2016 has been an excellent year for deathcore. Some of the genres key names have been releasing new albums (such as Whitechapel, Chelsea Grin and Caliban), are gearing up to release new albums (Carnifex, Thy Art Is Murder/The Acacia Strain/Fit For An Autopsy and Infant Annihilator), or have announced huge tours (such as the Straight Outta Hell Tour). Suffice to say its pretty exciting. However, by far the most exciting announcement out of the deathcore scene this year was the news that Despised Icon would be releasing a new album. After reforming back in 2014 and touring sporadically, they would finally have the chance to follow-up 2009’s Day Of Mourning. It raises an interesting question as to whether the genre’s pioneers could still remain relevant and fresh in a music scene that has grown stale and stagnant over the years.
Its worth remembering that even when Despised Icon were initially releasing music, their interpretation of deathcore was still somewhat detached from the style peddled by artists such as Whitechapel and Suicide Silence around the mid-2000’s. Their take was both literal in its combination of death metal and hardcore, yet there was a certain sincerity to this approach- instead of relying on gimmicks or novelty to get by, the band simply forged ahead by blending two styles of music that they held near and dear. They ensured that their formula stayed fresh and innovative by throwing in grindcore influences and math rock arrangements- as well as popularizing the breakdown and the oft maligned pig squeal vocal technique. In spite of the seven-year gap between albums, on Beast Despised Icon continue on in this vein with aplomb. Even now their sound is distinctly theirs, despite all the copycats that spawned in their wake- and they execute it with far more conviction, and just more fun, than their peers.
The album abruptly opens with “The Aftermath”, and immediately reminds fans what they’ve been missing out on after all these years. Expertly fusing barrage of blast beats and a stomping riff that will surely ignite mosh pits, Icon announce their arrival with style, as they draw upon their back catalogue to make for an exhilarating opener. The majority of their songs are built upon a foundation of Alex Pelletier’s stunningly technical drum work (on Beast I feel that Pelletier does for deathcore what Ken Bedene has done for death metal on Retrogore), guitar work that can switch from tremolo picking to breakdowns in a heart-beat, and vocal interplay between vocalists Alex Erian and Steve Marois. Sure, it may be familiar, but the band play with precision, ferocity, and most importantly character: they don’t mindlessly repeat turgid breakdowns and filler riffs for the sake of it.
That’s not to say that the band has just rehashed their own formula- far from it. They’ve allowed for new ideas and elements. “Drapeau Noir” throws excellent melodeath fretwork into the mix as if guitarists Eric Jarrin and Ben Landreville are channelling their inner The Black Dahlia Murder- and it absolutely slays, especially towards the end of the song (which I’m sure is a nod to the hardcore bridge of “Retina” off The Healing Process). “Bad Vibes” sounds like the 90s death metal and hardcore crossover that the band has been itching to make, owing in equal parts to Suffocation as it does Madball, and yet this indulgence is so enjoyable it just works. Latter tracks such as “Time Bomb” are delivered at break-neck speed, but are also kept interesting with a varied vocal performance and guest vocals from Kevin McCaughey of Ion Dissonance. Speaking of dissonance, the band refer back to their math-orientated roots on “One Last Martini” in which frenetic, schizophrenic riffs intertwine catchy grooves. It’s a glorious melting pot of influences and ideas that are all neatly filtered through the band’s own identity.
If there is any bone of contention that fans and critics have had about this album, it’s that its too short. At only ten tracks long- two of which are instrumentals- fans might feel they’re not getting enough ‘bang for their buck’. I can see where they’re coming from- after waiting for seven years, to only get ten songs may seem underwhelming, but I think its worth looking at it from a different perspective. Firstly, what you’re getting is an album that is ‘all killer, no filler’. The ten tracks that you get are worth each and every penny that you pay, and there aren’t any songs here that feel like wasted opportunities. Secondly, I’d rather have a deathcore album that is too short than too long. If you feel that there wasn’t enough to listen to, you can always go back over it again, but if an album is too long then it becomes an arduous task to listen to (especially when you consider the often repetitive nature of deathcore).
Despised Icon have delivered what is arguably the best deathcore album of 2016 (although I’m sure Carnifex will have something to say about that with Slow Death), and its one that should stand proud amongst their back catalogue. Well done lads- it was well worth the wait.
All we need now is a UK tour. Maybe a co-headlining tour with Aborted?
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? What albums should I review next? Feel free to leave a comment, like this blog post, like the Facebook page and follow this blog for more content.