The Dillinger Escape Plan Employs Atypical Digital Studio Methods for Mathcore Madness
Dillinger Escape Plan in Omen Room Studios during the recording of Option Paralysis.
Looking for some mellow, smooth sounds to kick back to on a Friday night, with soft lights and a glass of wine? Well, you’d best leave the new Dillinger Escape Plan album outta your plans. Dillinger’s purposefully agitating punk-metal typhoons are custom-crafted to hurl you off of that couch and make you punch holes in the walls.
Recorded and engineered by the band’s longtime producer Steve Evetts at his Omen Room Studios in Garden Grove, California, Dillinger’s new album Option Paralysis [Season of Mist] is another trademarked Dillinger blitzkrieg of blamblamblam. What has become increasingly provocative about the band’s sound, however, is the ingenious ways Dillinger manages to blend the harsh with the harmonious.
“Our music definitely presents a challenge in that way,” says guitarist/chief theoretician Ben Weinman, “because in one sense it’s supposed to be aggressive and it’s supposed to be obnoxious. It’s written that way—we use a lot of dissonant chords, a lot of high frequencies, and we’re also tuning to normal standard E, which is not as low as many heavy bands. But it’s important to balance the annoyance with things that are the antithesis of that. It’s the dynamics that are important to us at the end of the day.”
SOUNDS OF THRASHING
Ben Weinman at Omen Room.
A veteran soundman who’s produced and engineered albums by Hatebreed, Saves the Day, Sepultura, Glassjaw, and Every Time I Die, Evetts has been with Dillinger since the beginning of the band’s career. The current lineup— which includes Weinman, singer Greg Puciato, guitarist Jeff Tuttle, drummer Billy Rymer, and bassist Liam Wilson— convened at Evetts’ studio after Weinman had worked out pre-production demos in Steinberg Cubase.
The Omen studio includes two rooms, and when Evetts tracks drums, he leases the A room from the building’s other occupant; the rooms are connected, so he uses his gear in the live room and in the hallway, which he exploits as a recording area as well. “The hallway is a tiled room that’s wired up and meant to use as a chamber,” he says, “so we keep the door to the A room cracked open and have a stereo pair of mics at the end of the hallway. We get the best of both worlds.”
For miking drums, Evetts used Shure SM57s, as well as Sennheiser MD 421s on the toms and AKG C 414s or Violet Design The Amethyst on the overheads. Room miking is mostly done with 414s, and in the drum hallway, Evetts depends on the Royer R-121s, plus a couple of inexpensive Langevin CR-2001 mics. Then there’s the kick drum: “I love the Electro-Voice RE20 on the kick,” he says. “A lot of people use the AKG D 112, but I usually use the D 112 on the outside to give a great low-end bump.”
For Puciato’s vocals, Evetts keeps going back to the AKG C 414 “because it always just works with him,” he says. “Greg feels more comfortable with the way it sounds in his headphones, and if he feels more comfortable, I don’t care what we use.”
Recorded, mixed, and edited in Pro Tools|HD, Option Paralysis was essentially a digital project, though the process involved a blend of analog and digital methodologies. “I used some analog processing in the mix,” Evetts says. “I’m mixing in the box but in a hybrid system, with some outside summing and then a lot of analog outboard gear in the mix. [And during tracking,] we used a Roland Space Echo, running through tape just to get that analog sound.”
DILLINGER GUITAR PLAN
While Evetts and Weinman did utilize direct-inject recording of the guitars from time to time, they did so in a sparing way; their tidal waves of chopping-knife guitars derive primarily from rudimentary means: using the right pick on the right guitar through the right amplifier. jagged little accents on guitar, so I’ll run a line from an amp,” Evetts says. “I’m running a cleanish sound, low-wattage at 5 or 10 watts, to get that small-amp kind of thing, and then on the other side I’ll record with a direct box and really jack the high end up super-high and compress it hard. It gives a very metallic kind of tiny sound.”
In the studio, Weinman uses a wide array of guitars old and new, pricey and not so, depending on the desired effect. “I’m using a couple of cheaper ESP guitars, and then I also threw on a Les Paul in a few spots for more body,” he says.
Because of the density and speed of the Dillinger attack, Weinman feels that he needs as much control over the sound as possible. “There’s so much going on so quickly,” he says, “so a lot of what’s important for us is things like deadening the strings in spots where they’re making noises, stuffing body cavities with tissue and cotton, etc.”
Weinman and second guitarist Jeff Tuttle employ a zillion different analog pedals in the studio and onstage, but Weinman insists that for his main tones he relies mostly on his guitars, his amps, and his fingers, though he’s developed a fondness for the Japanese Guyatone pedals.
“They’re really little, for one—you can put about 40 of them on a pedalboard, but they’re really huge-sounding. And I also use their reverb pedals, a Guyatone that has a tube in it, a tremelo pedal, and the digital delay. There’s a shaper pedal, which you can carve out a lot of different frequencies and tones with, and then there’s a booster pedal that’s similar to a [BBE] Maximizer. Sounds really good.”
The band’s selection of amplifiers is crucial as well. “In the past I’d throw in a [Peavey] 5150 for certain things that were really bright and aggressive, and then for clean things I’d change amps,” Weinman says. “But on this record probably 80 percent was the Mark V, definitely the best amp Mesa/Boogie has ever made. It’s diverse; the distortion is extremely tight. The pedalboard that comes with it has some interesting features, too, like looping and a great reverb; the clean sounds great, but then the variations in distortion rival any $4,000 amp.”
While this very electronicized band’s sonic attack can give the impression of being heavily effected, the real meat of the music is reliant on just a handful of plug-ins and hardware effects. Evett’s two main tools for EQ are the URS plug-ins made for the Neve, along with the Massenburg DesignWorks Parametric EQ for more “carving out” of the sound. “The Massenburg EQ,” he says, “is less obtrusive than the other Pro Tools EQs; the URS EQ has more of a color of a sound, but it’s very pleasing to the ear.”
For reverb and delay effects, it’s back to basics for Evetts. “The funny thing is, for the main snare reverb I just use a Yamaha SPX90. I have other plug-ins, like the [Peavey] UltraVerb, but the DX just sounds great—it does one thing pretty much, but it does it well.”
Evetts is not a big fan of plug-in compressors, but he’s found a few that do the job well. “For some reason, a lot of software compressors flatten out the sound, and not in a pleasing way— it kills the bottom end,” he says. “But the three main compressors I use are software, and they all seem to not do that—the URS doesn’t do it, the Massey and the Chandler EMI don’t either.”
Evetts is referring to the Chandler EMI TG12413 Limiter plug-in, which he uses for drum compression, the URS Neve plug-in for bass, and the Massey CT4, which he hits up when the mood strikes. For the main vocals, he turns to hardware, such as the Universal Audio 1176.
Blurring lines between metal and hard rock, the members of Dillinger Escape Plan push a distinctly aggressive agenda with their sound—they just do it their own way.
“We usually don’t try to have a metal-sounding record, even though a lot of stuff we’re playing is really fast and heavy and distorted,” Weinman says. “Typically metal bands use a lot of frequencies that wouldn’t necessarily work with a rock album, and viceversa. We’re trying to make a record that’s blast-you-in-the-face, but we’re not using a lot of the tricks that a lot of other bands are doing, so we do incorporate a lot of electronics.”
The question is, with all the ferocious speed and complexity built into a typical Dillinger Escape Plan song, how in the hell do these guys process it all without losing their heads?
“Dillinger records usually take a lot more effort than most,” Evetts says. “It’s a lot to take in, and it’s an intense listen. When you’re hearing all this stuff going on at a million miles an hour, and sometimes in multiple time signatures, all that is mentally exhausting. Dillinger’s the toughest job I ever loved. It takes so much out of you, but I always love the end result, and it’s very satisfying as a creative entity.”