Until recently, Denmark has not been quite as well known as its neighbor Sweden for producing punk icons. The Swedes can boast the likes of Refused, The Hives, the International Noise Conspiracy, and 50 Times The Pain amongst their number. The young Danish band Iceage, however, is flying the flag for a new breed of punk bands from that country, including the very promising likes of Lower.
Iceage is already ahead of the curve, though. The band’s debut album, New Brigade, arrived to great reviews two years ago while all of the members were still in their teens. You’re Nothing is its follow-up, and if you haven’t been paying attention yet, now is the time to start. This is an album of both tangible fury and rare subtlety, and Iceage is a group of accomplished musicians selling a vision of nihilism.
It’s going to be difficult for anyone else in 2013 to top the opening one-two punch on You’re Nothing. “Ecstasy” and “Coalition” are both breathless exercises in adrenaline rush. The former rides its cacophonous, slightly atonal guitars to a slowed-down section in which lead singer Elias Bender Ronnenfelt bellows “Oh God no, pressure” in a manner which, along with the dense wall of noise that accompanies him, really does sound like a man on the verge of total collapse.
The more straightforward but no less thrilling anthemic qualities of “Coalition” feel like a release in comparison, as the band careens toward a chorus in which the tempo is increased, the drums pounded, and the word “Excess” screamed in both celebration and anger. It says everything about the cumulative impact of these opening tracks that You’re Nothing features an interlude after just five minutes.
If moshpit-inducing aggression was all the band could muster, there would be nothing to set them apart from any other punk band that is great live and somewhat forgettable on record, but even on those opening tracks, Iceage displays a grasp of dynamics and songwriting that hints at a depth and variety that transcends their initial punk roots.
“In Haze” boasts a more intricate riff, particularly in its tricky bridge, without sacrificing the track’s fist-pumping qualities. The last thirty seconds of the song are where the cycling-along-the-edge-of-a-cliff act collapses in on itself in exhaustion. The album’s strangest track, “Morals,” features a piano accompaniment in a slowed-down arrangement, and it’s the closest the band is ever likely to get to a power ballad. The one time they really let rip is on “It Might Hit First,” in which the coiled tension explodes into brutally ugly hardcore, and the sound is all the more effective for being used so sparingly.
The album finishes strongly as well, with “Awake” supplying more of the post-punk vibe of the opening track and recalling Joy Division in its doom-laden atmospherics while also providing an opening riff that Johnny Marr might have written back in the eighties. It’s only after the halfway-point high of “Morals” that the album does sag slightly, with a couple of songs that sound a little generic considering the previous highs. They also serve to highlight the limitations in Ronnenfelt’s voice, which is a powerful tool in its own right but nevertheless can only convey a fairly narrow range of emotion.
You could argue quite fairly that there isn’t anything on the 29 minutes of You’re Nothing that is particularly new, and the relentlessly grim tone of the lyrics is not the most insightful. At the same time, Iceage is so much more than a one-trick pony, and excitement and groundbreaking originality do not necessarily have to go hand in hand. This is an exciting album, one that gets the blood flowing and the feet moving, and you don’t necessarily have to be a fan of the game to admit that Iceage is undoubtedly on top of it.
Tickets are currently available for Iceage’s show at The Echo on March 29th, and for more info, visit: