Irony Is a Dead Scene is Mike Patton’s only album with The Dillinger Escape Plan. It was created whilst they were between singers and was released on the 24th of August 2002 on Epitaph.
In what many people still consider the best material The Dillinger Escape Plan ever released, the American mathcore band teamed up with their longtime role model and friend Mike Patton. The result was documented in the form of an EP that to this day still pushes the envelope of what mathcore, and experimental music in general, can be.
Imagine you are an independent, experimental band struggling to find an audience after releasing your first album. Suddenly you get to tour with one of your idol’s many projects and you realize that their audience also digs what you and your friends are doing. So you’re stoked, but then your singer quits. While you’re looking for a singer, your idol offers to record vocals for your between-albums EP.
That, in a nutshell, is exactly what happened to The Dillinger Escape Plan in 2001. Mike Patton was one of the first big enthusiasts of the band’s debut album, Calculating Infinity (1999). In an interview with Loudwire, guitarist Ben Weinman talks about how Patton was familiar with the band even when they had only a couple of EP’s under their belt.
Then, on the eve of their first album’s release, Weinman was insecure about the album not being any good. In what we can only suppose was a search for reassurance, he gave a copy of it to Mike Patton. The band members, who were also very critical of the album’s final sound, were apparently displeased by this but Patton reportedly kept playing it again and again.
Once Calculating Infinity was released, the band toured with Mr. Bungle. Then, near the end of 2000, original singer Dimitri Minakakis decided to quit the band in order to focus on graphic design (later designing the artwork for the band’s Option Paralysis (2010)).
So back in 2001, the band was suddenly left without a singer. They uploaded an instrumental version of “43% Burnt” to their website and invited any prospective singers to send them a version with their vocals on it.
Recording and Personnel
As submissions kept piling in, Mike Patton agreed to sing on the band’s next EP. The lineup for this record, which shifted dramatically since the original one back in 1997, consisted also of Liam Wilson on bass, Ben Weinman on lead guitar and keyboards, Brian Benoit on rhythm guitar and Chris Pennie on drums and additional keyboards. Adam Doll, who was Dillinger’s original bass player until a car accident left him paralyzed from the armpits down, contributed with keyboards and sampling.
Productions duties were shared among Weinman and Pennie. The EP was engineered by Chris Badami (I Can Make A Mess Like Nobody’s Business), at Portrait Recording Studios in Lincoln Park, NJ. It was then mixed by Steve Evetts, who has been involved with pretty much every Dillinger release either as a producer or engineer. Mastering was done by Alan Douches at West West Side Music, also in New Jersey. Due to his close relationship working with Evetts, Douches has also mastered nearly every DEP release.
Sound and Tracks
As fate would have it, the members of The Dillinger Escape Plan had a blast in the studio with Mike Patton, but by the time post-production was finished, the band found a new vocalist and the EP was shelved for a while. By the time Irony Is A Dead Scene was released, on August 27, 2002, The Dillinger Escape Plan had been touring with new singer Greg Puciato for nearly a year.
Here’s some footage of Dillinger and Mike Patton at the studio:
Sonically, the EP picks up on the ruthlessness and utter violence of its predecessor, while still featuring some very quiet and peaceful passages. Mike Patton went haywire with his vocal versatility, wailing into a gas mask, screaming, whispering near-spoken word and even featuring some of his more traditional singing that is reminiscent of his Faith No More work, at least for a few seconds.Then the math-rock chops and free experimentalism of the guys in Dillinger sets itself in and it’s natural, yet completely different incarnation.
As one Pitchfork review put it, the eccentricity Patton is known for fits DEP quite well. It never seems as the unlikely, one-off collaboration that it was. They somehow managed to make it sound cohesive ,like these guys had been a cemented act from many years before. That’s the effect of uncompromised performance.
Opener “Hollywood Squares” skips any idea of an intro and bursts head-first into odd-time signatured blast beats and Patton screaming “Game over, you win”. Straight to business it is. The song ends with a grandiose chorus and then total instrumental mayhem.
“Pig Latin” follows with an unsettling math-rock riff that Patton somehow managed to couple with one of the most melodic lines on the EP. That doesn’t last very long though, the following vocal part is just plain obscene. Like a sick twisted fairy leading a chorus of over-eager tribesmen.
The cards that these guys were able to pull just seemed endless on this EP. Third track “When Good Dogs Do Bad Things” sounds at times like it was composed by making their DAW crash, then managing to play the result on guitars and drums while speeding the whole thing up.
The glitch technological reference seems suitable when you notice that the final track is a meticulous yet tongue-in-cheek cover of Aphex Twin’s “Come To Daddy”.
Album Art Work
It is exactly that almost innocent approach that Patton gave to the band’s otherwise cerebral proficiency that makes the EP’s artwork so adequate. It was designed by Nick Pritchard, who in the early 2000’s specialized in silhouette designs for punk and metal bands. In it, a smiling child is holding an oversized switchblade over a solid orange background with what appear to be gears behind him. It almost speaks about the impossibility of the collaboration within. Two creative forces with that degree of ambition can’t be contained for too long.