A GUEST POSTING by SWC*
(*welcome back mate, hope this is the first of many – JC)
Iceage are brilliant. Probably one of the most exciting and refreshing bands in the world right now. They have released four albums of breathtaking post punk pop gothic. Albums all wrapped up around the voice of their ridiculously attractive singer, Elias Bender Ronnenfelt (and there should be a line through that ‘o’ but I can’t find the right key on the keyboard, I hope that not offensive to any Danes that might be reading). Their first two albums sound like the best bits of Joy Division shovelled into a blender with the best bits of Fugazi and ‘Sister’ era Sonic Youth and they are both bleeding masterpieces. If you don’t own them you should rectify that situation as soon as possible.
Their third and fourth albums are slightly different, they sound more like Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds if Nick Cave had started to think he was Mark E Smith and the Bad Seeds came from Kansas. Again, they are both, the fourth one particularly, bleeding masterpieces and if you don’t own them, you should rectify that situation as soon as possible.
There is always a ‘but’, isn’t there.
It very nearly went very wrong indeed for Iceage. Let’s have some swirly smoke and I’ll do an Al from Quantum Leap style jump and give you the backstory….
Iceage were formed in 2008, in Copenhagen, and comprised four teenagers raised on a diet of, Black Flag, Dead Kennedy, Crass and a liking for highbrow references about art, French Philosophers and Nietzsche. In 2011 their debut album ‘New Brigade’ came out and before long the press were drawling and drooling all over them (12 songs 28 minutes…It really is outstanding). They were widely touted as being the greatest thing to hit the post punk pop gothic world since Joy Division (if Joy Division looked like The Strokes that is).
Their live shows had already started to gain legendary status, tales of shambolically brilliant performances, where instruments were trashed, tunes and singing ignored, and band members were so wasted that they could barely stand, emerged. Yet that still didn’t burst their bubble. Iceage quickly grew from being called ‘the new Joy Division’ to being called ‘the greatest rock and roll band in the world’. The band were still in their late teens at this stage.
Fans openly drooled with anticipation at the prospect of a second album. But here is where it almost went wrong.
Around the time that second album it was being recorded some concerning allegations of the band having far right leanings emerged over the internet. Early interviews (in Danish) emerged where the band name dropped German fascist bands, alongside drawings penned by (a teenage) Ronnenfelt of the Ku Klux Klan and shaky grainy video footage of (audience members) sieg heiling at their early shows. It looked like perhaps that Iceage were not everything that we expected.
I mean it’s worrying and we have all abandoned bands for way less….rightly as well. In the last year I have abandoned in order The Orwells (sexual assault allegations), Hookworms (ditto), Ryan Adams (ditto), countless rappers (homophobia and general arsetrumpetry) and that’s even before we start on that Farage wannabe from Salford whose name I can’t even type.
Anway back to Iceage, who you have probably guessed I haven’t abandoned.
A short while after the allegations surfaced, Iceage released their second album (to glowing reviews and widespread praise) and left their native Denmark to embark on a massive tour. In the UK the band took the time addressed these concerns. They said that they were dumb kids (“we were genuine morons, truly unaware of the larger implications…” they said in one interview) and looked devastated by the whole thing. (this 2013 interview in The Guardian is wonderfully insightful)
What we found out later that is that Iceage are vocally pro-immigration, vocally anti-fascist and are very much a left leaning band. Something which definitely comes across in their second album (take ‘Morals’ for instance – side two track one below) and their third and fourth for that matter.
Was that enough, well perhaps, like I said we’ve all abandoned bands for way less. We’ve also forgiven bands for way worse (Bowie, sieg heiling for instance….). I for one am willing to overlook the idiocy of kids because when you drill into their music, it’s passionate, it’s angry, it’s about dejection and the pain of that post adolescent life (and not ,you know, about ethnic cleansing and that). I’m also prepared to overlook it because the links were laughably tenuous to say the least.
I’m going to shut up now, and let the music take over. I’ll end how I started. Iceage are brilliant. Probably one of the most exciting and refreshing bands in the world right now.
Hurrah – from Beyondless (2018)
‘Hurrah’ opens the bands most recent record ‘Beyondless’ an album which pushes the band further away from the early punk days. I mean this contains handclaps. Handclaps. On an Iceage record. When you get that you know anything that follows will be brilliant
Cimmerian Shade – from Plowing Into the Field of Love (2014)
‘Plowing Into the Field of Love’ is the bands third album and it sees them in one breathless album explore new territory which is perhaps best defined as ‘relaxed’. There is a more steady sound to it. . On ‘Cimmerian Shade’ you get a good example of Elias’s Nick Cave impression. But you also get a chugging, desperate sounding bass, interspersed with grunts or more likely growls from Ronnenfelt and then the drums kick in and pound away while guitars scratch away monstrously.
Showtime – From Beyondless (2018)
Imagine if you like you have wandered into a part of city that you don’t know very well. Inside a building you hear some brass band playing, intrigued you take a look. When you get inside you just see a mad circus on a stage playing out some devilish show involving a brass band and a man terrorizing the audience. That, folks, is what ‘Showtime’ sounds like. Its madness but its genius.
Pain Killer (featuring Sky Ferreira) – From Beyondless (2018)
‘Pain Killer’ is extraordinary, the musical equivalent of a bathbomb that when it fizzes and dissolves you find your bath full of spikes. A song that sounds all cosy and comfy but when you explore you discover that it is all about spider webs, death and all that. It comes armed as well with a classic hook and a chorus that tells that they “Rue the day you became my pain killer”. It is as close as the bad will ever come to sounding like ‘XTMNTR’ era Primal Scream.
You’re Nothing – From ‘You’re Nothing’ (2013)
The title track from the second album closes this particular side of the ICA. ‘You’re Nothing’ is as raw and as uncompromising a track as you can imagine. It sees a band that at the time had taken a load of anxieties and turned them into energy and the result was staggering.
Morals – From ‘You’re Nothing’ (2013)
‘Morals’ was I think the track that hinted at a softer more soulful side to Iceage. Here for the first time the band use a piano, albeit a sort of juddery kind of piano that has been attacked with an axe. We also hear Elias actually croon for the first time. Ok, he’s mocking us, but in a croony kind of way.
Broken Bone – From New Brigade (2011)
This is for some reason the only track from the debut album that made it on this album, there is no reason for that ‘New Brigade’ is as I have said a masterpiece in so many ways. ‘Broken Bone’ is probably the most accessible moment of it. It’s almost a pop song in the same way that anything by say Idles is almost a pop record.
Forever – From Plowing Into The Field of Love (2014)
When Iceage returned in 2014 this was the first track that most people heard. It took two or three listens to actually realise it was Iceage. This is largely because of the reverb heavy intro makes it sounds like Queens of the Stone Age rather than gloomy Joy Division obsessed goths from the back streets of Copenhagen. But it’s also because of the outro, which has this incredible horn bursting in from literally nowhere as Ronnenfelt wails about ‘Losing himself forever’. Stunning.
Coalition – From You’re Nothing (2012)
When ‘Coalition’ was released Iceage said that it was as close as the band would ever get to writing a straight up love song. Which is kind of what it is. A confused and bleak love song that talks about feeling ‘numb and faded’. It is still ace though.
The Lord’s Favorite – from Plowing Into the Field of Love (2014)
The stand out track of Plowing Into the Field Love is ‘The Lords Favorite’ and until ‘Showtime’ arrived this was my favo(u)rite Iceage track. It has this strange honky tonk style posturing feel about it. The thing I love about it is that it is playful, cheeky and sounds like the band no longer has a single care in the world.