The state of deathcore in 2016 isn’t an enviable one. It’s not quite old enough yet to spur on needlessly salty debates about the best MySpace pages, and it’s not fashionable or ubiquitous enough anymore to act as a gateway to further extremity as it once did for so many. Suicide Silence was never that good to begin with, but their records have noticeably declined in quality since their debut. Job for a Cowboy has been a boring modern death metal band since Genesis. All Shall Perish hasn’t released an album since 2011, let alone a good one since 2008; the list goes on. Enter the best-known Canadian deathcore band that’s not Cryptopsy in 2008: Despised Icon. Generally, this a band where people beyond their teens who don’t much care for deathcore anymore, myself included, can enjoy to some degree. As such, I was interested in seeing what they’ve cooked up here on Beast, their first record since 2009.
While it’s about five years too early to start with the sure to be bitter true and false deathcore arguments, I’d say that Despised Icon are deathcore in the truest sense of the word. The “death” comes primarily from mid-period Cannibal Corpse, Suffocation, and modern Cryptopsy, although Beast’s riffing is less technical than the output of those three. The “core” leans heavily on the burly and kinetic riffing of bands like Terror, Sick of it All, and Hatebreed. There seems to be a larger that usual emphasis on core than death for Despised Icon, which might suggest vocalist Alexandre Erian’s metalcore project Obey the Brave seeping into the writing process.
The greater focus on hardcore has made Beast’s songs more streamlined and catchy, which tends to work out well for the band. “Inner Demons” is the most death metal-y track here, combining Cannibal Corpse’s mid-period riffing with Suffocation’s slams effectively. Two-thirds of the way through the song, the band unleashes a massive and memorable chug-fest with the requisite dissonance, and drummer Alex Grind simplifies his drumming underneath to great effect. This leads into a fitting and well-placed breakdown which sees Grind doing the machine gun kick drum thing we all either love or hate (it’s fun here). Modern Cryptopsy’s melodic sensibilities inform the main riff of “Drapeau Noir” and its excellent solo, and when it comes to things that sound like Cryptopsy I like the riff and lead here better than anything off Tome I. “Grind Forever” is amusingly hectic for the first minute or so, and then switches oddly well to being big, burly, and obnoxious after that with a crunchy and catchy groove riff; it’s the right amount of ridiculous to make for a raucous good time.
One largely bothersome thing about Beast is that it’s twenty-nine minutes long and has two interludes, meaning there’s give or take 25 minutes of proper songs on here. Regarding proper songs, “One Last Martini” overuses a painfully stereotypical deathcore riff that sounds like The Red Chord but a tad simpler and has an uninspiring breakdown to boot. “Time Bomb” precedes it and sounds like forgettable deathcore, making differentiating between the two tracks a bit of a hassle. Putting an interlude after these two tracks sees Beast shooting itself in the foot structurally, but the title track pulls it together well enough to close the record on a good note. “Bad Vibes” spends more than enough time doing a typical hardcore buildup, but the payoff is okay-ish modern Cryptopsy riffing that uninspiringly leads into decent knockoff Hatebreed riffing. Beast sounds close to This is Exile in production; it`s loud, pristine, and typically over-produced. The bass is a little more present than Whitechapel’s best, but other than that this is deathcore that sounds exactly as you’d expect it to.
We’re told amongst pig squeals that “Icon is back” in the title track, and from where I stand it’s good that they are. With both a dreadful new Whitechapel record and The Browning doing their annoying Skrillex-core thing taking the spotlight for deathcore in 2016, it’s nice to hear something that’s a mixture of competent, simplified, and largely down-to-earth death metal and good hardcore on Beast. While there’s a bit too much filler and one too many unremarkable moments to fully recommend it, the good stuff here is definitely worthwhile. This won’t change anyone’s mind on deathcore, but it’s a fun time for those of us who were fans way back when. In fact, I’d say that Beast is a perfect snapshot of what those who grew up with deathcore likely think of the genre 2016: there are some lackluster moments, but enough good stuff to remember why it resonated nearly a decade ago. I’m glad to say that a good chunk of what Despised Icon did here still resonated with me.