Nearly a decade ago, Danish punk-rock outfit Iceage arrived with the fury of a category five hurricane. Their initial releases – the self-titled EP and 2011’s debut LP New Brigade – were unrelenting, head-charging punk records that equally rattled walls as they blew away minds. They continued to unleash fire and brimstone on 2013’s You’re Nothing before changing pace and tone on the more methodical and melodic (but still heavy) Plowing Into the Field of Love. The latter album represented a band maturing and growing, moving away from their early teenage angst to four young adults whose perceptions grew to account for the world as a whole. Their fourth album, Beyondless, is the next step in Iceage’s development, where they’ve truly gone well beyond the psyche of me to that of a global vision. Consequently, they’ve delivered their most rewarding and rich album to date.
Beyondless is full of surprises. The wavering “Showtime” stands out with its foreboding, film-noir approach that evolves into a theatrical production out of Moulin Rouge. Front man Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s storytelling approaches Kurt Vonnegut levels, as he tells the tale of one night at the theater where the showman blows his brains out. A honky-tonky vibe echoes on the entertaining “Thieves Like Us”. The Bonnie-and-Clyde storyline is brilliantly told while the rollicking groove is reminiscent of The Men’s reinterpretation of ’80s country-rock.
The soul-punk “Pain Killer”, though, best represents Iceage’s transformation. Featuring Sky Ferreira on backing vocals, the band haven’t completely deviated from their punk roots. Instead, they infuse some old-time New Orleans soul into their fiery approach. The blasting horns and soaring strings are brilliant additions to give some extra spice and drama to the tune. The heavy guitars and rhythms, however, remain, but they’re more controlled and riveting. Rønnenfelt and Ferreira, meanwhile, form a fantastic duet, playing off each other and describing how one can find solace in another person. Where one can find optimism and hope.
More soul-punk is heard on the piano-driven “The Day The Music Dies”. The darker and more urgent approach provides the canvas for Rønnenfelt’s revelation about his battle with anxiety. His lyrics are eye-opening, where not even the caress of a loved one can calm him. Instead, he seeks to “ruin myself”.
“How can one kill an impulsion
When it’s still kicking and breathing?
Forces are a cut above the will of the self.”
The harrowing “Plead the Fifth” sees Rønnenfelt turn into Nick Cave while Jakob Tvilling Pless (bass), Dan Kjær Nielsen (drums), and Johan Wieth (guitar) enter the Bad Seed territory. It’s a dark but enrapturing number about the ills of one man. The ills of our society. Whereas “Plead the Fifth” is cinematic, “Take It All” is dramatic in the style of The Verve. The quivering strings add to Rønnenfelt’s lyrics about a world that is constantly taking things from us like common thieves. “Everyone’s a criminal, every single last one of you is a criminal. ‘Cause the world is a crime”, Rønnenfelt cries out from the deep abyss that is his soul
While much has changed, not everything has. There is still exhilaration and urgency in the band’s music, such as the crushing opener, “Hurrah”. The track is reminiscent of Iceage’s beginnings, although the band pull back punches early on and instead deliver a few jabs. Then the uppercuts and hooks land as the song reaches its climax. Yet it’s not just the excellent musicianship that throttles your mind, but Rønnenfelt’s challenging essay of what patriotism means.
“An abstract notion
That I’m flagless at last.
I’m not fighting for a country.
I’m fighting to outlast.”
Then there is the sinister and seismic “Catch It”. Brooding and harrowing, the Danish indie-rock quartet deliver a song that could be the sound of the night, where things can only be heard but not seen and the mystery of the dark overwhelms you. But the thing consuming you is love and all of its intoxication, which leaves one’s mind and heart black. It’s an unlikely love song but one that demonstrates how far this former punk band have come. The entire album, for that matter, reveals a band that have realized the immense promise they showed about ten years ago. That their talents are not just beyondless but boundless. The Iceage era has fully arrived.
Beyondless is out on Matador Records. Iceage are Elias Bender Rønnenfelt (vocals/lyrics), Jakob Tvilling Pless (bass), Dan Kjær Nielsen (drums), and Johan Wieth (guitar).
The band is finishing the European leg of their tour today. They head to North America for a May 10th gig in Seattle and then crossing to the east. Europeans will get to catch them again this summer and early autums. Dates and information are on their website or here.
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