At a few minutes before 12:30 am, the Danish punk band Iceage took the stage at Public Assembly in Brooklyn for their first U.S. show. Starting right on time, the band broke into a exhilarating, brash, and gloriously out of tune ten-song set that lasted, appropriately, just over 20 minutes. Though they specialize in body-slam inducing post-punk, on stage the band looked stoic, their energy contained to such an extent that they almost didn’t seem like the group of high-schoolers that gained notoriety for posting pictures of the carnage following their concerts on their blog. Maybe it was the venue, maybe there were some debut jitters — still the audience ate it up, leaving attendees bruised, but also craving more. Unfortunately the wash of feedback and traditional punk slop that dominated that performance obscured some of the finely crafted tunes that make up the band’s first record, New Brigade, now getting a US release via What’s Your Rupture?
New Brigade begins with marching orders: feedback disguised as footsteps in the “Intro” leads into “White Rune” and then “New Brigade.” “White Rune” is a self-defining moment and an introduction to this cult/church/group/movement/whatever-you-want-to-call-it. “I am / White rune” bellows Elias, the band’s singer and guitarist, in a hollow voice that’s nearly hypnotic, and stays that way throughout the record. If you accept the recruitment message that is “White Rune,” your new anthem is the album’s title track. The relentless, fast-paced guitars run rampant along with the drums that alternate between splashy cymbals and rumbling tom rolls — but all that drops out in the middle of the song and a stuttering, but authoritative guitar line rings out. A call to attention, an order to salute, a funeral dirge maybe.
Ok, maybe all of this military/brotherhood thing is getting to be a bit much. I mean it’s there—Iceage revels in its own mythology, goes out of its way to make themselves as mysterious and obscure as possible, and exudes that if-you’re-not-with-us-you’re-against-us mentality (“This is a bloodpath / Betrayal is a sin” goes “New Brigade”) — and it’s part of what makes the band so compelling. Like the best punk groups, Iceage offers listeners the chance to be a part of something that’s larger than the band or the audience: loners unite!
Same as it ever was, really, but Iceage don’t trap themselves in a revolving door of “join us!”-esque songs. The real beauty of New Brigade is amidst the calls-to-arms are genuine moments of adolescent uncertainty and nervousness. For all of Iceage’s blistering punk posturing — the fast-paced, hardcore drumming; the screeching guitars; the overall air of dissonance and discontent—many of these tracks are drenched in angst, loneliness, and anger. “I thought I had it, but they told me it was just a broken bone / Just a broken bone” sings Elias over incensed guitar riffs that swing as much as they pummel on the fantastic “Broken Bone.” Cuts like “Collapse” or their cover of Sexdrome’s “Count Me In” pit helplessness and sexual frustration (respectively) against storms of thrashing instrumentals, but ways that ask listeners to commiserate. While on “Remember” it’s impossible not to think of The Smiths, though the band adds just the right boost of energy, whether that’s Elias’ commanding, only slightly shaky vocals, or the taught elasticity of the bass.
New Brigade is over in about 23 minutes, and each second feels well worth your time. Though the band can get sloppy at points, perhaps even a bit repetitive, Iceage have crafted some very memorable tracks here; and more than anything, New Brigade shows that this band has much more to offer in the future. “I lie in a pool of spit and fear / But I won’t stay weak or hurt or shattered / Holding on” goes closer “You’re Blessed.” It’s a guarantee that even with all the punches and open wounds this band will be back, and they’re going be stronger than ever. And you’d better be ready to fall in line.