REVIEW: DESPISED ICON – “Purgatory”
Three years between records is quite the industry standard, but for listeners and fans of Despised Icon still reeling from their long hiatus before 2016’s Beast, Purgatory comes as a welcome sign that the Canadian deathcore vets may be here to stay. If there ever was a record to allay our fears that Despised Icon were anywhere close to losing steam, Purgatory is that record!
Has a DI record ever started with an ambient/instrumental prelude? Because, if they haven’t, then they hit gold with Dernier Souffle (Final Breath), it is masterfully crafted and is a deep breath before they pull the trigger on the monstrous intro riff on title-track and single, Purgatory, and we are off to the races! The pinch-harmonic-through-wah breakdown near the end of Purgatory is what starving deathcore fans need in these trying times, and DI know it all too well. Aptly named Light Speed continues the blast beat bombardment and has a hardcore groove leading into a slam breakdown heralded by the puke-blegh that is a crowd favorite. In contrast, Snake in the Grass takes an old-school DI approach to songwriting, complete with the hardcore barks laced with the DESPISED ICON-IC (heh!) pig squealed “bree”s which I did not know how much I missed till now. Standout tracks also include the Aborted-esque Vies D’Agnes (Agnes Lives) and the surprisingly diverse, and longest track, Moving On with the symphonic sections and melodic passages without compromising on brutality.
The boys at Despised Icon draw on various influences with this record, including their own catalog to create memorable sections that feel almost nostalgic as far as blazing deathcore can get. It’s nearly impossible to not hear The Ills of Modern Man on the single Snake in the Grass in all its tasty goodness. On the other hand, the chugging rhythm sections on Apex Predator with its neo-Decapitated intro has a distinct aftertaste of death-grind masters Misery Index as the track progresses. As another example, the intro slam on Legacy is straight-up Pathology pandering, and we should all be lucky for such a fitting homage to those bands.
Every single member of this poutine-loving six-piece is playing at the top of their game. Despised Icon shows the virtue of growing with a stable lineup of members that understand the vision, beating the woes of a prolonged hiatus, coming back with renewed focus and well-rested tenacity. Praise must be given, first, to drummer Alex Pelletier, a Beast (heh, cheeky album name rep) behind the kit. When the double bass and blasts interlock with the guitars it forces a grin. Guitarists Ben Landreville and Eric Jarrin weave in and out of subgenres seamlessly. The solos on Moving On and Unbreakable were a welcome surprise, and beg more instances through the record.
Coupled with the drum tempo changes, and Sebastien Piché rumbling on his bass, Despised Icon blend death metal, grind, and hardcore to refresh listeners on why they are among the pioneers and the textbook definition of “deathcore”. Finally, Despised Icon wouldn’t be who they are without the dual-vocal assault of death growler Steve Marois and trademark hardcore barker Alex Erian. Their vocal styles compliment the sonic approach perfectly and they lay down some of their best work on Purgatory.
Despised Icon has never made any claims about being the most down-tuned deathcore band, or the most melodic, or the most blackened, or the most hardcore infused, or the most technical, yet through years of dogged determination, they have carved out a piece of the deathcore pie that nobody can take away from them. There is no doubt that Purgatory is ruthless, and if there was even the tiniest complaint it would be that being as unrelenting can be oft a double-edged sword. Thankfully, Purgatory is not a long record. It is precise and does not overstay its welcome. To avoid listener fatigue, there could have been a few more curveballs like Dernier Souffle and the symphonic intro to Moving On, and more solos thrown in the mix. Infinitesimal complaints levied against a juggernaut record.
Despised Icon reaches unprecedented levels ferocity on Purgatory in a near-unhinged measure. This death-bordering-on-grindcore album will grab you by its throat and leave you gasping for reprieve and more in equal measure. If you ever needed to show someone how “angry” metal can get, Purgatory should be Evidence A.