It’s fascinating to watch the trajectory of a musical genre or movement. As new sounds become popular in the underground, they find enough ears to become a major event. The foundational bands release their groundbreaking albums. Those inspired by the style flock to try their own hand, and the entire industry convulses in an effort to cash in. And then after 2-3 album cycles it’s over and were on to the next thing. But some of those original bands manage to secure their legacy, having released music of genuine value that transcends the 3-5 years of popular energy.
Deathcore is one of many interesting examples of this in the metal world, and Despised Icon was always one of its finest exemplars. Coming very much from the hardcore universe, the band created a crushingly brutal mix of modern hardcore and dissonant death metal. As the metalcore wave was peaking in the mid-aughts, Despised Icon, along with bands like Job for a Cowboy and Suicide Silence, emerged taking a similar approach, but one that had more to do with Suffocation than At the Gates. But now it’s 2016. Many of the bands are still very popular, but the sound has been very much exhausted, its essential tenets stretched beyond recognition in a dizzying array of -core spin-offs in the late aughts. But there was always something about Despised Icon that separated them from the rest of the pack. To put it bluntly, their music was better. The riffs were better, the songwriting was more engaging, and the breakdowns actually fit the songs.
And here we are with a new album, Beast, an album that preserves many of the fundamentals of the band’s sound. As expected, there’s plenty of heavy grooves, breakdowns and mind-splitting blast-beats. Beast is a very good Despised Icon album. They’re still, by a huge longshot, one of the best that deathcore has to offer (only Ion Dissonance comes close). The opener, “The Aftermath” is an energizing burst of energy, a fitting beginning to lead listeners into other great tracks like “Drapeau noir” and “Grind Forever.” And the title track closer is…well, a beast! It plays like a perfectly crafted deathcore song (SO MANY PIG SQUEALS! WHAT YEAR IS IT? Though to be honest, I got kind of pumped when I heard them).
But that brings me to a couple of the album’s weaknesses, ones that prevent it from sitting at the same table as the band’s best works (in my opinion, The Healing Process and Day of Mourning). The album lacks some variation in tempos and moods that helped to keep listeners guessing. I’m all for doing things in a straightforward way, but some of the writing here is a bit too predictable. The album is also light on death metal-style riffs and harmonies that lent some much-needed color to older songs (e.g. “Black Lungs,” “Immaculate”). There’s some of it, but not as much as this fan was hoping for. And while a slick production and compression gives this kind of record the kind of booming sound these bands thrive on, it can be taken too far. The Healing Process had a clear, crisp sound, but still enough grit to make it feel natural. On Beast, the band risks sounding like the bands they influenced with overly precise machine-gun drumming and little-to-no reverb on the guitars. Some more of this would give Beast some atmosphere to add to the great music on display.
Still, Despised Icon has always thrived on the unbeatable vocal powers of Steve Marois and Alex Erian, whose eye-opening screams and growls tower above their cookie-cutter competition. For listeners searching for a well-produced, brutal addition to their workout routine or a reason to make a totally irrational entry into the mosh pit with people twice their size, look no further!
Favorite Songs: “The Aftermath,” “Drapeau noir,” “Grind Forever,” and “Beast”