Published Sep 25, 2007Genuinely avid musicians and performers, Despised Icon are easily one of the hardest working bands in metal. Since their Century Media debut, The Healing Process, they have toured almost endlessly with some of the genres biggest names, bringing their modern blend of all things brutal to the global stage. Their newest effort, The Ills of Modern Man, showcases the depth of these experiences, bringing a diverse set of influences to their already eclectic mix. Getting their start in Canadas favourite hair-whip hotbed, these six young Quebecois have drawn influence from their roots and beyond, evolving into their own as one of the countrys best known and highly regarded exports.
From reading the lyrics, it doesnt seem like this is a commentary about "the ills of modern man, more so just a collection of personal reflections. Does the title actually unite the album conceptually?
Vocalist Alex Erian: I think that when Steve [Marois, vocals] and I wrote the lyrics, we didnt have that whole title and perspective. Its not supposed to be some concept album either. Basically, being in a band on tour all year long does bring some complications to your personal life and I think that us writing about it helps vent out all the emotion. I think that the more you write about it the more it helps you cope. Most of the topics covered on this CD are regrets, dealing with disappointment, fears and inhibitions. I feel pretty nostalgic at times as well but theres a negative part to all of us and being in a band helps balance things out; its a positive outlet for negative energy. The reason why we chose that title for the entire thing is that we talk about how we feel but we dont [want to] lose the perspective that everything thats going on right now is way bigger than our small little problems. We do feel bad at times, but we just got to keep that in perspective. A friend of mine that used to sing in Neuraxis almost died yesterday, so our little problems are horseshit compared to what hes going through. Thats kind of out of the subject but I had to bring it up. The title does sound mean, and we do consider ourselves a death metal band, so we have to reflect our music and weve got to try and sound badass here.
Ive read before that the writing process is usually just you writing drum parts and then working from there. Has this changed over the years?
With this new record, I would say Alex there are two Alexs in the band and one Al [Glassman, guitar], so it might get confusing but Alex [Pelletier], our drummer, and myself immediately start off and write an entire song on drums and then program all of the drums beats, one after the other, as if they were riffs, so certain beats will repeat themselves. Then, most of the time, we just kind of [have] an idea of what the music would be over those beats and we just sit down with Eric [Jarrin], our guitarist, and hum riffs cause we dont know how to play guitar. Were pretty good at humming now. On the last tour we just did, All Shall Perish kept playing Guitar Hero so now weve got our whole Guitar Hero van set up going on and Im really into that, so Im thinking of actually starting to learn how to play guitar. The next time around I might actually play riffs instead of just humming them. As far as how we write, its still pretty much the same thing that you described but now more than ever everybody in the band its never been a dictatorship, nobodys like, "alright, I need you to play this part whether you like it or not, everybody has a say but more and more everybody is giving their feedback and we all keep that in mind when we make the final arrangements. This time, Steve and I wrote half the lyrics each, [whereas] on The Healing Process I wrote most of the lyrics. I think that our approach is somewhat the same but we wanted to evolve as a band, so its not quite the same thing. We added a few elements here and there. Part of me wants to say weve never worked this hard on a CD before cause weve all been in a lot of bands in the past, and I think I speak for all of us when I say we put everything we had into this CD. Were pretty satisfied with how it came out.
That kind of relates to another question I wanted to ask. I think this album is a lot heavier than what youve done in the past and Im wondering if you went into the studio thinking, "Okay, were going to evolve into a way heavier band?
I dont know. I guess it was just initial progression. Weve been fortunate enough to be put on really decent tours. Weve toured with some of the biggest death metal bands like Morbid Angel, Suffocation, Deicide, Behemoth and all that, but weve toured with straight-up hardcore or metalcore [bands like] Hatebreed and First Blood, and weve played with melodic bands like Through the Eyes of the Dead, All Shall Perish and the Black Dahlia Murder, so thats pretty much how diversified our music is and how open we are musically. I think thats our main mindset every time we try to write a song. On this record the title track, "The Ills of Modern Man, is probably the heaviest, fastest, most brutal death metal song weve ever written. On the other hand, this other song, "Tears of the Blameless, has no blast beats whatsoever and is a bit more metalcore. The last track of the CD is this big melodic outro clean part that weve never quite explored in the past and on the opening track we have a guitar solo. Weve written about 30-something songs in the span of five years and its the first time weve had a guitar solo. I think structure-wise, the song structures are a bit better thought out. Still, I dont think we sacrificed the whole chaotic aspect of our music for structure. I like our CD so I hope people will dig it.
