INTERVIEW: Despised Icon (02/05/2016)

Few bands within death metal today are as revered and loved as Montreal’s Despised Icon, and it’s even more of rarity to see that such a level of admiration and devotion not only solidifies, but swells and grows since the band announced their plans to go on an indefinite hiatus back in 2010. Four years later, the Canadian heavy hitters returned for a few one-off reunion shows, and then some album anniversary dates the following year.

Now, in 2016, though not fully returned in the respect of a full-time touring band, Despised Icon are officially back for good. Not only that, but they double-slap surprised us with news of a brand new album to drop in July, titled ‘Beast’, which no doubt is going to provide exactly what it says on the tin.

Whilst at the Manchester date of this year’s touring Impericon Festival, which has already seen some dates being held across Europe beforehand, we caught up with guitarist Eric Jarrin to talk about the new record, how it all came together, why they decided to go with Nuclear Blast Records and not return to Century Media Records, and a bunch more.

DP!: Here we are at Impericon Festival 2016 in Manchester, UK. How’s it going?
Eric: Great. Great. We just got off the stage and it was an amazing show. We played a little bit of a short set, but we were stoked to see some new faces in the crowd.

Whenever Alex (Erian, vocalist) asks the crowd “Who’s here seeing Despised Icon for the first time?”, I’m always amazed to see a good portion of the crowd raise their hands. So, that’s a good thing.

DP!: Absolutely. You also had a few dates in Europe as part of the festival before coming to the UK today. How did they go in comparison?
Eric: Today and all of the other shows that we’ve played so far have just been great, man. There’s a great reaction. I’m still actually in awe that people still care about Despised Icon after being away for so long. To see that they still care is just great.

DP!: Today’s show unfortunately faced a venue downgrade. Originally it was meant to be held at the main Academy, which has a cap of 2,600, and this venue has a cap of 900. Do you think this may be a sign of people attending less heavy shows?
Eric: Ooh, I don’t know. I really don’t know. I really couldn’t say because I’m from Canada and actually this is our first time coming back to Europe since our 2014 reunion shows. But, I feel that the scene is still strong and going well.

I can’t say for this Manchester show specifically, but all of the other shows that we’ve played have been packed and there were a lot of people there.

DP!: Awesome. You’ve got your new album coming out in July called ‘Beast’. Are you looking forward to getting it out there?
Eric: Oh, yeah! We really are. We haven’t released anything since ‘Day Of Mourning’, which came out in 2009, and since we did those reunion shows the fans that’s what the fans have been asking for – new music. They’re like “We don’t care if you guys don’t tour full-time anymore. We just want some new music.” So, we just sat down and gave it a shot, it turned out great, and here it is.

DP!: Well, as you were saying, the last time that you brought out any new music was back in 2009. So, seven years forward now, how does ‘Beast’ compare against your previous albums? Seven years is a long time.
Eric: It is, and in that time most of us haven’t played music at all, apart from Alex who started Obey The Brave and has been a part of a full-time touring band. I think it played a good part in a way where we were all hungry for it, you know?

When we did those reunion shows in 2014, we kind of felt the good vibe we had when we first started the band, and just being around each other and playing music for fun, and not having like a business pressure. Then, after those shows, we just saw that people still care about us and they asked for new music, so we thought that we should give it a shot.

We sat down, tried to write some new tunes, and we were aiming for a 4 or 5 song EP. As soon as we started to write music it just came naturally and poured out of ourselves, and here we are with a full-length album coming out on Nuclear Blast.

DP!: So, when you came back in 2014 with the reunion shows, and then some dates for the 10-year anniversary of ‘The Healing Process’ last year, at what point did you guys think you should write new music and make your return less of a one-off reunion and a bit more of a permanent thing?
Eric: Well, when we came back for the Impericon Festival dates in 2015 and when we played some headline shows in North America. Impericon is always tricky. You play for the crowd of other bands as well within a festival set up. But, in the December of that year, we did about 4 or 5 shows in the US and in Canada, and that’s where we sort of saw and thought that “Okay. We’re still relevant because those venues are packed and they’re asking for new music.” Then we said “Okay, let’s do it. Let’s write some new stuff.”

We were in the writing process when we came back in 2015 when we played the two Ghostfest shows in the UK, and then as soon as we got back from those shows, all of the money that we made from those performances was all invested into the band, and that’s what paid for the album production, the videos and stuff.

