Opening the doors of hardcore 

Dillinger Escape Plan and Poison the Well buck punk rules

Like longtime East Atlanta residents pushed out of their homes by creeping gentrification, those who once championed metal and punk as an expression of the disaffection from mainstream culture have found themselves malled-out from their musical enclaves by diluted, MTV-ready knock-offs.

Marginalized to the fringes of their respective movements, innovative acts such as Poison the Well and Dillinger Escape Plan are renovating the elitist, exclusionary attitudes of their cliques. Uniting approaches and injecting a brand of musical populism that's brutally raw and rich in integrity, they are filling stylistic holes in a neighborhood devoid of such qualities.

Despite similar approaches hardcore punk and thrash metal diverged in the mid-'80s as pioneering acts like Megadeth, Pantera, D.R.I., 7 Seconds and Bad Brains developed separate camps suspicious of each other and delineated by their fashion signifiers. Almost two decades later, cross-pollination and openness to other musical styles is challenging those cloistered attitudes even as they assail the commercial impulses of their mainstream peers.

Dillinger Escape Plan formed in North Jersey in 1997 as a reaction against its local scene. "When we started ... we were trying to create music for certain audiences," says guitarist Ben Weinman. "Then we kind of gave up. We were bitter and kind of against everybody because we knew that nobody liked us, and that kind of drove us. Once people started actually getting into the band, and accepting us into the scene, our shows were kind of a big 'fuck you.' But the initial intention was, 'let's write music that stimulates us.'"

Forming around the same time, Poison the Well also began as a reaction to music around its South Florida home. "All the bands sounded kind of the same, and we just wanted to do something to piss people off," says guitarist Ryan Primack.

The result was an intriguing mesh of screamed vocals, locomotive rhythms and heavy-duty guitar riffing, interspersed with bits of melodic singing and guitar that became more prevalent and seamlessly integrated with each subsequent release -- culminating with this year's major label debut, You Come Before You.

"If you don't expand on what you are doing, then you're just stagnant," says Primack, dismissing some fans' accusations of selling out. "I think if you're writing songs to please someone else, that's the ultimate form of sellout. That's what hardcore punk rock means to me. It means honesty, sticking to your guns and doing what you want to do, not what someone else wants you to do."

While Dillinger features a similar intensity and fury, its sound is different -- a less song-structured animal that employs unusual time signatures, alternating pummeling chords and rhythms with flowing jazz-inflected leads.

"We don't just take a style of music and stick it within the song, we let that style of music influence the song," says Weinman. "Our goal is not to say, 'OK, we're going to have a metal part, and we're going to throw a jazz part in and we're going to throw this kind of thing in. It's more, let's let the influences create our style."

What is similar is how both bands hope to open minds, musically.

"I think it's awesome that there are a lot of kids that are going to our shows now that are really open-minded to any kind of music," says Primack.

Weinman concurs, "I like to think that we had some small help in blurring that line between the metal and the hardcore worlds, because, like any other worlds, its OK for someone who likes Slayer to like Radiohead. Just like the people who are doing the best at what they do."


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