From the December 2016 issue of DRUM! | By Bob Doershuk | Photography by James Alvarez
It ain’t over ’til it’s over, right? Well, Dillinger Escape Plan fans, it’s over. Almost. Nearly 20 years ago these guys began writing and performing material based on the collision of impossible complexity and brain-melting intensity. They’ve kept at it since then and, if anything, have brought it all to a peak with their latest album, Dissociation. Just listening to these tracks is exhausting, which only increases our respect for drummer Billy Rymer.
On “Limerent Death,” he goes nuts with free-form thrashing behind Ben Weinman’s guitar solo and then whips the tempo into an insane accelerando. On “Wanting Not So Much As To” he’s precise and unhinged at the same time, flipping beats, never seeming to repeat himself, and slipping in a “stick trick” before plunging back into the maelstrom. He punctuates “Low Feels Blvd” with quick stops and starts, blazing unison passages with the rest of the band, and other hurdles, none of which slow him down or trip him up.
This is great stuff, played by a band at the peak of its powers. So why are the members pulling the plug? “As far as I’m concerned, man, I feel like this is an unspoken decision that happened during a tour we did last year,” Rymer answers, sounding a little less than enthusiastic. “We came to a consensus that this should be the last record we write and release. We’ll do the tour cycle on Dissociation and then that’s it. I mean, we might come back for a festival or maybe one or two shows a year. If Metallica invites us to open up for them, okay, we’ll play with them.”
He whispers, “Lars, if you’re reading this, you can call us.”
Then, in normal voice, “But it’s gonna eventually just stop.”
At least the band is making a memorable exit with Dissociation, and Rymer’s performance is a big part of the equation. When he replaced drummer Gil Sharone in 2007, some DEP fans were skeptical: MetalSucks.net identified him as “some dude no one has ever heard of.” In fact, Rymer was already accomplished, having played session dates all over the New York City area and shows with his punk-oriented band The Rivalry.
It turns out the singer with that band was friendly with Guy Licata, a student of Jojo Mayer who became a kind of mentor to Rymer. “I’d been familiar with Moeller Method, but he would come over once a week and have me play full strokes at a 90-to-90-degree angle until he felt I had it right.”
Licata, who plays now with LCD Sound System, also had friends in common with DEP guitarist Ben Weinman. When he heard that the band was looking for a new drummer, Licata alerted Rymer, who cut videos of himself playing along to some DEP songs and posted them on YouTube. The band noticed, ran him through several auditions, booked him to play at the Soundwave Music Festival in Australia, and then welcomed him as a full member early in 2009.
Dillinger might not have known at the time that the new guy had never actually played in the mathcore style they’d perfected. “I’d never played anything this technical with a band,” he admits. “So for the audition I had to decode their whole crazy equation of microrhythms. Learning this stuff isn’t about time signatures, where you count the pulse and find where phrases begin and end. It’s more about thinking of these small fractions of rhythms as words in sentences. It’s like the Pledge Of Allegiance: Kids say it with the same rests, like: ‘I pledge allegiance — rest — to the flag — rest — of the United States of America.’ They’re not conscious of any time signatures, but they understand the phrasing. That’s how I approached it with Dillinger.”
Of course, since joining the band, Rymer has gone beyond learning older material and become integral to the writing process. It is, to say the least, unorthodox. “Ben and I get together in his basement in New Jersey, where we’ll write seven seconds of music per day,” he deadpans. No, he’s serious! “All these microscopic parts in our songs, we’ll focus all day on just one of them. The next thing is to figure out where each part could go cohesively with other parts to make a song. There’s a lot of splicing, putting things in computers, seeing how things vibe next to each other. If we like it, we’ll track the whole thing until it’s a complete thing.
“Then,” he continues, “we send the demo to Liam [Wilson, bassist] and Greg [Puciato, singer]. They come back — and they crush it.”
Now and then they fall into a more traditional approach toward writing. All of “Limerent Death,” for instance, came together in one sitting. But that had a lot to do with issues Rymer in particular brought into the basement that day. “I’d just broken up with a girlfriend I’d had for three years, so I just sat down at my kit and pretty much played all those rhythms from start to finish. It was anger management, in a way.”
Since the band’s method is so meticulous, piecing songs together like puzzles, surely DEP must have each beat burned into its DNA, so that train wrecks never happen onstage. Actually, according to Rymer, that’s not quite true. “Train wrecks happen all the time,” he points out. “That’s Dillinger Escape Plan. We are a train wreck. We’re always screwing things up. Ben runs out into the crowd. Greg jumps off the rafters. But it’s not like they’re putting on a show. They’re doing it because they’re living it. They’re not kidding.”
And they’re not kidding about calling it quits, either, which leaves Rymer free to ponder his next step. “I’ve never been more confident in my ability to show up prepared at an audition, to have a positive vibe,” he insists. “I’m past the point of no return. I’m not going to be a lawyer. I’m not going to be a carpenter. I’m a drummer — for life.”
Transcription by Andy Ziker
“Low Feels Blvd”
An important benchmark of any progressive metal/mathcore band is its ability to create contrasting material. For the first 1:34, Dillinger Escape Plan’s Billy Rymer blows our minds with a barrage of sixteenth-notes around the drums and cymbals, and then launches into a section that could be found on a Steps Ahead album (with Peter Erskine on drums). Rymer keeps it grounded with mostly consecutive hi-hat eighths, but adds to the already interesting time signature changes with random-sounding rim-clicks, open hi-hats, and bass drum hits.