Deathcore. The metal subgenre everyone loves to hate. Often decried as the lizard brain of extreme metal, deathcore has garnered a reputation for relentless chugs, mindless breakdowns, and lyrical inanity that is only rivaled by the current scene snob consensus on metalcore and nü metal. It’s not necessarily an incorrect assessment, either. The majority of the 2010s was peppered with some god awful records in this style that quickly became the proverbial whipping boys of the metal world. But just like any style of music that has been wrung through the wringer by the masses, the potential for a comeback is always eminent, and the last few years have proved a rich breeding ground for some of the best music the style has yet created. Firebrands like Fit for an Autopsy, Shadow of Intent, Infant Annihilator, and Whitechapel have unleashed upon we unsuspecting metalheads some of the most adventurous and worthwhile releases in deathcore’s (relatively) short history, and now 2019 can add Montreal-based Despised Icon’s latest to that shortlist of excellent records. It’s a new dawn for deathcore, and there was much rejoicing.
Purgatory is an album that’s very hard to dislike, like much of Despised Icon’s larger discography. Their sixth full-length release and second since returning from a nearly decade-long hiatus, it’s the kind of record that belies a more mature, much wiser band taking stock of their previous efforts and determining to create something that honors the best elements of their discography without feeling enslaved by them. The results are by-and-large thoroughly captivating, resulting in the most varied and engaging music they’ve written by a fairly wide margin.
A key aspect of Purgatory’s success lies in its emphasis on melodic undertones, especially for a deathcore record. “Dernier Souffle” kicks off the proceedings with gently realized guitar-driven harmonies that introduce the album with an unexpected level of emotion and melody. Sebastian Piché’s bass work can be heard loud and clear throughout, highlighting a production aesthetic that serves the band well throughout, but is brilliantly introduced in the album’s opening instrumental. Such gentle musical sensibilities melt away almost immediately as the album’s title track kicks things into a familiar and welcome high gear, featuring absolutely punishing riff slinging from guitarists Eric Jarrin and Ben Landrevillel, who dominate nearly every inch of the remainder of the record. But the guitar-based pyrotechnics are notable not only for their speed and punishing heft, but also for their ability to pull memorable melodic hooks from the maelstrom. It’s a beast of a track that should satisfy Despised Icon lifers and newcomers alike, and sets the stage for the viciousness contained in the remainder of the record.
The songwriting overall on Purgatory is laudable and immediately recognizable as quality, but it’s the individual performances on the record that make it an easy collection of tracks to revisit. “Light Speed”, living up to its name, is a shockingly speedy burst of energy that contains some absolutely stellar drum work from Alex Pelletier, whose performance is without question the highlight of the entire record, only further cementing his reputation as one of the most utterly insane and ceaselessly interesting drummers in metal. “Slow Burning” is another stand out in the percussive department, but the dual vocals of Alex Erian and Steve Marois steal the show, vacillating between mid-range hardcore/death metal barking and pig-squeal intensity that allows the band to experiment with a wider range of sounds than most deathcore bands, and the results are consistently spectacular. All of these elements manifest themselves most clearly in the excellent track “Moving On”, which feels like an amalgamation of all that makes Purgatory great mashed into one five-minute burst of melody-drenched intensity that easily stands among the best and most diverse tracks the band have yet written. Through the close of the record in “Dead Weight”, Purgatory never once dips anywhere below interesting and engaging.
Purgatory feels like the album Despised Icon has always had in them. It’s the culmination of nearly two decades of work put in by a band intent on pushing their sound to its logical extremities and finally unlocking their full potential. After several in-depth listens, I find myself even more invested in Purgatory than I was upon my quite positive first impression. This is deathcore with staying power, and will serve to further cement Despised Icon’s status as not only one of the premier bands in deathcore, but in the metal world at large. A thoroughly enjoyable and noteworthy release.
Purgatory is out now via Nuclear Blast, and is available for streaming and purchase on all major platforms.