All Hail the New Flesh
CoC chats with Alexandre Erian of Despised Icon
by: Jackie Smit
Is Quebec the next Tampa? If we're using historical longevity as the measuring stick, then the answer is probably no. That the French Canadian province has emerged as one of extreme music's most fertile breeding grounds over the last twelve months however, is barely beyond question. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise either. After all, this is the same place has in the past been responsible for spawning such luminaries as Voivod and Cryptopsy. But now there's new breed of talent gearing up to bulldoze their way across the globe, and leading the charge is Despised Icon. Part death metal juggernaut, part hardcore colossus, their last release (2005's _The Healing Process_) was but a mild appetiser for the frankly savage _The Ills of Modern Man_. One half of the band's vocal duo, Alexandre Erian, talks me through the band's evolution:

AE: We never expected _The Healing Process_ to do well. In fact, we never expected to come as far as we have at all. Our whole career just seems like a pretty long shot to us. Everything seems unreal, and there was definitely pressure to top what we had done before when we started on _The Ills of Modern Man_. But it was pressure in a good way, because it pushed us to work even harder and it really challenged us. Now that it's been done for a while, I'd say that the record has definitely turned out to be much more mature, much tighter and a lot of that comes from touring. We've toured non-stop for the last two years and that's helped us get better at what we do, both as musicians and as performers. I mean, we toured in death metal circles with guys like Deicide and Morbid Angel, and we also toured in the hardcore scene with Hatebreed and First Blood. So seeing those guys, and getting new influences really helped us too, because we've always drawn inspiration from both of those scenes. From time to time I'll still hear criticism from either end about why we do certain things, but I don't care. We just make the music we want to make, and try and build our own sound, and it feels to me like now more than ever we're starting to get there.

CoC: Well, it's funny you should mention that, because one of the first things that hits one about the new record is how much more confident it sounds, as though you're approaching a point where you're refining rather than evolving your sound.

AE: Totally, man. It's not a case that we don't care about what people think. I appreciate the support. But the important thing for us has always been to do the music we love and to have fun doing it.

CoC: Considering that it's six of you that make up Despised Icon, to what extent is writing a collaborative effort?

AE: Well, put it this way: the band has been around for five years and we've put out three albums and two split EPs in that time. We like to write a lot, and that has a lot to do with just the fun of creating something. The challenge for us to mix together two scenes that don't always gel together very well into something mature and something that isn't just a random collection of riffs. We want to write for the good of the song, and I had a point to that but I can't quite remember what. <laughs> To answer your original question, I have a musical background, and the first two records were mostly written by myself and Eric [Jarrin], our guitarist. With _The Ills of Modern Man_, our drummer [Alex Pelletier] was a lot more involved, and so basically this time round it became more of a collaborative effort. I mean, even though half of us effectively do most of the writing, everyone in the band puts their own stamp on things and they have a lot of input into how the songs end up sounding; and that again was definitely true of _The Ills of Modern Man_. I'll be honest with you as well. We started this band in 2002, but it was only really after about two years that we decided to get really serious about it and invest some real time into it, because for us it was either going to go somewhere or we'd be stuck touring Quebec, our province in Canada, forever.

CoC: Was Yannick St-Amand's [ex-guitarist] decision to leave the band partly down to that additional focus and time that you collectively decided to give the band?

AE: It was to a certain extent. Yannick decided that he wanted to spend more time with his family and focus on his career as a sound technician, and we totally understand and respect that. His input in the band creatively was always fairly limited, so it certainly won't change how we sound; and we've recruited a new guy, Al Glassman, from Boston, to play with us. He's the first American we have in our band, which means that we have to stop speaking French to each other all the time. But he's worked out great for us so far. I think that after he did an amazing job on our European tour with Unearth and Job for a Cowboy, we knew that he was right for us, and to be honest with you, I'm looking forward to him writing with us in the future.

CoC: What was it specifically about him that made you decide that he was the right man for the job?

