Punk rock isn’t exactly known for its depth and originality. Quick, dirty and fun seem to be the main tenets, though that doesn’t discount it from being intelligent. A bunch of bands have been responsible for brilliant punk records, from Fugazi to the Misfits and well beyond, though it’s legitimately tough to name more than a couple of current bands that make what would classify as great hardcore punk these days. Credit that to a huge underground scene in which fans pledge their loyalties to whatever band they’re watching that night in somebody’s dark basement. On a national scale it’s tougher to pick out the highlights. In certain circles, Fucked Up’s new record “David Comes to Life” represents one of the strongest punk records in awhile, but there are just as many people that would reject the mere thought that it’s a “real” punk album. It’s too clean, too structured, way too long, and lacks a certain in-your-face attitude. Well, for the most serious of serious punk rockers, shove the Danish band Iceage in your ears and watch them bleed. Their debut album is titled “New Brigade”, and as its title might suggest, these boys are looking to usher in a fresh era of no frills, all kills punk. Hope you enjoy getting sonically kicked in the teeth.
One of the keys to unlocking Iceage is a careful look backwards into the days of both hardcore punk and post-punk. Before they were known as Joy Division, Ian Curtis & Co. called themselves Warsaw and their earliest recordings evoked the sounds of The Stooges and Wire, among others. The guitars were turned up to 11, the songs never went over 3 minutes in length, and the vocals were delivered from the back of the throat with enough spit that fans in the front rows didn’t need to shower the next day. At 12 tracks and 24 total minutes, nobody is going to say that “New Brigade” is too long, or doesn’t owe some debt of gratitude to the progenitors of punk. It ravages you from start to finish and doesn’t stop for a break, unless you count those couple momentary sets of drumstick clicks across standout track “Count Me In” as breaks. What these boys have is youth on their side, and being snotty teenagers means they’re pumped full of sugar, cigarette smoke and (most likely) alcohol. They beat on their instruments like they don’t know how to fully play them, which often results in very dischordant and unpleasant noise. But it’s through that sheer lack of giving a shit that only makes Iceage that much more compelling to listen to. Hooks or any sort of verse-chorus-verse song structure are virtually the antithesis of what they want to do, yet a song like “White Rune” turns out to be remarkably memorable anyways. And with their youth not necessarily signifying that they have any real idea of some of the great music their forebears were responsible for, a bass-heavy track like “Total Drench” sounds like a long-lost Joy Division demo. But even with the best of comparisons out there, there’s still something fresh and exciting about this band that defies any easy explanation. It’s one of the big reasons why they’ve risen far above their local underground scene and are quickly becoming recognized on a global scale. That indefinable “it” quality some of the best bands have? Iceage is one of those bands.
Unless you’re fully inoculated to hardcore punk rock with a bit of a heavy metal influence, chances are you’ll find “New Brigade” a tough listen. It is the auditory equivalent of walking out your front door to find that there’s a massive riot going on. If you’re not battle tested and prepared to accept the madness coming your way, it’ll eat you alive. Iceage are taking no prisoners and leaving everything they’ve got out on the floor. You may make it all the way through the 24 minutes, but after it’s over you’ll be grateful it wasn’t longer. That’s not to say it’s a bad 24 minutes, but rather your ears take such a beating that only silence will be able to soothe them. This is one for the punks that can name you two dozen bands at the drop of a hat that 99% of people have never heard of. There are whole scenes and communities we never know or hear about, that is unless one of the bands breaks free from that small basement and into something much larger. Iceage has become one of those bands, and should they keep the same piss and vinegar style of making music, they could inspire a whole new generation of punk rock. This is likely the most legitimate rock and roll album you’ll hear in all of 2011, demented art punk run amok like only the best can do. Brace yourself, strap on some steel-toed boots, and go have some fun with “New Brigade” as your soundtrack.