Despised Icon – The Ills Of Modern Man

The newest Despised Icon LP sounds like the band was shooting for a sound similar to that found on their split with Bodies In The Gears Of The Apparatus but getting distracted by something shiny along the way. For some reason, Despised Icon, poised to take over the extreme metal scene after the brilliance of ‘The Healing Process’, decided to take this… diversion. I don’t think it was lack of ambition that led to this album as much as an eager attempt to ‘do something new’, although what turned out wasn’t quite as new they’d hoped.

What I’m saying sounds harsher than it should, as I do very much enjoy ‘The Ills Of Modern Man’. Like all Despised Icon releases, it’s highly brutal, technical, and and possesses very solid songwriting throughout. Of course, some parts of the equation have changed as predicted. First off: the atmosphere here seems to be a reinterpretation of, as stated before, their material on the split with BITGOTA. The general mood is of a definitely darker note; not to say that ‘The Healing Process’ or ‘Consumed By Your Poison’ were particularly cheery either, but the sound on this release is most certainly geared to being more oppressive and claustrophobic than on material before it.

Possibly the most significant change that we see with ‘The Ills Of Modern Man’is how metalcore seems to have been cut out entirely and replaced with Hatebreed-style hardcore. I can hear the snorts of derision coming from the metal scene already, but I’d like to say that the DM/HC combination isn’t nearly as terrible as you would expect it to be. Yes, the breakdowns are more space-driven, and instances of gang vocals provided by numerous members of the Quebec metal scene appear on songs such as ‘A Fractured Hand’ and ‘Fainted Blue Ornaments’, but the general candor of the music isn’t quite as tough guy as you’d expect at first glance. However, on a similar note, the feel is less introspective and philosophical as well; it’s more self-torturing and spiteful as a whole.

The album feels more like a collection of songs than a conceptual work. This was an issue that I thought had dissipated with ‘The Healing Process’, where each song flowed cleanly into the next in logical sequence. There’s a lot of weird decisions when it comes to the songs on this album: the most obvious is the inclusion of ‘Oval Shaped Incisions’ from, you guessed it, the BITGOTA split, added seemingly at random. It sticks out pretty clearly from the rest of the album, and I’m still left wondering why they added it near the end. It really feels like a last-minute decision designed to inflate the body of the album, but it’s not a terribly distracting thing. More distracting is the production: clean, but with a huge emphasis on drums and vocals, causing the guitars to frequently be washed out during the blasting sections. In addition, the sound is extremely cold and mechanical, not unlike Beneath The Massacre’s ‘Evidence Of Inequity’, but lacking the technical fury of that album and adding more of an emphasis on groove.

And groove this album does. Breakdowns function as songs’ centerpieces more than ever before, and are less preoccupied with slam than a more traditional breed of groove. The breakdown in the middle of ‘In The Arms Of Perdition’ could even be interpreted as rockish, at least until the end starts to go into dun dun dun, dot dot dot territory. The most hardore influenced song on the album is clearly closer ‘Fainted Blue Ornaments’, which is surprisingly the best song on the album by far. That track’s epic lead guitar meshing with street-level hardcore riot shouts and melodramatic band performance is stunningly well employed. Speaking of performances: top notch all around. Riffing is meaty and punishing, dual vocals are still effective, but by far the centerpiece of this album is the drum performance. Inhumanly fast at times (the title track’s closing blast is incomprehensibly blazing) and uniformly machinelike and perfect, it accentuates the inhuman, mechanical atmosphere of the album as a whole.

While I’d say ‘The Ills Of Modern Man’ is probably the weakest Despised Icon release so far, it earns such a place only by an extremely narrow margin. Any fans of the band will still want to pick it up immediately, and those turned off by the earlier works may want to give the band a new chance. Despised Icon is the best band in modern deathcore for a reason. Highly recommended.

(Originally written for http://www.grindingtheapparatus.net)

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~ by noktorn on April 30, 2007.

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