Other than being on tour with all sorts of diverse and popular bands, have you found your deal with Century Media to be all big label life is made out to be in terms of the opportunities it affords you?
There are pros and cons. Look at it this way: weve toured with some of the bands that got us into music in the first place, which is quite an honour. Were not 18-year-old MySpace kids, were 23- to-30-year olds, weve been into death metal for at least half our lives. Weve been following the scene a lot, we know our roots and weve been offered the opportunity to play with those bands that got us into death metal or hardcore in the first place. That is a major advantage to being in this band. Our label has been really supportive, theyve been supporting us financially to put out these records and these music videos, and hooked us up with this interview with you right now. We just went to Europe for the first time a few months ago with Job for a Cowboy and Unearth and that was out of this world. They paid for our plane tickets and for the tour bus, which we could have never afforded. And now theyre bringing us back to Europe in February and its the same deal. Im really stoked. I started getting into music when I was 12 and I would just dream of living the life that Im living right now. But, with that being said, we are broke, we do miss our families, friends and girlfriends, and as I said earlier, it brings a lot of complications. We have gone through some bullshit in our personal lives but we are living our dream and were one of the hardest working Canadian metal bands. I think our scene overall is getting a lot of recognition, a lot more than it used to get in the past few years. Were really proud of where were from, were really proud of all the bands that come from back home, like our brothers in Ion Dissonance or Beneath the Massacre. One of the CDs weve listened to the most this year in the van is Elementary, the new one by the End. Im really digging that CD so everybody check it out. As far as doing this Exclaim! Canadian tour, the last time we toured coast to coast was a year-and-a-half, two years ago. Earlier this year we did do the whole of East coast Canada, you know, Quebec, Ontario, the Maritimes, but havent been in BC, the western part of Canada in quite some time so were really looking forward to that.
How do you think people are going to react to you on this tour? Obviously your fans are going to come out but at the same time the Locust, Child Abuse, and the Discord of a Forgotten Sketch all have a lot more similarities musically. How do you think thats going to go over?
As I said, were a band that are really open musically and were all about touring in different scenes, so I think that illustrates what were all about once more. It should be interesting to play in front of a more spazzier grindcore crowd. Im pretty sure some of them will dig what we have to offer, and Im pretty sure a lot of our fans will show up as well. Weve been getting a lot of mail, a lot of support from the English Canadian part of this country and were really stoked to be back so it should be a lot of fun.
What do you think is the hardest part of touring Canada coast to coast?
Long-ass drives, a lot of nothing in between cities. I wouldnt say its hard, I mean, I dont know.
Do you find its harder to get people out because the cities arent even that big to begin with?
A lot of people underestimate Canada; a lot of touring bands just skip our country. I think that if they were doing what were about to do and what weve been doing for a few years, which is always playing in this country, theyd finally realise that Canada does have something to offer, that Canada does have a great scene. I really love Calgary and Edmonton, personally, and we havent played there as often as I would have liked.
What do you like about Calgary and Edmonton?
I like the scene itself, not so much the scenery; its pretty chill. I mean, were constantly playing in like Detroit or Chicago, places that have a high crime rate and are just big cities with a lot of stress. It will definitely be cool to tour Canada, which is really laid back. One thing Im frightened of is the weather, like if it gets insanely cold. When we did our first headlining East coast Canadian tour with Job for a Cowboy, I just got mad sick, had a fever, missed out on two or three shows just cause I had to go to the hospital. I had a throat infection and was on antibiotics and all that crap but touring in the winter is really hard and this year we only have October off. Well be touring September, November and December. Scratch that cause in December well be in the southern states of the U.S., so were actually going to skip some of the cold.
Ill be in Florida and California while my friends are freezing to death. I had to brag.
What would you say is the worst place in Canada to play?
I do want to mention that my friend Gabe from Ion Dissonance filled in for me when I was sick on that Canadian tour, so I was really fortunate to have him around. I did fill in for him when he quit Ion before so he owed me. Sorry, what was the next question again?
What would you say is the worst place in Canada to play?
I dont know. I dont want to piss anybody off.
Keeping quiet then?
We played in this one area in Vancouver, which is really kind of crazy, theres like so many crackheads and all that everywhere. So stay away from hard drugs. Its really saddening to see all these people hanging out in alleys just staring at the floor looking for crack rocks and all that.
Was that at the Balmoral down on East Hastings?
Im not sure. Its just the part that has a high density of drug addicts. Music can be your anti-drug. But none of us are straightedge so I dont think Im preaching right now. Were not a preachy band.
