There’s an odd little moment during One of Us Is the Killer, not long into the title track, when Billy Rymer’s drums seem to get away from him for a second. This is, of course, deliberate design, the apparent flub actually a brilliant jazz-like move, one that gains power as it recurs. Rymer’s trickery is but one of several twists on a track that sadly proves the exception and not the rule. It would be quite audacious for the Dillinger Escape Plan to downplay their signature brand of blitzkrieg for an entire album, but more of these quieter digressions would have been welcome. Instead, we end up with something previously thought impossible; a Dillinger Escape Plan record that mostly plays it safe.
‘Prancer’ joins ‘Farewell, Mona Lisa, ‘Fix Your Face’ and ‘Panasonic Youth’ in the assembly of Dillinger album openers that go straight for the jugular. Like its predecessors, it’s lean, fast and angry, vocalist Greg Puciato clearly relishing lines like “What was the question? / Why do you need an answer?” as the tempo and carnage increases around him. ‘When I Lost My Bet’ is similarly frenetic, its musical arrangement a clever hybrid of the styles that drove Calculating Infinity and Miss Machine. The aforementioned ‘One of Us Is the Killer’ slows pace, taking the listener on a dark drive where death is promised but closure is not.
It’s a compelling little number, at turns equally beautiful and chilling and though Puciato’s soft falsetto crooning will always tie him stylistically to the hugely influential Mike Patton, it remains a seriously impressive and slightly underutilised aspect of Dillinger’s arsenal. They have shown as recently as 2010’s Option Paralysis that they are comfortable with this kind of material (‘Parasitic Twins’ is a nice companion piece for this track in particular) so it’s really quite frustrating to go straight into ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’, one of the most Dillinger-by-numbers tracks you’ll ever hear. Those numbers will always be mind-blowing when you get down to the technical nitty-gritty but this is the sound of a band content to settle.
There are further bright spots, but they’re mostly fleeting glances. ‘Nothing’s Funny’ is pitch-black pop fun in the vein of ‘Black Bubblegum’, though its hook ultimately masks what is a pretty straightforward structure, while ‘Magic That I Held You Prisoner’ offers up a soaring chorus that dwarfs the rest of the song around it. By contrast, ‘Paranoia Shields’ boasts some of Dillinger’s finest verse work to date but its remainder is surprisingly plain, housing a breakdown riff straight off Metallica’s Black Album and a chorus that screams Ozzy Osbourne. One of Us Is the Killer displays many throwback nods across its runtime, both to others (the scattershot intro to ‘Understanding Decay’ recalls early Slipknot, while the bruising-but-lethargic ‘Crossburner’ inexplicably goes all Alice in Chains at one point) and to various eras of Dillinger’s own existence.
It’s difficult to tell if this is even deliberate. Given their Kubrickian attention to detail, you’d be inclined to think so, but at this stage of the Dillinger Escape Plan’s career, it’s really not that all unreasonable to expect something more innovative.