Teenage bullies full of anger and anxiety make purist punk minus politics.
Four teenage Danes in Harrington jackets and switchblade smirks have just released their debut album ‘New Brigade’ in the UK. Back home, Iceage have already attracted an unusual amount of media interest for an underground band of abrasive snotrockers, with local tabloids getting into a familiar fear-mongering froth over bolshy kids making too much racket (“Teenage bullies full of anger and anxiety!” according to one headline, as translated by singer Elias Rønnenfelt).
If alarm bells are ringing, you’re not alone in your suspicions. A supposedly underground band getting mainstream column inches? Who’s bankrolling this stunt? Where’s the guerrilla gig? Are Iceage a corporate Trojan horse for a new strain of piss-weak continental lager? Well, it’s good news: the band’s credentials appear to be clean – or rather, appealingly unclean and genuinely independent. A mood of nihilistic despair and aggression courses through ‘New Brigade’ as they channel the savage post-punk of Wire and Mission of Burma with the obliterated noise-rock of early 80s no wave or primitive Sonic Youth, although their visual aesthetic is rather less savoury – a dubious tattoo of possibly-quite-fascist neofolk band Death in June has been spotted on guitarist Johan Surrballe, while shallow references to Klansmen the video above and runes are juvenile shock tactics at best. Doubtless these Danes trace their bloodline back to Søren Kierkegaard rather than Hans Christian Andersen, yet there’s little trace of the left-wing (or any-wing) moralising that came as standard in the first wave of punk.
Following the hulking industrial intro, opener ‘White Rune’ is a metallic blast of purest 1979 in the vein of Magazine or Joy Division, a synecdoche of the whole record in a shrink-wrapped sub-three-minute kernel of abrasive dissonance underpinned by raw, grinding guitars and an unexpectedly catchy chorus. But instead of the nerve-twisting tautness or spare quietude of those seminal post-punk bands, Iceage veer towards a more fucked up, punked out and slapdash NYC vibe. Take the blistering title track for instance, which comes on like forgotten Richard Hell demo resurrected through blown-out speakers, missing a severe chunk of its low end in place of a handful of cobwebby guitars. ‘Rotting Heights’ pulls off the 70s punk trick of using painfully trebly guitars to recall early 60s surf and garage in a rejection of cosy MOR rock, a move that might as well be read as two fingers to today’s self-satisfied stratospheres of syrupy chillwave and 80s pop revivalism.
Iceage don’t waste their time attempting to entertain us; instead this record glorifies the simplicity of brute anger in 12 short, sharp shocks.
I haven’t even got to the album standout yet, the seventh track of 12 on a record only 24 minutes long. ‘Broken Bone’ really does sound like one of those original punk gems, deftly executing an unlikely catchiness alongside ear-shredding guitars and juicily distorted drums, everything set extra trebly and sharp for maximum parental bewilderment. The final minute collapses into a juddering hi-hat dance rhythm like the Bizarro World version of all those radio-friendly unit shifters of NME disco punk we endured five years ago. Fearsome.
All the ideas on New Brigade are familiar, it’s true, yet Iceage sound encouragingly contemporary and never nostalgic. While revivalist Noughties indie drank from the same well of early 80s innovation, its rehashing of Talking Heads and Orange Juice into Red Bull-fuelled indie disco hits always had the sweet whiff of ‘boom years’ about it, even if we couldn’t smell it at the time. But if the trick to mining styles of yore is in the timing, then the disdain and unfocused rage of punk and no wave are sounding fresh for good reason. Iceage don’t waste their time attempting to entertain us; instead this record glorifies the simplicity of brute anger in 12 short, sharp shocks. Now imagine if they actually put some politics behind it…