Despised Icon: Heavy lies the crown

It came as a bolt from the blue. More than the unexpected nature of the short and none-too-illuminating statement that announced it, it was the seemingly illogical nature of it all that hit fans. Why quit when you’re at the most successful part of your career? But call it quits is exactly what Despised Icon decided to do and thus, on April 7 2010, ended an era in heavy music.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, it is impossible to ignore the impact the Canadians had on extreme music in the first decade of the new millennium. They might have taken a lot of flak from holier-than-thou purists, but history will likely taker a kinder view of the band that was one of the biggest proponents and influential standard bearers of the deathcore movement. It is a sub-genre familiar to most people today – even saturated with swathes of bands who jumped onto the bandwagon –  but few were amalgamating the down-tuned, growled violence of death metal with the potency of hardcore’s breakdowns when ‘Consumed By Your Poison’ dropped to little fanfare in 2002. Multiple lineup changes and another album, ‘The Healing Process’, later, the stars aligned and ‘The Ills Of Modern Man’ saw Despised Icon take on the world with assured swagger. Last year’s ‘Day Of Mourning’ was universally well received, and even made it onto the Billboard Top 200.

So, Ben Landreville, guitarist, what the bloody hell happened? “The guys have been doing it for nearly 10 years, they’re getting older and want to have families, get houses,” he explains. “There’s not enough money as a touring band and we’re not home a lot. It’s pretty hard from them to maintain a healthy relationship. It’s a lot of work and it’s a bit of a fight in between the band and real life.”

It’s an answer that will see most punters do a double take. Despised Icon can’t make enough money? The same Despised Icon that is signed to a one of the biggest indie labels, has been touring around the world to unending critical acclaim, and has 4 albums and a live DVD to their name? “It’s really not what people think,” explains Ben. “Yes, we’re playing big shows and touring all the time but we don’t make that much. We’re not spending money on buses or anything. When we’re touring the US we tour with our own van and driving it ourselves. We don’t have any staff besides the merch and sound guys – no guitar techs or drum techs. We’re just not making that much money and that’s part of why the band has been touring so much, because it’s the only way for us to make ends meet. Back home, I’m not living a dream life – I have a small apartment, shitty car and I’m not spending any money between tours so I can pay my bills.”

Financial constraints aside, the split up has been particularly harsh on Ben, who was a fan of the band before joining them full-time just last year. Before that, he had slummed it out in nothing bands that went nowhere, working multiple dead-end jobs to pay the bills.  To have worked so hard and joined one of your favourite bands, only to see all the pieces of the puzzle fall apart in front of your eyes is one of the harshest lessons of life – something not lost on Ben.

“It’s kinda breaking my heart. I’ve been in the band since 2009 and I gave it my all and pretty much gave up everything I had back home for this and now it’s breaking up so I’m coming back to nothing. It’s a little disappointing but at the same time I totally understand and respect what’s going on. There’s no hard feelings toward anybody. I totally understand you can’t tour eight months a year with a wife and kids and not making enough money to pay the rent.

“I was prepared for it from the start. From day one I was ready for it blow up at any time for any reason. The guys are all about to be 30 and you can’t just do it for the music. We love our music and there’s nothing I’d rather do than play but at some point in your life you have to think about what you do. Life doesn’t stop when you’re 30, you have to think about after that.”

Ask him about his best memory with Despised Icon and his eyes light up for an instant as he describes his homecoming, before the wistful expression returns with the realisation that he won’t get to repeat the experience again. “My first Montreal show with them was something special. It was the first time I was playing in my hometown and it was an awesome show so it felt good to come back home and realise that I’d made it. The venues we played back home were the venues I’d gone to as a kid to see the bands I look up to, so it felt good to be the band on stage and not in the crowd. The Montreal scene is opening up now, but not many bands have the success we managed to have and to be part of a band that did was awesome.”

If there is any solace to be taken from the whole episode it is that at least the band will leave on a high. At the end of a 12-month period when they put out a live DVD and the brilliant ‘Day Of Mourning’, they will leave with their legacy untarnished by an average album or creative decline. “We’re doing good right now, the fans are happy with what we came up with on Day Of Mourning and we don’t want the fans to change their minds about the band,” says Ben. “We don’t want to lie to ourselves or deceive the fans. We’d rather leave strong.”

As we get up to leave, Ben heads into the dressing room to have a word with his bandmates first. They speak in rapid-fire French, so it’s hard to know what’s being said, but you don’t have to be fluent with all things Québécois to understand the words ‘fuck off’. “Not much longer to go” says Ben, making light of the confrontation as we head back to the merch stall.

Maybe it was inevitable after all.

     

About Abhijeet Ahluwalia

Abhijeet Ahluwalia – I’m a freelance journalist who goes back and forth between London and Bombay. A huge metalhead, but I have an eclectic taste, from reggae to punk. Oh, and Manchester United are the greatest team in the world. Follow me on Twitter or drop me a line via Email.

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