The lads from Denmark have had quite the creative growth spurt. From the rowdy punk rock they lashed out with in their teens to their latest lp Plowing the Fields of Love, it would almost sound like a different band if not for the moody slur of front man Elias Ronnenfelt. With You’re Nothing, ICEAGE introduced a wider range of melodic elements, and with their new album, the Danes are turning the limitations of punk rock on it’s head. Still attacking their instruments in a drunken clamor, they are capturing warmer sounds and heading towards the murderous balladry of Nick Cave, due in part to Ronnenfelt’s range expanding into huskier tones and darker melodies with an almost Americana sound. The lead single, “The Lord’s Favorite,” carries a country shuffle, but when put through Iceage’s filter it feels as if the Pogues and Violent Femmes were locked in studio for a nights of blacked out debauchery.
This is not to say the band is not still largely punk. They are, but in the same way a band like New Model Army held on to those roots as they grew. If you had not heard their ep To the Comrades that bridges the progression from You’re Nothing to Plowing the Fields of Love, you might be forced to do a double take soon after the first song. The more the album grows on you, the more this sonic remodeling makes sense. After all, they recorded their first album as teenagers, so even the lyrics show a wider breadth of emotional language. Not that they suddenly have a cheery outlook on life, but rather the more they have come to know themselves as adults, the more they have pinpointed where their pain comes from and what topics to direct it at in a more personal manner.
Things like the addition of piano parts only add more melody to their scrappy nature. This also allows them to further explore their dark side on songs like “Glassy Eyed, Dormant and Veiled.” The inclusion of strummed passages and the appearance of things like trumpets discards the jangle of their earlier work for something more like Cult of Youth. Ronnenfelt’s voice shows it’s range, expanding on the lower scales, and the faster moments are not of the one, two, three, go… variety. In fact, they are more like a punkish take on the Exile on Main Stree- era Stones. When they step away from the rock swagger, the shadow-drenched pound of “Cimmerian Shade” brings Elias’ voice into a choked growl.
This is definitely one of the most creative albums of 2014. It’s obvious touring the world has made them sponges, sucking in western sounds. This makes for an album that draws you in for repeat listens, which are needed to really catch every nuance. How many times does that happen with punk? This is the album you might have suspected Iceage had in them, even if it meant for them to stray from the colder Warsaw-like direction it originally appeared they were headed in. I’m curiously anticipating how these songs will be pulled off live.