Album Review: Iceage—”You’re Nothing”

By Adam Bernhardt

Iceage are a Danish punk band who have yet to release an album lasting more than half an hour. Not that I’m complaining, mind you – brevity in all things might as well be the first rule in the punk rock book of rules for people who don’t like rules.

New Brigade, which dropped in early 2011, offered an astonishing new direction for punk rock as it’s clangorous patchwork of hardcore aggression, neurotic post-punk rhythms, baffling Captain Beefheart tempo changes, industrial atmosphere, and strangely compelling Scandinavian pop sensibility presented a youthful exuberance that was as boldly refreshing as it was startling.  2013’s You’re Nothing channels much of the same drive and energy but with considerably more heft and polish than the clamorous fragility of New Brigade.

Largely this is a result of a more sophisticated production, which eschewed the heavy reverb and echo of New Brigade for a more direct and classically punk distortion, which adds considerably to the low end, allowing for a more powerful bass-heavy presence. The songwriting has also evolved considerably. While the ambiguous lyrics follow a punk tradition of copping moves from Arthur Rimbaud, Iceage still manage to make a chorus of “Excess!” sound somehow appealing. The unpredictable tempo shifts that characterized New Brigade are still present, but are more sophisticated. While on New Brigade this sometimes worked towards a song’s benefit (“You’re Blessed”, “Broken Bone”) it could also cause it to become a sloppy, sludgy mess (“Total Drench”). There’s nothing of the sort on You’re Nothing, with less dramatic shifts that are still just as striking. Elias Rønnenfelt‘s vocals, while not necessarily the most technically virtuosic, are decidedly effective, matching the intensity of Iceage’s noise – at times whisperingly indifferent and at others scathingly vitriolic.

This is all easily apparent on the opener “Ecstasy” in which the initial onslaught is almost reminiscent of Joy Division. This is due to it’s disco derived rhythm section, although it contends with a wall of tremolo guitars that is almost instantly replaced with pounding hardcore before it finally screeches to a halt for the lethargic sludge fest of a crawl that passes for the chorus. The centerpiece of You’re Nothing lies in its most daring departure from Iceage’s usual fare, “Morals”, which adds a piano to their turbulent milieu and is almost a ballad of sorts. One can easily imagine that a surreal drugged-out cabaret act might one day make this a standard.  Lyrically, “Morals” turns a lot of the rage behind You’re Nothing inward, as they speak to a general impotence and weakness as well as a desire to disappear. The song evolves from a piano ballad into an ascendant storm of guitar riffs, before crashing back down to its initial crawling unease.

Although not for everyone, Iceage have managed to follow up their debut with a solid album of blistering noise rock that while sacrificing some of the earnestly sloppy production and song nuances of New Brigade definitely shows encouraging progress.

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