Release Date: May 7, 2021
Record label: Mexican Summer
Based on the range of sounds across their four previous albums, it's clear beyond all doubt that Iceage - Copenhagen's best rock band - have fantastic taste. Though the albums have been different each time, the connecting thread is that they have all been utterly consistent in their intensity. Throughout their career, which began when they were teenagers, Iceage have showcased influences from, and draw justified comparison to, sounds ranging from scratchy black metal to The Pogues ' sozzled swagger; from Tom Waits washed-out romanticism to The Replacements ' grim and gritty urban realism; and from Jacques Brel to the Rolling Stones to The Velvet Underground and beyond.
Many bands have been compared to Joy Division over the years, but Copenhagen's Iceage have been the closest to ever capturing their essence. When the four-piece post-punk band first emerged with New Brigade in 2011, they arrived fully formed -- at least in the minds of critics -- with a Byronic and laconic frontman, austere stage presence, high cheekbones, (regrettable) flirtations with fascist imagery and unwieldy arrangements that seemed prone to combustion. But the band never seemed to buy into the hype. Instead, after upping the ante with 2012's You're Nothing, Elias Bender Rønnenfelt and co. began a transformation -- refining their sound and sanding down their bleak barrage until only rock's roots remained.
Having emerged from Copenhagen's disparate punk scene some 13 years ago, Iceage have cemented themselves as one of the most uncompromising bands on the planet. Viscerally unpredictable yet never underwhelming in their output or delivery, each of the band's four albums thus far told its own story whilst highlighting a different side of its creators' armory. Indeed, it is probably fair to say they have become synonymous with taking guitar music to new territories, ones yet to be discovered that were not previously fulfilled in the past.
Iceage barrelled into the pit on their 2011 debut, New Brigade, like a band disgusted with the idea of creation itself, as embodied by a death-staring frontman--Elias Rønnenfelt--who delivered his manifestos as if spitting out the last remnants of puke in his mouth. In the decade since, they've undergone a metamorphosis even more surprising than their fellow gutter-dwellers the Men (who turned into Wilco) or the Horrors (who became Simple Minds): They've embraced the light, one creeping step at a time, and on Seek Shelter, they complete their transformation from grim-faced nihilists to wearied soothsayers, gospel choirs and all. Tapping the production expertise of fuzz guru Peter Kember (Spacemen 3, Sonic Boom) and bolstering their lineup with an additional guitarist (Casper Morilla Fernandez), Iceage stretch out in ways that would've been nigh unimaginable for this band three years ago, let alone 10.
Ten years later and the sleazy high-octane carburettor rock that made their early records so distinctive and exhilarating has largely been discarded in favour of arena ready solemnity and gospel flecked indie anthems on Seek Shelter, Iceage's fifth long player album. The Copenhagen punks have skated over to the venerable Mexican Summer label, after putting out 2014's Plowing Into The Field Of Love and 2018's Beyondless on Matador. Calling in superfan Pete Kember, known to fans as Spacemen 3's Sonic Boom, to assist the group’s trusted engineer Nis Bysted with producing and recruiting guitarist Casper Morilla Fernandez to thicken out their ferocious sound, the band have effectively reined in their fastness but kept the majority of what made them so furious.
Is punk still innovating? Does it even have to? Old, tired questions. Iceage's longevity boils down to the opposite. Meddling with the process of each project just enough to challenge themselves and keep things sounding fresh, the Danish group stay prolific because they know what buttons to push within themselves to elicit those reactions. In a very literal interpretation of the record's thesis statement, the band relocated to a dilapidated studio in Portugal, home of Spacemen 3's Pete Kember.
Photo by Mishael Phillip Iceage works its louche, lounge-punk laments into a lather on this fifth full-length album, now and again riding an anthemic surge out of blasted landscapes of grey alienation. The Danish four-piece tapped Spaceman 3's Sonic Boom for production on this uncharacteristically uplifting endeavor, and you can see the uneasy alliance of the bright colors of Peter Kember's recent work mixing into the half melted, slushy desolation of Iceage's aesthetic. The disc opens in an aura ruptured by roar, as a lacerating blues guitar riff rips through haunted atmospheres of floating synths.