words by DAVID HOGG
Prior to hearing New Brigade, few would be able to predict that the most abrasively honest punk rock album would be coming from four teens in Denmark. New Brigade was an exhilarating, bare-boned debut, accented by penetrating guitars, crashing drums, and the intense vocal groans of Elias Rønnenfelt. True to their music, Iceage have since avoided the luxuries and indulgences of international hype, opting to keep a low profile and perform short, bombastic live sets in small venues. It then came as a surprise that the band would be releasing its sophomore album, You’re Nothing, through Matador Records. But any doubts that may have surfaced from this logistic move –– that Iceage would lose the raw energy of their debut –– can now promptly shove it.
Post-punk is nothing new in the Iceage lexicon, but as You’re Nothing unfolds, it’s clear that it is more than just a musical description of the band. The aggressive indifference on New Brigade was best represented by Rønnenfelt’s blunt and unintelligible vocals, reinforcing a punk attitude on the album. The vocals on You’re Nothing, however, are much more emotive and indicative of a newfound acknowledgement of the singer’s vulnerability as a frontman. The result is anything but sappy; much like post-punk greats Joy Division (probably the source of the band’s name), Rønnenfelt’s expression of his insecurity, with lyrics now intelligible to the ear, speaks more to the contemptible state of culture within than to self-important melancholy.
That’s not to say that You’re Nothing is softened by this reflective, internalized direction. From the primal wails and frenzied drums on “It Might Hit First” to the bass-driven riffs on “Everything Drifts,” the second half of the album is a dizzying whirlwind of punk and hardcore. These songs are high on energy, heavy on noise, and sloppy on rhythm – together, it’s an exhilarating rush of in-your-face songs. Differentiating each song might prove to be difficult, but that hardly seems like a concern of the band.
Still, it’s the unexpected moments during the first half that proves this album’s weight. The opening songs, “Ecstasy” and “Coalition” are not only the album’s best, but Iceage’s best songs to date. “Ecstasy” combines post-punk in its verses, hardcore breaks, a wave of feedback, and Rønnenfelt’s closest impression of melodic singing. All of this comes to an annihilating climax when Rønnenfelt wails, in a mixture of dread and terror, “Pressure, pressure/Oh God no/I can’t take this pressure!” Then “Coalition,” in its ferocity of guitar licks and drum fills, is the most accessible and impenetrable anthem of Iceage’s yet, peaked by Rønnenfelt’s repeated denouncement of “Excess!”
It’s that word specifically that directly contradicts the spirit of Iceage. In remarkable cultural contrast, four guys from Denmark have declared a noise war on the excess and luxuries of early adulthood and success. Not all of the moments on this musical assault work well to this effect: the subdued “Sensual Interlude” unnecessarily lengthens the transition between the rush of “Coalition” and the stadium-ready drums of “Burning Hand,” while the marching rhythm and piano in “Morals” sound awkward for an Iceage song. But as Rønnenfelt shames his target with the repeated “Where’s your morals?” in the latter, we’re reminded of Iceage’s appeal: that in spite of the genre denotations of punk, post-punk, hardcore, no wave, and so on, it’s ultimately about the raw, aggressive, and relentless energy of four young men. The rest, as Rønnenfelt would say, is excess. [B+]
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