Despised Icon: Return Stronger Than Ever

One of deathcore's formative forces, Despised Icon, are back. Recharged and ready to go with a heavy-hitting new album. Alex Erian talks to Metal As Fuck about 'Beast' and returning to the band's roots.

After a seven-year hiatus, Despised Icon are back, stronger and more determined than ever to unleash their unique and formative brand of heavy-hitting deathcore on crowds around the world with the release of their fifth studio album, Beast, on July 22, 2016. Considered one of the original ‘deathcore’ bands, Canadian born Despised Icon emerged from the death metal scene of the early 2000s with a new sound that incorporated elements of both death metal and hardcore genres, and took it to the road in almost constant touring with some of the biggest names in death metal of that – and indeed this – decade.

In the hectic weeks before the release of Beast, Metal As Fuck caught up with one of the bands signature vocal duo, Alex Erian, who had been shooting a music video for the new single the night before…

Oh wow! So there’s a music video coming out for the track Bad Vibes? "Yes, it’ll probably come out a week before the actual record is dropped so yeah anxious, there’s a lot of work involved, we’re happy with how this record’s happened and as far as the music video’s concerned the song is very old school, very reminiscent of all the core aspects of Despised Icon. We’ve been very vocal about our death metal influences, you know… Dying Fetus, Suffocation, Cannibal Corpse and all that. You know those are all bands we grew up with, visually speaking we’ve brought it back, you know - old school. Reminiscent of the music videos of the early to late 90s when we were all teenagers, old Sepultura videos and all that so yeah visually speaking its a change of pace, it was a challenge to do this new video and to finally drop it."

It sounds fantastic, have you performed Bad Vibes live yet? ‘We haven’t performed any of the new songs live. Our way of seeing things is, the last time we put out a record was in 2009, Day of Mourning, that was seven years ago already, we wanted to hold back and that way we could, sort of…surprise!!...[laughs]… I feel like that’s the way we went about it and I’m happy we went that way, our first two singles Beast and The Aftermath were a lot more impactful because of that … but, you know, all in good time… the records going to come out in a month or so. We are going to start playing new songs next weekend at Rockfest, we’re going do a couple of festivals here in Canada in fact - we have some shows coming up in the U.S. that aren’t announced yet; we have a run in Japan as well and some stuff in Australia in the works for early next year…’

Yeah, right?! That’s exciting…"Yeah, I’m looking forward to getting back on the road and slowly but surely get this world tour booked, confirmed and announced and then we can finally showcase what the new Despised Icon record is all about in a live setting. I feel like it’s a very raw record, very faithful to our live sound … its not overproduced in the sense that there’s very little editing involved on this record…and we went back to our older recordings and our older way of going about it and recording sections at a time, there’s a human vibe to it, and also as far as the sounds concerned it’s a lot less digital. I feel like it really translates well in a live setting and I’m really anxious to finally play those songs live, because of everything I’ve just mentioned but also, just because its been seven years since we’ve played new stuff live so I’m anxious, I cant wait, I’m excited!"

The Aftermath kicks off the new album and its obviously influenced by some serious death metal roots. Has this album been a bit of a ‘back to the origins’ process of writing? "Definitely. We have taken a step back, just playing songs off every record live, a lot of the stuff grew on us, a lot of the stuff we sort of lost interest for, so we identified what we liked the most and what we liked the least out of every record and so for me it was a lot of the slam, the more traditional death metal, a lot of the mosh and so that was very reminiscent of our earlier records, The Healing Process (2005), Consumed by Your Poison (2002). But fans that are into the more technical fast material of Despised Icon were mostly into Day of Mourning (2009) or The Ills of Modern Man (2007) - those fans will be served as well. I feel like we really took what worked … what we think is the best of Despised Icon. We didn’t really have a sense of direction when we started writing this record, it just came out naturally, you know, it was in there, laying dormant, we didn’t know what to expect sitting down and writing this record, as I’ve said it’s been seven years but I guess its just like riding a bike, man, I mean the record just sort of wrote itself and its fucking killer". [laughs]

So, it just grew, it re-emerged… the ‘beast’… is that a metaphor for what’s happening for the band? "Yeah, I think musically speaking, I feel like ‘beast’ is the best word to qualify this record and the music on it. I feel like in a sense it might be a metaphor for this band, laying dormant for quite some time, as we slowly got back together, the beast slowly resurfaces, it witnesses how things have changed - and the musical landscape has changed considerably for us."

