Two years ago, in the July 2011 Downloader’s Diary, I wrote a review of a record by Iceage called New Brigade. I’ll reprint the review here:
While I’d be the first admit that I play the punk card in front of my ex-hippie parents as a means to set myself apart from them spiritually, in truth I reject most of the lo-fi, no-wave bands that come my way as unlistenable, tuneless caterwaul. The tuneless caterwaul proffered by this Danish quartet however, not a one of them out of their teens, is something special. Damned if I could tell you quite why — usually when a band like this breaks out of the no-wave pack, their success is attributable to a talent for burying melodies in noise, or a penchant for foregrounding memorably clever lyrics delivered as football chants. You know — songwriting. The strategy here is more like marshaling cohesion from chaos, and making it compel. Though the lyrics are reputedly in English, I can only understand a few snatches here and there, and Elias Bender Ronnenfelt’s thuggish baritone isn’t exactly what you’d call an instrument of great range, emotion, or feeling. But from the tribal thumping of Dan Kjaer Nielsen to the efficient thrashing of Ronnenfelt and second guitarist Johan Surballe Wieth, these upstarts showcase in twelve “songs” in twenty-four minutes their version of post-punk slash and burn, which essentially boils down to napalming the cornfield while they celebrate its destruction by joyously ransacking the farmhouse. Fierce, unrelenting, and startlingly vital from start to finish, you won’t be quite sure what’s hit you when it’s all through. After which you’ll have no problem shuttling yourself through their maelstrom one more time. A
Two things leap out reading this review. The first is that I’m upfront that songwriting isn’t this band’s strong suit. The second is that I’m also upfront about not understanding the lyrics, a state of affairs that did not necessarily improve about buying the record a week later and parsing the lyric sheet. (I’d also like to say that this was the last review I wrote that month — usually the one I end up regretting.)
Shortly after I posted this review, I ran across a piece from a blogger styling himself “Magic Muscle,” titled Chic Racism elevates hardcore band Iceage to hipster fame. I’ve obviously linked the article, but let me summarize: the author is pissed off by the band’s hipster cred (that’s complaint number one), but more importantly, the band’s courting of what he dubs “fascist imagery,” from hooded figures, Iron Crosses, switchblades pointing “business end toward Islamists.” (Only Fox News says “Islamists,” but never mind.) I’ll reproduce these images, which the author has taken from a band member’s blog page.
Disturbing, yes. But let me direct you to the angry responses Mr. Magic Muscle elicited for his little public service (edited for misspellings and punctuation):
I´m impressed by how naive you are…Do you know that the drummer is Jewish???
[Being] very close to the band I can assure [you] that they are not fascist in any way. They are – in an attempt to decipher Iceage’s music – young Danes that are worried about the increased political right wing tendencies [in] Denmark.
It´s so not cool that a mum of an Iceage musician speaks up, but in DK, for the past 12 years we´ve had a rightwing/liberal government that have only been in power because they have been supported by a minor anti-immigrant, racist “Dansk Folkeparti” [Danish People’s Party — MT]. They are Nazis wrapped in the idyllic Danish red and white flag…Iceage band members from when they were 12, 13 years of age have been teargassed and beaten by the police while defending the “Youth Cultural House” – and that battle included young people of all colors.
Wow, you’ve done an amazing job of attracting to your blog, every retarded racist white douche bag (and one Mexican) that still listens to hardcore. Basically, none of this even needs to be said. Anyone with half a brain can understand that this band is bunch of disgusting loosers [sic — had to keep that one in, MT].
I honestly don’t know what to make of all of this. I love the defense of Iceage from Johan Surballe Wieth’s mother (quote three) but I’ve also seen a defense of the band (once again, hidden in blog comments) from someone who not only claims to be a parent to one of the members, but a professor of two others. Yet the troubling imagery continues to be unexplained, or even contextualized (“Just something I saw on TV,” says Ronnenfelt) — I think what disturbs people about this band isn’t their violence, but their intent. God knows they’ve said very little about politics, and it seems to me some alliance with sanity demands to be put on the table. Instead we get their championing of Absurd, an infamous German national socialist death metal group.
The band’s new record, You’re Nothing is less of the same, repeating their debut’s basic approach with fewer dividends. I haven’t quite wrapped my head on it yet, but I’m planning a major disavowal of the group. The music is ascetic, unforgiving, hard to approach. They have no joy in what they do. That seems to me to be a bigger mistake than anything.