Despised Icon – Embracing the Chaos

Tuesday, 5th November 2019

Deathcore pioneers Despised Icon returned after initially putting the band back to bed in 2010 with 2016’s Beast. It proved to be a successful one, with the band returning to their unique stomping grounds with brutality to spare. With a different touring mindset at hand, they may not have played as many shows as they used to, but they also took some time to craft a follow-up album, in the form of the soon-to-be-released album Purgatory.

The band has once again lost none of its bite, with a true hybrid of brutal death metal and hardcore coming together in a most malevolent form. We took a few minutes before the band hit the road this fall to chat with frontman Alex Erian about the upcoming release, what they’ve enjoyed about their return, and deathcore itself.

Dead Rhetoric: How does Purgatory compare to Beast?

Alex Erian: The thing with Beast is that we wrote it pretty rapidly when we announced that we were getting back together. I felt it was more raw and stripped down – it was very aggressive, and reminiscent of our older, death metal sound. This time around, with Purgatory, we wrote it over the course of a year/year and a half. We took our sweet time.

In comparison with our previous records, where we would write on our laptops or in the studio – this time we had time to pre-pro the entire record, rehearse it as a band, and fine-tune it afterwards. There are a lot more arrangements on this one, and I feel that it’s not just reminiscent of the older Despised Icon, but we also make some nods to the other records as well. It’s a good tribute to every era of the band, and I’m quite pleased with how it came out.

Dead Rhetoric: Is it important to keep the connection going with some lyrics that are in French?

Erian: Yeah – I get that English is the universal language, but we are all just a bunch of Frenchies [laughs]! Sometimes it’s good to showcase where we are from. Music is a reflection of culture as well, so I feel it’s important for us to show some French-Canadian content. It’s from the heart. I feel that obviously our English has gotten better over the years, but my vocabulary in French will always be better. As I’m speaking to you right now, that voice inside my head is still going in French. It’s actually much easier to be able to write in French.

Dead Rhetoric: What has been most fulfilling about coming back for this second round of Despised Icon?

Erian: When we broke up, we were just burnt out, to be honest. We were touring all the time and we were butting heads. A lot of us became curious about life outside of music, and a lot of us had really good job opportunities – most of the dudes started families. I feel like we all needed to experience that, and we needed that time off from music and ourselves. But ultimately, that’s how we understood that we were made for this. It’s a part of who we are and what we do, and how much we missed it – us having a second shot at doing this is huge.

We don’t tour as much as we used to…maybe 3 weeks out of the year. Last year was our European headliner, so by default, this year is our North American one. Now, it’s not just show up and play. Each show is like an event. It’s a fulfilling experience. We make the most we have out of every day on tour, because we understand the opportunity we were given, and how special this is. I’m really quite pleased with how everything has been coming about as of late.

Dead Rhetoric: I’ve heard that same sentiment from other bands that had been around for a while, and decided like you guys did, that maybe you don’t have to be on the road every single day. It seems to make their lives as easy as well, so it’s interesting to hear that similarity.

Erian: I get it though – nowadays in order to get your name out, you have to tour. You have to put in the time, you have to put in the work. A lot of our peers are still doing it. Respect to my boys in Whitechapel and Carnifex, or Thy Art is Murder, who brought deathcore to what it is now. But as far as we are concerned, we are all in our late 30s or early 40s. We don’t got time for that shit [laughs]!

Dead Rhetoric: You brought up deathcore – when I think of Despised Icon, I don’t really think of deathcore just because you kind of pre-dated it. But at this point, do you feel that some of that stigma has left the genre? It’s not as much of a taboo as it was say, 5-6 years ago.

Erian: Yeah, there was a certain stigma attached to it at some point, just because, like any new trend there is always people who are a bit more traditional/non-welcoming of whatever is hyped. I mentioned Carnifex, and they are one of the hardest working bands that I know. I feel like they really contributed to what it is now. It’s not just a fad, it’s not just a trend. It’s actually a legit style of music that is here to stay, and that makes me happy.

When we first started out, we keep saying that we were established in 2002, but in reality, we grouped up at the end of 2000 and worked on this band for like a year and a half before we made it public. Back then, there was no deathcore scene. When we first started touring, we toured with bands like Immolation, Deicide, Suffocation, Morbid Angel, and Cryptopsy. We were getting booed every night. It was brutal! There were no deathcore tours. But we stuck with it. But I do give props to All Shall Perish and Animosity, which were the first west coast bands to play this type of music, same with us and The Red Chord on the east coast. We hear a lot about current deathcore bands, but not a lot about those who started this shit in the first place.

Dead Rhetoric: How did you go about getting all of the special guests in the upcoming tour, in addition to the packed line-up?

