Over time, heavy music has mutated into an often confusing mass of more and more specialized sub-genres. Death metal, industrial, hardcore, metalcore, each has its own distinct sound. Despised Icon are another subgenre, deathcore, blending elements of extreme death metal and the rhythmic focus of hardcore. For many bands who practice this brand of metal, the result is often monotonous, a drone of noise that focuses on complexity and speed but sacrifices nuance. Recently reunited legends Despised Icon are not one of those bands, and their return album and fifth full-length, Beast, is one of the best, and heaviest, releases of the year, full of intricate instrumentation without losing a sense of catchiness, and even, fun.
Opening track “The Aftermath” starts with a frantic intro with dual screaming vocals and a wild blastbeat, before settling into a comfortable 2-step swagger for the verses. This is one of Despised Icon‘s greatest tools: most deathcore bands skimp on the “core” half aside from throwing in frequent breakdowns, but Despised Icon embrace it and utilize it as a weapon, making the heaviest moments of these songs sound even more massive, while never really feeling “soft” even during the hookier, slower spots. When the shouted gang vocals kick in, there is no way any crowd hearing this stands still. “Inner Demons” is much more obtuse, but equally rewarding. A nice old-school speed/thrash riff carries much of the song as it battles a choppy vocal rhythm, but it mutates and evolves and the song never really stays in one place long enough to define verses or choruses. “Drapeau Noir” is probably the low point of the album, but it’s far from a bad song. It just sounds more generic than anything else here, although it does end on a nice hardcore swing that feels vastly different from the preceding 2 ½ minutes.
Lead single “Bad Vibes” wades in on a sauntering hardcore bounce, and while it sounds very familiar, it does feature some brutal pig squeals from deep vocalist Steve Marois. This is the other half of Despised Icon’s success: while Marois does the standard growls, Alex Erian handles the higher screams, adding extra range to the band’s palate, and this song is an excellent showcase for them both. After a brief orchestral interlude called “Dedicated To Extinction,” the band throw down “Grind Forever,” and boy does it ever live up to the name. Fittingly enough, this song dabbles in grindcore, featuring a swarm of blastbeats and precise, lightning fast chugging patterns courtesy of guitarists Eric Jarrin and Ben Landreville. The finale even peaks on another masterful pig squeal out of Marois as the band drop into the sludgiest hardcore beat of the album.
“Time Bomb” mixes old-school hardcore with a dash of leftover grind, and the result sounds remarkably like early Hatebreed. The riffs are still distinctive, but they are absolutely relentless, switching back and forth between rapid strums and ringing chords with a fluidity few bands can match. “One Last Martini” is unbelievably heavy, but the riffs and Erian’s high snarls bring to mind the ghost of Underoath’s original death metal days. In fact, I don’t think I’ve heard a band hit quite that level of hookiness in such a violent song since Underoath adopted melody. Another interlude, “Doomed,” helps reset the listener for the final song and title track, which is the thickest, darkest song yet. Suffocatingly heavy (due in part to the excellent mixing that gives the bass a sludgy punch often sorely lacking on “core” albums), the song at one point drops down to just a single china cymbal and Marois’s pig squeals, but this feel less like a breather and more like a warning shot before the final grinding few bars of the album.
Despised Icon helped created deathcore as a genre, and with Beast, they help re-create it. The seamless blend of hardcore chugs and lead-run guitar wizardry, paired with the on-point rhythm section and the use of two distinct but equally brutal vocalists all come together to create a perfect concoction, the mythical marriage of technical brutality and endless hooks.