I wanted to ask you about what place you think metalcore has in the history of metal. I see a lot of parallels Im not saying this applies to you but I see a lot of parallels to the hair metal thing in the 80s just because it has become a fashion thing and its really huge. Bands like As I Lay Dying are selling 40,000 copies in their first week. So what place do you think metalcore has in the history of metal and do you think that there are any parallels to the commercialised, fashion-oriented "metal that dominated that era?
Thats a touchy question. I would say to each their own. I sort of get the feeling that emo is going to be the glam rock of the year 2000. Like how its possible to make fun of how all those cock rock and glam rock dudes were dressing up in the 80s, I kind of get the feeling that emo kids will get the same treatment in a few years but who cares? If you feel good dressing that way then just do it. Its no big deal. I stay away from message boards but Ive had friends of mine that do write stuff and they were telling me that wed be discredited as a death metal band just because I would wear like a hat or a small red T-shirt or something as stupid as that. Metal has nothing to do with how you dress; it has to do with just being a fan of the music. This whole type of music started out as a big fuck you to the mainstream and now all of a sudden people feel compelled to look a certain way and just get pigeonholed into the same thing they were trying to stay away from ten years back. As far as the music, I personally listen to metalcore, I listen to grindcore, I listen to death metal, and in my book there are some metalcore bands I find heavier than thrash metal or even death metal bands. Maybe thats just me. Like I said earlier, to each his own, everybody can see it the way they want to and I think people should stop segregating and being real Nazis about metal cause who cares if its death metal with some metalcore influences? That doesnt mean its not metal. The word "metal is in metalcore.
I wanted to ask you that question cause I was at a show a few years ago in Toronto you played with Cryptopsy and during your set some douche bags started chanting "Cryptopsy. I was curious about what you thought because, and Im using this word loosely and mostly sarcastically, a lot of "true metalheads tend to shun the metalcore cause they think thats for the emo kids. How do you think that fits into the bigger picture? Have you had a lot of trouble with assholes that think youre unworthy of the metal title?
Weve toured a good portion of the world. One of the tours we were on was Morbid Angel, Krisiun and Behemoth, and you know we still did well on that tour. We still made new fans, we still proved that even though were not a straight-up, 100-percent death metal band that a large part of our music is influenced by death metal. A lot of people can acknowledge that but for some reason some death metal fans in Toronto are the hardest fans in front of whom weve played. Our homies in Ion Dissonance did that "Summer Slaughter tour not too long ago and one of the only, if not the only, shows they got booed and showed the finger was in Toronto. Thats fucking bullshit. They are, and we are, one of the few metal bands out of Canada and a Canadian city not showing support? I dont know. It sounds kind of bitter but I would expect this country to be more supportive about its bands. Just going to support U.S. bands and not giving a fuck about our scene, I think its complete bullshit. I do remember that show cause thats the last show I had that hard of a time dealing with [it]. As I said earlier, Im not a preachy dude and were not a preachy band but here I am preaching right now. At that show I do remember saying the exact same thing Im telling you right now. The whole hardcore scene, the whole Toronto and Ontario metalcore scenes are really supportive so I feel fortunate that at least theyre there for us. There are metalheads out there that dig our shit as well. Im happy they overlook the appearance and just enjoy the music. Just look at the most recent Decapitated, just look at the most recent Aborted, those are some of my favourite death metal bands and theyre incorporating new elements that have nothing to do with traditional death metal. More and more I think for this style of music to rejuvenate itself and perpetuate itself it has to come up with new styles in order to make new fans and keep on going, otherwise it will just die out with some of the older forms of metal. I mean, thrash is obviously not doing as well as it used to.
What do you think are these new elements that make bands like Decapitated and Aborted the future of death metal?
I dont know. Maybe thats just me talking.
No, I agree whole-heartedly.
Back in the day, in the late 90s, there was the Dillinger Escape Plan and Meshuggah that got me into this weird type of technical metal, hardcore, whatever you want to call it mathcore. And I sort of get the feeling that Decapitated, with their most recent music, incorporated some of those elements into those death metal sounds and made it really original. I havent heard a lot of bands that have pulled that off lately, or ever. Ive got to name drop one of our bands, this band from Montreal, Negativa, which features Etienne [Gallo] on drums, who filled in for me when I quit Neuraxis. He played in Augury as well. Theres Miguel [Valade] that played in Ion Dissonance and the two Gorguts dudes who are doing that band. Its something completely different and back in the day Gorguts came out with Obscura and I cant name one band that did something as crazy as that record. Its sad that a lot of people try to copy that and dont even know where it comes from. A lot of these hardcore kids that are into death metal music, they listen to all the cool bands all the cool MySpace bands that I dont even want to mention and they dont even know that all those bands were influenced by Suffocation and Obituary and all that. They dont even know who Suffocation and Obituary are. Its those same 13-, 14-, 15-, 16-year olds that talk shit on message boards about us or Ion Dissonance not being metal enough. Weve been listening to this for half our lives, back when they were ten years old listening to New Kids on the Block or Britney Spears or something.
You mentioned Negativa, who havent exactly gotten huge as of yet, but are there any other Quebec bands that you think people should know about that you think are doing something really special?
Unfortunately lots of my friends bands have broken up in the past year. Shaolin and Orphans in a Coma are broken up. These days, aside from the bands Ive already mentioned, there are my friends in the Plasma Life from Montreal that are doing pretty well. Their guitarist Oli, Ive known him for years, we had our first bands together, back in the day. Theres Maynard [Moore], who was the first singer in Neuraxis thats before I even played in Neuraxis he plays in that band, and one of my best friends, Sean, is playing drums with them, so I totally support everything that the Plasma Life do. Aside from that, theres Camilla Rhodes, theyre doing pretty well; they just recorded a new CD, their drummer Jade [Simonetto] is now in Hate Eternal.
Yeah. Drummers are really rare.
I know, but for Eric Rutan to ask you to be in his band, thats pretty crazy.
Yeah, theres Jade in Hate Eternal, theres Ben [Dussault], who used to play in Montreal, he used be in A Death for Every Sin, hes been playing in Throwdown for like four years or something. Theres Dennis [Pavia] who used to play in this band from Montreal called Tantrum, hes playing in Diecast now. Montreal has some of the best drummers so I think a lot of bands are trying to steal our drummers.
What do you think is the worst part about having the best metal scene in North America? What are the drawbacks?
Drawbacks are like all the
Yeah, Im trying not to say bullshit for like the tenth time; I was trying to think of a different word. But all the bullshit when we have to cross borders. Us being a Canadian band, we have to get work permits. Fortunately our label takes care of all the legal stuff, they pay for the papers and that does get quite expensive, were talking like $8,000 a year just for us to play in the U.S. Even though we go through border bullshit, they always find stuff to pick on us for. Its just really shitty, weve been stuck at borders in the past for half a day. Back in the day my friend Kevin [McCaughey], who now sings in Ion Dissonance and my buddy Chris [Bradley, vocals] from Beneath the Massacre, they filled in for a few shows on one of our U.S. tours with Deicide, if Im not mistaken, and at some point, since they werent officially in the band, they were rejected at the border. We had to play as a four-piece for a few shows and fly in our original members. Thats kind of complicated. A few months ago we played the New England Metal Fest and they denied us entry into the country even though all the merch we were bringing was from the U.S. We had paid border shipping from the U.S. to Canada, we had paid the custom passes and all of that, and it was basically U.S. goods just coming back into the country and they were like, "theres nothing that proves to us that your U.S. clothing company paid the taxes for those Fruit of the Loom shirts that come from El Salvador. Are you fucking kidding me? One of the biggest screen-printing companies in the U.S. and youre accusing them of paying for taxes and shipping over shirts from El Salvador and all that? They just wanted to pick on us; they just wanted to give us a hard time.
Did you end up getting through?
Not even. We had CDs as well, CDs from Century Media Records that say on the back, "Century Media Records, Hawthorne, California, and they said to us, "theres nothing that proves that these CDs were made in the U.S. It says California, U.S.A. "Well, it doesnt say printed in the U.S.A., so they denied us entry even though we had work permits that gave us access to that country. We basically had to drive back and drop off all our merch, all our CDs, and just drove back the U.S. borders a few hours later. They just let us through. Thats just how fucking random they are. I can live without that. Were a bunch of music enthusiasts; were obviously not making a shitload of money out of it.
Were running ultra-long here so Ill just end it with this. You said you were loving the new End record, what else have you liked this year?
I dont know, the new A Life Once Lost, the new Between the Buried and Me, its probably their best material. The new Red Chord, the new Through the Eyes of the Dead, theyre our touring buddies, we love those dudes, Nate [Johnson] their new vocalist is badass. There are a few releases I will look out for. Ion Dissonance, theyre our best friends. Minus the Herd Ive listened to a lot and I really like it.
For even more on Despised Icon, check out VBS.TV's episode of Practice Space feat. Despised Icon.