As mentioned, it’s been seven years since Despised Icon’s last album. Has the band benefitted from some time away, refocussing…what happened during that time? "Definitely, our batteries are recharged, we reached a point where we were just constantly on tour, trying to be as efficient at possible, trying to be the biggest band, trying to be on the biggest tours and at some point it just takes its toll on you, takes the fun out of it. Music just became a business, and granted it’s a great line of work, but at some point you know you lose sight of why you got into this in the first place. Taking that step back and not being in a band for four years (almost five years) you know was really an eye opening experience…when we broke up, we were just saturated, exhausted and so taking a step back, we realised how much we missed it, how fortunate and lucky we were to be given this opportunity to play our own music, and give us that outlet - to play in a live setting; to tour the world. It’s a great experience - its indescribable. That magic, that spark that went missing somewhere along the way, its back! We are back, but on our own terms, you know, we just want to play music."

What is your opinion of the label ‘old school deathcore’ that’s going around now? "The thing with ‘deathcore’ is that at some point it became a trend and so many bands popped up and it sort of got saturated, and there was a stigma attached to being a ‘deathcore band’.  We were flattered to be considered one of the first bands in that genre, and when we look back its kind of true, when we started this band, our first rehearsals in 2001, our shit predates a lot of bands and it is an honour, and in some ways a blessing in disguise in the sense that at some point it became played out and we tried to steer away from that title because our musical background is not the same as a lot of the current deathcore bands. A lot of deathcore bands were influenced by other deathcore bands. But when it comes to Despised Icon … we grew up in the death metal scene…. We had all been in death metal bands in the past, prior to Despised Icon, so we were like ‘alright, let’s try and start a new death metal band’ but add elements here and there to stand out … so that's how we started Despised Icon. When we started there was no ‘deathcore scene’. We would be on tour with, you know, Immolation, Deicide and Suffocation; Cryptopsy, Behemoth, Morbid Angel and so on. Those are a lot of the bands that influenced us in the first place. It was quite hard because a lot of the fans that were into those bands that we were on tour with, didn’t relate to our type of death metal, you know. So it was hard at first but the next thing you know… Job For A Cowboy started, Suicide Silence, Molotov Solution and all those amazing bands, and we started touring with them a lot. Made things a whole lot easier and that’s sort of how that scene got started, and it was filth but even when I look at those bands that I just mentioned, I don’t see the same thing that I see on a Despised Icon record just because I feel as though our influences are so drastically different. We sound considerably different, our influences are the old school death metal bands, also the stuff that influenced us early on like Madball and Biohazard and even Obituary or Hatebreed so I feel that is one of our strengths, where we stand out in a sense.’" 

Totally, I mean sub-genres…people can get really hair-splitting about it. Do you think this is a diversion from what’s important? Or is it more important, now that everybody is accessing bands on the internet first, helping to direct people around who’s doing what? "It’s a double-edged sword in the sense that, when we started out, there was no internet, we didn’t have Facebook or Instagram. A lot of bands nowadays have these tools to promote themselves and its awesome, but there’s a lot more bands now and also because of social media people are a lot more vocal now about what they like and especially about what they don’t like, I mean everyone’s like a music critic nowadays! I dunno, that’s cool and all; to each their own, but I feel that a lot of people are spending way too much time and wasting way too much energy hating on bands and hating on specific types of music. I feel like people should just focus all that energy and attention on the stuff they like, not just constantly bashing bands. But ultimately, there are days where I just can’t support it and other days when I ‘m thankful for all the hate that I’ve experienced because its made me a whole lot stronger and a whole lot care-less in the sense that its toughened me up, people can say what they want about me, its never going to stop me. I have this specific idea in my head of what I want this band to be and nobody can take my eye off the prize. Nobody’s going to take my fucking focus away. So I’m thankful for that, its important, it’s a rough world out there, - stand your ground, if you worry about what people say about you then you’re going to have a hard time making your way through life, I guess that’s a great way of describing our band name, I mean, 'Despised Icon'……You know, I feel like when we announced that we’d be back and maybe put out a new record and all that, I’m sure we surprised some people in that we didn’t go for the more soft, commercial, acceptable way. Often the older the band gets the more commercial they get. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but we play in-your-face raw-power death metal and that’s never going to change".

Beast is available July 22 via Nuclear Blast Records.