Easily as good as any punk release you’ll hear in 2011.
Louis Pattison 2011
Expecting the genre of punk rock to do something wholly original in this, its fourth decade, would seem to be asking a lot. But if there’s a lesson we learn from Iceage’s New Brigade, it is that by doggedly ignoring trends and following one’s own path, it is still possible to happen on something that gleams like new. Four young men from suburban Copenhagen, Iceage draw from a deep pool of influences – familiar post-punk touchstones like Wire and Joy Division, the stirring tempos of hardcore and the shrill guitar dissonance of black metal, the snotty swagger of early-80s working class punk movement Oi! – but somehow bind it into something strangely fresh.
Earlier this year there was a brief online kerfuffle when a blogger put together Iceage’s taste for Nordic runes, hooligan dress, and some pen-scrawled illustrations of skinheads wearing Iron Crosses in one of vocalist/guitarist Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s fanzines and decided that Iceage were out to make racism ‘chic’. Iceage were quick to deny any such angle, adding that drummer Dan Kjaer Nielsen is Jewish. That this accusation can even be levelled, mind, says something about Iceage’s remoteness from familiar punk rock concerns. Songs about girls, emotions, the bucking of authority – none of those things feature here. Instead, New Brigade feels mysterious, its meaning shrouded. Rønnenfelt’s lyrics are gnomic, cryptic – entreaties to "alliance" and "brotherhood", impressionistic couplets like White Rune’s "She holds her figure / Lifeless, like marble".
Not a crime in itself, of course, and in combination with Iceage’s music, it’s a potent brew. Collapse and Never Return marshal dissonant guitar lines and racing, rumbling drums into hard, abrasive anthems, beckoning you in then throwing up walls. One easy comparison is the very earliest Idlewild material, although Iceage’s pop instincts remain more deeply buried. At least, until You’re Blessed – a climatic, romantic hardcore racer that finds Rønnenfelt defiant, taking heart from the expression of his own vulnerabilities. It’s a stirring end, and caps off a record that’s easily as good as any punk release you’ll hear in 2011.