AE: We've been on a pretty hectic schedule for the last two years, and we're definitely not used to going through line-up changes, so things moved really fast. When we were recording the new album we knew we'd need to get someone in, and so we started getting video auditions off a bunch of people. By the time we were done recording we approached the two best guys from that group. Al was one of them, and he got the spot. What was really important to us was that he would be someone who can show us real determination and real dedication. We've been working our asses off for the past couple of years and he kind of by-passed that, so it was important to us that he would not take that for granted. I mean, I've been in bands before where that's been the case, and it's just a recipe for disaster. Al comes from a background where he's played with bands and where he's been out touring with bands, so he understands the time and the effort required to be in this band. By the same token, the most important part of this band is that we have fun. When this stops being fun, we won't be around anymore.

CoC: So, did Al have a special Despised Icon-style initiation thrust upon him when you made the decision to keep him on permanently?

AE: <laughs> Well, we didn't want to make it official too quickly. We wanted to try him out first and see how things go, and once there was no more doubt whatsoever, then we'd let everyone know and officially welcome him in the band. As for the welcome, we didn't quite know what to do. The night we welcomed him into the band, I was actually the only guy who got really drunk, because I normally don't drink, and so when he heard he was in the band he actually suggested we drink a couple of shots of J├Ąger and Jack Daniels and that pretty much floored me.

CoC: You mentioned earlier all the prolific bands that you've played with. As a young, up-and-coming musician in this genre, what have you learned from playing with a band like Deicide, or a Hatebreed or a Morbid Angel?

AE: Well, let me put it this way: in the past two years we've been lucky enough to play with bands who got us into this to begin with. I mean, we're all between twenty two and twenty nine years old, and the elders of the band would always say that it's guys like Morbid Angel and Deicide that got them into this. For me, it started with Suffocation and Cryptopsy -- those are the bands that we've toured with that I was really honoured to be on stage with. I mean, Suffocation -- come on -- _Pierced From Within_ is one of the best death metal records of all time, as far as I'm concerned. So playing with those guys for a month and a half and seeing them do their thing every night just felt unreal. But we've also toured with some younger bands, or at least bands who are younger than some of the bands we've already mentioned, like Hatebreed and Behemoth. We toured with Black Dahlia Murder, Aborted -- all bands who I think are the future of this music, and I think playing with them, to answer your original question, you just pick up different things from each one. Most of it is quite subtle, but as I said, a lot of those bands were major influences on us and they continue to be.

CoC: I want to talk for a moment about the Quebec metal scene, because as an outsider looking in, you appear to have an incredible number of good bands coming from that area at the moment, like yourselves and Beneath the Massacre.

AE: <laughs> Well, a lot of people ask me that, actually, and I think that's a good thing, because it proves to me that this scene is finally getting the recognition it deserves. When I first started playing shows ten years ago, playing outside our province or even outside our country seemed pretty unreal. Now you've got our friends from Ion Dissonance who've just come back from a big European tour. We went to Europe a couple of months ago. And not only that, but more and more bands are getting noticed and signed, not only in our part of Canada, but in the English-speaking areas as well.

CoC: Which band or bands are regarded as being the trailblazers within the Quebec scene?

AE: Cryptopsy were really influential, and actually Kataklysm too. Both of those bands made it big outside of Quebec, and they were both really inspiring to guys like us. But there's a lot of younger bands coming up now and getting noticed, and that helps get more and more musicians motivated to maybe form a band or join a band.

CoC: You have another project beside Despised Icon, called Crimson Syndicate...

AE: <laughs> Yeah, I'm surprised you've heard of that, actually. That's just me and my friends who got together and wanted to do something a bit different. We're into a lot of different types of music, and we all like a lot of underground, old-school hip-hop. So, some people like it, some people don't. Some people think I'm selling out because I want to scream a few lines on a hardcore rap record. Whatever you do, people will always diss and complain about it.

CoC: Well, thanks very much for your time. Is there anything you want to say to close things off?

AE: Just thanks very much for the interview. We're going to try and make it back to Europe very soon, and I hope we're going to see some of the people that came out last time again.

(article submitted 4/11/2007)

9/24/2009 J Smit 8.5 Despised Icon - Day of Mourning
9/26/2007 J Smit 8 Despised Icon - The Ills of Modern Man
2/25/2008 J Smit Despised Icon / Misery Index / Beneath the Massacre / Annotations of an Autopsy Bent Backwards and Broken
6/3/2005 T DePalma Deicide / Immolation / Skinless / Despised Icon / With Passion Tear Through the City, Tear Through the Soul
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