Text: Koen Ruijs
Three years after ‘Beyondless’, the Danish post-punk formation Iceage is back with a bang. ‘Seek Shelter’ will be released on May 7th. An album with nine new songs and a horse head for cover art.
The fifth studio album kicks off with an air raid alarm supported by swelling violins, after which a guitar riff launches the opener ‘Shelter Song’. ‘Shelter Song’ immediately refers to the title of the album. In the chorus, lead vocalist Elias Rønnenfelt urges you to rest and wraps an invisible arm around you. ‘Come here, come to me. The rest of the world will just kick your ass anyway.’ Elias’ wavering voice is lifted by the angelic voices of the ‘Lisbon Gospel Choir’. A glow of Portuguese warmth seems to warm Iceage’s chilly attitude.
On ‘High & Hurt’ the punk roots of the five come to the surface. The tempo increases, the vocals become more aggressive. And yes, you read it right, ‘five’. In the run-up to ‘Seek Shelter’ the foursome is reinforced with a fifth band member in the shape of Casper Morilla. Although you can create more noise with five than with four, they slow down immediately on ‘Love Kills Slowly’. Iceage shows that they can play a ballad in their own way. The choruses are again driven to an extra-terrestrial height by the members of the ‘Lisbon Gospel Choir’. This goes so far that by the end of the song, it seems like you are floating through a surrealistic space.
‘Vendetta’ grabs you by the throat and brings you back to harsh reality. Iceage drags you through a jungle where mafia bosses, weapons and drugs rule the world. The constantly thundering dance-drum groove and the apocalyptic instrumental parts make you feel like you have to be constantly on your guard. As soon as the jungle setting of ‘Vendetta’ fades away, a posh palace emerges. The dance groove is exchanged for an old-fashioned swing feel. ‘Drink Rain’ feels like being thrown back to the 1930s, where you take a peek into a smoky ballroom full of dresses and suits. The lyrics thicken this image perfectly, ‘I drink rain like iced champagne, I drink the rain to get closer to you’. The swing feel is played so casually by the band that it sometimes feels like you’ re drunk.
But as soon as the champagne runs out, a bottle of red wine is opened. A choice all band members agree with, as they all shout ‘Red wine’ in the chorus of ‘Dear Saint Cecilia’. A track that shows that a reference to religion is inevitable on an Iceage record. A link is also made with earlier work of the band, as the song contains many ingredients of the previous album ‘Beyondless’. Especially the tempo, the horn parts and the construction of the song provoke the link with the previous album.
When the band is just about to make a clear point of recognition, you are lulled to sleep by a quiet, caressing guitar pluck of ‘The Wider Powder Blue’. As soon as you listen to this lullaby in a relaxed way with your eyes closed, you are woken up as soon as the band puts its back into the chorus of the same song. But a hard climax is not forthcoming, which is surprising in a way.
You wake up to the sounds of a spinning music box. A ghostly voice floats into your ears. We have arrived at the closing track ‘The Holding Hand’. The lovely melody is overshadowed by a terrifying atmosphere that unfolds with explosive accents. Like an elephant in a china shop. It does not stop at one china shop. In the end, nothing stays whole and you are rammed to the end by a wall of sound.
Listening to ‘Seek Shelter’, you realize very well that the world around you is hard, cold and rough. However, every now and then there is something that grabs you and warms you up. Something that makes you feel like there is hope. Iceage may be a traditional band. But they keep challenging themselves by introducing new elements into their music. This time, you are surprised by a gospel choir, a drum groove inspired by a drum loop from a child’s keyboard and a harmonica. On the face of it, these are elements that have nothing to do with each other, let alone the cover art with a zoomed-in portrait of a horse’s head. Nevertheless, the Danish quintet manages to forge an original entity out of it.
With their fifth studio album, Iceage shows that their unabashed, raw music can also be warm and hopeful.