It’s a classic coming of age story. Four teenage friends from Copenhagen, Denmark form a band. They can’t play their instruments all too well, but are damn well angry enough to try. Angry about what, you may ask. There might be a number of reasons, but what better way to propagate anger than in the form of a punk band? The group, calling themselves Iceage, record a limited release album entitled New Brigade; it disappears as the Scandinavian winter thaws. Six months later it lands on American soil following a great deal of blogosphere buzz. Iceage sell out shows in New York, garnering critical acclaim and a fierce live reputation.
One year later…Older, wiser, and moodier, the Danish punks shun the defiant cry of youth that made their remarkable debut, and transform into something of a hardcore/black metal hybrid. New Brigade was an album that could only be made by eighteen year olds, the musical equivalent of a teenage mood swing: eager, confident, anxious, messy, energetic. It even had some charm if you were on its good side. That energy was channelled through youthfulness and all the imperfections of youth, from the choice of dry, detuned, metallic guitars to frontman Elias Bender Ronnenfelt’s anthemic vocals. On You’re Nothing he displays a very different persona, one that is weary and defeated somewhat, no more evident than on opener “Ecstacy”. “Pressure! Oh god no!” he screams on the sluggish hardcore chorus. The vocals now evoke the thick Danish accent of Ronnenfelt’s speech (one track is even sung in native tongue) rather than the Cockney twang he assumed on New Brigade. Similarities to bands like Wire and Death in June are few and far between – if anything Iceage have been listening more to their contemporaries Sexdrome. This change in direction may prove a little daunting for some who hoped that the band would stay on the path of bastardized post-punk.
As Iceage descends into the mire of muscular black metal-tinged hardcore, they do little to invigorate the genre, any follower of the scene could tell you that. There’s a sweet touch of piano balladry to “Morals” as well as a strange war-like drum roll pervading “Interlude” but other than that there’s nothing particularly striking following the first half of the album. However, the Husker Du-esque “Burning Hand” and “In Haze” are both incredibly infectious, a meritorious trait that this record holds over New Brigade. On some of these more memorable songs, Iceage have such a deft craft for organised chaos. Amidst all the cacophony, there may be a hook that lasts only ten seconds, but that is what essentially makes you hungry for more. For a band who describes their fans as “victims” they are probably content in not giving them enough.
Iceage are much too smart to stifle listeners though, even when working within punk’s loud and fast rulebook. The general consensus is an old cliché, but it is true nonetheless: they have matured as a band. Even if You’re Nothing lacks the raw immediacy of their debut, it sees Iceage defining the parameters of their sound.