The initial plan was to do a self-release on our own terms, but then seeing the amount of work that you have to put in to get it well distributed and get it out there, we thought “What would be the label that we would like to be signed on?”. So, we recorded the whole thing, made a first video, and just presented that to Nuclear Blast last December, and they said “Wow, cool. We’re glad that you guys are back. We’re big fans of the band, and we’re ready to put it out for you.”

DP!: What was it about Nuclear Blast that made you want to go with them to put out ‘Beast’? Most of your albums were put out by Century Media. What made you not want to go back with them?
Eric: Well, yeah, Century Media was our label for a lot of years. They signed us back in 2004, but the industry had changed a lot by the time that we decided to reunite. Alex and I had this discussion, and, in all honesty, with no offence to Century Media, because they did a great job for us and they’re a great label, the label that we are big fans of and we wanted to be signed on was Nuclear Blast.

I mean, back in the day in 1995 and 1996, I remember buying those ‘Death… Is Just The Beginning’ compilations from Nuclear Blast and discovering bands like Meshuggah, Kataklysm, and all those other death metal bands. Now there’s Slayer and Hatebreed on Nuclear Blast, and we’ve toured with those bands and are really influenced by those bands, so it was just the logical choice for us.

DP!: Did you get any interest to sign you come from any other labels at all?
Eric: Not really. We’ve been very secretive about our comeback. We just wanted to get everyone by surprise. So, we just announced that the band was back, and then just a few weeks later announced that we’ve been signed to Nuclear Blast. So, unfortunately, no other label was aware that we were going to release a new album. We kept it quiet to make it a nice surprise for the fans, you know? Like, here we are, and here comes a new album too.

We’ve seen a lot of bands come back and just take forever to release new music and play shows and stuff, and it doesn’t seem to be all that serious. So, we had no crowdfunding or Kickstarter kind of thing, and decided we’ll just do it ourselves.

DP!: You did keep it pretty quiet from us. How was the writing and recording process for ‘Beast’? Did you take your time with it, or did the whole thing come together pretty quickly?
Eric: It’s funny, because we said that we’ll take our time, but it happened to be really quick. Like I said before, we just sat down and it wasn’t forced or anything. It was super easy. We managed to write a full-length in a matter of months, and we then took about a month or two to produce the whole thing; record and mix. We started the recording process in November, and by the end of December we had the final product ready.

DP!: With ‘Beast’ are we expected to get a standard Despised Icon record that sticks to what we know and love about you, or are there going to be some surprises that we’ll hear on the album?
Eric: I think it’s just us. Die-hard fans who are into our older material, like ‘The Healing Process’ or ‘Consumed By Your Poison’, will be pleased because we’ve brought back the pig squeal thing and also the slammier riffs. But, at the same time we took whatever style we had in the latest album and brought it up to another level, so there’s going to be some more technicality and some really speedy and fast stuff.

It’s a pretty good balance and mixture of everything that we did before our hiatus, but it’s really brutal. I think it’s one of the most extreme albums we’ll have ever put out.

DP!: So, I take it we’re safe to assume there’ll be no pop moments or acoustic ballads shoved in there to throw us off guard a bit?
Eric: [laughs] No, no. Not at all. It’s called ‘Beast’ because that’s exactly how it sounds – like a beast.

DP!: Other than bringing out ‘Beast’ for us all in a few months, what else has Despised Icon got planned for the rest of 2016?
Eric: Well, like I said, we’re pretty much doing everything from now on our own terms. Obviously we’ll never be a full-time touring band again, but having new music out makes us want to play some more shows. So, we’re doing some major North American festivals in the summer, we’re going back to Japan in September, and then we’ll see what other offers we get.

We’ll try to play everywhere as much as possible, but on our own terms, so if you see an advertised Despised Icon show you’d better show up, because it might be another couple months or a year before we might come back.

At the same time I think that it’s a good thing, because people won’t get fed up of seeing us five or six times in a year. We’ll try to make it to Europe at least once a year, either as part of a festival or on a headline tour next time. That’d be nice.

DP!: Any final words?
Eric: Make sure that you pick up ‘Beast’ when it comes out, and keep an eye out to come along to one of our shows. We’ll destroy everything.

The band will release their new full-length studio album, ‘Beast’, on July 22nd 2016 through Nuclear Blast Records.

You can keep up to date with the band online by following them on Facebook (here), Twitter (here), and Instagram (here).

Interview by Zach Redrup (@zachredrup)

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