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Iceage refines nihilism with You're Nothing

Danish punks second album shuns punk convention



Rather than recoil or fizzle out following the wave of artistic success and critical praise for its earliest offerings, Copenhagen, Denmark, punk quartet Iceage has retained its identity while refining its execution. Very little about the group's harsh aesthetic or nihilistic ethos has changed since unassumingly being labeled as the rebirth of punk and graduating to the upper echelons of indie rock the world over. With an artfully ominous demeanor similar to Joy Division's earliest recordings as Warsaw, and the urgent clinical fury of Wire, Iceage surfaced as a surprisingly punk band effortlessly incorporating influences of classic thrash, bleak no wave, and restrained primitivism. The group's four members — Elias Bender Rønnenfelt (guitar and vocals), Johan Suurballe Wieth (guitar), Dan Kjær Nielsen (drums), and Jakob Tvilling Pless (bass) — took root in Copenhagen's fertile punk and noise rock scene in 2008 before quickly amassing a fervent following that hung onto every bloodied, sweat-soaked note and lyric. Yet even with the growing fan base and critical response, Iceage maintains its ethos with stubbornness rivaling the steadfast will of Minor Threat, Black Flag, and those who invented the very sound in which they revel.

Iceage's debut album, 2011's New Brigade — recorded while many of the group's members were under 20 years old — arrived as a 24-minute blast of kinetic noise and bombastic tunefulness. The title track explodes into a jagged run of serrated guitars and throttled distortion, exemplifying the group's updated take on Wire's punk classic Pink Flag counterbalanced with hardcore intensity.

Elsewhere, the group veers into more artful and experimental territory, incorporating disorienting guitar effects and textures while retaining its ramshackle din of jutting noise and careening propulsion. "Rotting Heights" resembles the textured, DIY-noise of Los Angeles-art punk duo No Age at their most direct, with brooding enthusiasm pitted against vibrant monotony.

Initially released on Escho, a Copenhagen imprint focusing on local hardcore and punk acts who also issued Iceage's eponymous debut EP, New Brigade's reputation grew like a wildfire fueled by praise from word-of-mouth and international, high-profile music blogs. The LP was quickly reissued by revered New York noise-punk labels Dais and What's Your Rupture? — labels that served as stepping stones that would place Iceage in league with the larger indie labels around.

You're Nothing is Iceage's first LP on Matador Records, one of the largest indie labels and host to fellow punk and DIY revivalists like Fucked Up, Times New Viking, and Ceremony. But the band has yet to experience any perks from its new label's reach or reputation, suggesting Matador as merely a vehicle to release You're Nothing as quickly as possible, to the largest audience possible. The jump to such a large label had no effect on the band or the resulting album. "They wanted to sign us for a long time, and we had to pick a label to get the record out soon, so we just decided to give it a try," Rønnenfelt says.

The album does signal a noticeable tilt in the band's tone and demeanor, with brooding noise and cornered anxiety underpinning every sound. But the subtle change in intangible qualities of You're Nothing is the result of evolutionary growth for the band and its members — what Rønnenfelt refers to as a "natural shift." He elaborates, "It's not a radical or even calculated change, but you keep on writing and you can't keep writing the same thing."

Opening track, "Ecstasy," rails with a sloppy stab of hulking, Misfits-style brawn and melody. Rønnenfelt seems encumbered, almost physically beaten down and exhausted, by the tribulations of everyday life, confessing that the pressure "Feels so overwhelming I can't breathe."

"Morals" resembles no other song the band has recorded to date. Its opening moments play out with military precision and a marching pace, accompanied by bits of solemn piano and Rønnenfelt's bitterly spiteful lament: "If I could leave my body, then I would bleed into a lake/Dashing away/Disappear."

Iceage continues its MO of independence and self-reliance, focusing on new material unique to each member's perception of the world around them and penning modern punk songs with little care of how the outside world responds. "[These songs] came from us," Rønnenfelt adds. "We write about our lives, and life continues. What are you supposed to do?"

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