Iceage Thaws Paralyzed Punk Rock Genre
Iceage-You're Nothing-Matador-4 STARS
Iceage are missing a space in their name, but the Danish band’s particular brand of punk rock thrives on a lack of space to breathe. The words “ice age,” although denotative of a frozen eon, here suggest an unavoidably stark honesty that lead vocalist Elias Rønnenfelt can’t seem to express with enough urgency. As such, it is a desperate fury that drives Iceage’s latest release, “You’re Nothing,” which follows their debut as another electrifying tribute to punk rock that maintains a sense of vehemence and earnestness while still showcasing the group’s talent.
With the exception of “Interlude,” all the tracks on “You’re Nothing” seem to rush forward in a race against time—the album is a continuous journey through Rønnenfelt’s troubled mind, which always seems to have more to say than the short tracks allow. “Pressure, pressure, oh, God, no!” Rønnenfelt pleads in “Ecstasy,” the frantic cry of a young man overwhelmed by the sheer volume of what he has to say.
This sense of frenetic immediacy is often dictated by drummer Dan Nielsen, whose complex snare rhythms and fiery fills act as the album’s propane. Especially on short, energetic tracks like “Rodfæstet,” Nielsen’s commanding pulse gives velocity and backbone to the sound. This irrepressible forward momentum is counterbalanced by the lack of a real thematic arrival. The band seems to search frantically but unsuccessfully for a way to explain itself—either lyrically or melodically—in the little time that it has. By the time Iceage reaches the penultimate “Awake,” Rønnenfelt sounds almost defeated as he declares, “We’re running out of time.”
Although it is difficult to discern the impetus for the album’s rushed feel, the lyricism reveals that “You’re Nothing” is first and foremost a work of personal frustration. “Morals” opens with the introspective lines, “These songs, they never reach far enough / These shoulders never strike wide enough.” This feeling of inadequacy originates in the album’s aggressively dejected title and manifests itself throughout the album in plaintive vocals and searching lyrics. “It all comes down to shame / And any sense of distance,” Rønnenfelt cries on “Wounded Hearts,” sounding disappointed in himself and his lack of self-worth. By the time he shouts, “That’s why you’re nothing” on the title track, which concludes the album, the line sounds unmistakably like a self-accusation.
Imperfections on the album contribute, rather than detract, from Iceage’s earnest sound. In fact, much of the appeal of “You’re Nothing” lies in these captivatingly human elements, a nod towards the traditional “do-it-yourself” nature of punk rock albums. Rønnenfelt’s shouts aren’t always perfectly on pitch, even for shouts, and the timing at the end of “Morals” between the guitar and the snare drum phases in and out of sync. Instead of devaluing the album, these small defects make “You’re Nothing” a uniquely approachable addition to the genre.
But what sets Iceage’s newest release apart from many other punk rock albums is the truly exceptional musical talent that lies under the aggressive layer of punk fury and musical imperfections. The full-frontal guitar attack is tasteful and at times intricate, such as on “Burning Hand,” when an almost imperceptible guitar line ornaments the traditional sea of distorted sound. At other times, these guitar lines are inexplicably catchy, creating a surprising pop feel on “Wounded Hearts” and “Awake.” Throughout the album, Rønnenfelt also demonstrates his vocal versatility, sounding sweet and warm on “Morals” and then uncontrollably vicious on “It Might Hit First.” Although the vocals never lose their edge, a tinge of wistfulness creeps in at all the right moments, coloring the vocals’ timbre in a way that provides an emotive depth to the album.
Much to their credit, Iceage have managed to maintain their devastatingly aggressive sound while writing some of the most compelling and fresh music to come out of the genre in decades. The resultant “You’re Nothing,” although produced in high fidelity and teeming with talent, is not just a record for punk rock fans—it’s a record for punk rock. It may be too early to call Iceage the band that will revive punk, but their aptitude doesn’t get in the way of the elements that make their latest release an homage to the genre that Tommy Ramone called “pure, stripped down, no bullshit rock ‘n’ roll.”