Erian: It’s going to be wild, I came up with this whole thing with our booking agent. The thing about Despised Icon is that we blend death metal with hardcore, and whenever we build a tour package, that’s our outlook. We rarely do a 100% deathcore package. That’s not our upbringing. We grew up listening to Suffocation and Devourment. The fact that they are playing a few shows on this tour is a huge honor for us. I’ve been listening to Devourment for so long, I can’t wait to actually see them play live! I’m just a fan – no rockstar bullshit or anything. We’ve been doing this for so long; I’m doing it out of passion.

To be given the opportunity to play with bands that we appreciate is a huge honor. I’ve very much looking forward to sharing the stage with Kublai Khan – they are like the metal/hardcore band on the package, as is I Am. We’ve got Ingested from the UK – I’ve been supporting those dudes for a decade. It’s so nice to see those dudes popping off now and doing great. We like touring with friends, simple as that. I believe our second US tour was with Suffocation. They believed in us and gave us confidence when not a lot of people were big into our shit. The fact that we can share the stage with them again is awesome. I can’t wait!

Dead Rhetoric: It goes along with what you were saying about not touring as much. When you can combine it with going out with bands you are excited to tour with – I can tell just from talking with you on the phone that you are really stoked about this.

Erian: For sure – we aren’t a touring band anymore. I’m going to raid all their merch tables and grab every longsleeve [laughs]!

Dead Rhetoric: Where do you pull your lyrical inspiration from?

Erian: I guess my approach is very introspective. The concept behind Purgatory is acknowledging that duality that resides in all of us. Whether it’s our good actions/intentions or those bad impulses. We strive to be good, but in reality, nobody is perfect. I feel that this record is an acknowledgement of that – embracing the chaos from this transition phase in my life and trying to find that middle ground. Purgatory is kind of an in-between for me, and that was the mindset I was in when I was writing it.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel defines Despised Icon as a band?

Erian: I feel like we do have an original approach. I feel like we don’t necessarily sound like most of the deathcore bands out there right now just because we aren’t really influenced by deathcore bands. Despised Icon, when we started, we had all been in death metal bands before. When we started the band, we wanted to switch it up a little. We love Nile and constant blastbeats and all that, but we wanted to do something a little different, and add different influences.

So I would like to think that originality defines the band, I would like to think that us being at it for so long, passion also defines it as well. There’s really no rockstar bullshit at all. As I said, we aren’t even really a touring band anymore. We are just in it for the love.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel that you’ve changed as a result of being involved with music for a long time?

Erian: I’ve always considered myself more of an introvert and music got me more out of my shell. I feel that music is a way to balance things out and transform all of these negative experiences and obstacles into more of a learning/growing experience. I try to see the glass half full, and music definitely helps me with all that. I encourage anyone reading to try to find that thing that defines you – whether it’s music, sports, or whatever. Just get out of that comfort zone and apply yourself.

Dead Rhetoric: Anything going on with Obey the Brave at the moment?

Erian: We just released a record in July. Ben [Landreville] has now joined me in Obey the Brave as our new full-time bass player. We have been touring a lot, and we just got back from America. We are getting ready to do some Canadian and European dates in the fall. We are just riding the wave while it lasts. Most of the guys in Despised are in the family man lifestyle. For me, music is just so important that it is still a full-time gig. OtB gives me the opportunity to do so.

Dead Rhetoric: Does it help to keep things fresh when you switch between the two?

Erian: For sure. Despised’s live set is very important for me. Having the opportunity to tour and write with another band, I feel that benefits both Despised Icon’s live show and writing in general. It helps me write outside of the box, and makes it seem like we are still able to reinvent ourselves while being faithful to who we are. Forever learning – working with various producers, and writing in more metal/hardcore styles, and in doing a lot of clean vocals with another band and exploiting other subjects/ways of writing – I feel it helps me in writing more for Despised Icon, and I feel like that is how I could keep things fresh with this record, and not just repeat old ideas.

Dead Rhetoric: What can you say about the influence of Canadian extreme music on yourself?

Erian: As a music lover, Cryptopsy is a huge influence for me. Same for Kataklysm to a certain extent. The same for Comeback Kid, who are from a completely different scene. There is a lot of talent from Canada, and it’s quite complicated to get your music out of the country. Just touring America is so complicated. Work visas, and just having this industry – I’m in California right now, not Canada, which says a lot. Seeing our peers actually make a living off music was definitely inspirational for the boys and I in Despised at a younger age. It showed us that is possible to get out there, and it was a motivational factor. It’s great to see Comeback Kid and Cryptopsy out on the road still, they were important bands for me.

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