Escape Plan were not a gimmick or trick, but a group of seriously talented individuals. Chris Pennie’s rabid drumming keeps pace with the demented guitar-playing of fretboard nutjobs Ben Weinman and Brian Benoit, all while constructing a foundation for the desperate caterwauling of vocalist Dimitri Minakakis. This is the formula for making good mathcore; it’s not enough to rifle through a few random genres and toss some incongruous sounds together. A great mathcore band takes inspiration from varied sources – combining previously exclusive sounds and creating novel stylistic juxtapositions – not as an end, but as a means to craft something new and interesting that is more than the sum of its parts.
On their debut, The Dillinger Escape Plan do more than stomp a seething must of metallic hardcore through an avant-garde fermentation tank into a delicious mathcore vintage, they also offer some damn good tunes. Calculating Infinity embraces the inherently dualistic nature of mathcore as a fusion genre, melding the earnest rage of hardcore with the surgical musicality of metal. Oh, look at me, now I’m pretentiously rambling again. Next week, we’ll take a gander at some bands that constitute some of that aforementioned seething mass of metallic hardcore that coalesced (spoiler alert!) into mathcore. Narrate your mathcore-related thoughts to me in the comments and keep it calculated, bros. Here’s my one of my favorite tracks on this landmark record, “Clip The Apex…Accept Instruction”: