The Danish punks’ 29-minute return drops their debut’s riddles and is as exhilarating as being punched in the face mid-fuck
Something is rocking in the state of Denmark. Out of Copenhagen’s bluntly named underground punk scene, the New Way Of Danish Fuck You, lurch four young men calling themselves Iceage with a snarl on their lips and a fierce kind of anger in their hearts. Their 2011 debut ‘New Brigade’, recorded while they were wild and recalcitrant kids of 17 and 18 announced their intention to play louder, faster and harder than anyone else around. Now they’re back to bloody their noses all over again.
Their second record, ‘You’re Nothing’, takes the relentless urgency of their debut and refines it. They’ve moved to the more respectable home of Matador, meaning they now nestle up against Belle & Sebastian and Interpol on the venerable indie label’s roster. This move, though, hasn’t changed them one iota. While their last record clocked in at 24 minutes, this one lasts a not exactly sprawling 29. Of the 12 tracks, only three breach the three-minute mark, and then only barely. Musically, they sound like a hardcore band doing post-punk songs. Lyrically, they’ve thrown aside the riddles of ‘New Brigade’, filling the gaps with a direct and unflinching emotional honesty. In other circumstances, if you were told an album had been recorded at a farmhouse on the Danish island of Møn, you’d expect an album of pastoral lovelorn twee wallowing. Not something as exhilarating and violent as being punched in the face mid-fuck.
It’s there from the moment their chainsaw guitars chop through the static that opens ‘Ecstasy’ and frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt starts recounting his tale of insomnia and woe. “Each night I lie awake in bed”, he sings, his voice dripping with anxiety, before exploding into: “Pressure, pressure, oh God no!” It’s around now that all the blood vessels in your brain burst simultaneously.
‘Coalition’, meanwhile, is about as close as Iceage seem likely to get to writing a straight-up love song, but it’s still suitably bleak and confused. “These days I’m numb and faded,” sings Elias, “something denies coalition with you”. Not exactly ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’, is it?
The explosive ‘Burning Hand’ gives the impression that if Iceage did hold your hand, they’d rub it with lye and then kiss it like Tyler Durden in Fight Club. That, and ‘In Haze’, show Iceage at their most direct. But ‘Morals’ – which takes its structure from the song ‘L’Ultima Occasione’ by Italian crooner Mina – is evidence that there’s more to their songwriting than brute force. The song slowly staggers around a disarming piano line, while Elias almost croons his jeering chorus: “Where’s your morals?”
The album’s second half opens with the sort of killer riff that makes you want to play it loud as you drive very fast down an open road. ‘Everything Drifts’ might be the record’s high-water mark, a song you’d raise your fist to even if Elias wasn’t demanding it. And as the record moves towards its climax the songs seem to get faster and even more insistent. ‘It Might Hit First’ barely makes it over 80 seconds. ‘Rodfæstet’ (‘The Rooted’), may be the band’s first song in Danish, but it’s no less easy to connect with the obvious emotional turmoil.
On penultimate track ‘Awake’, Elias announces “We’re running out of time”. And it’s true. Closer ‘You’re Nothing’ is as raw and uncompromising a way to finish an album as you’d care to imagine, a visceral scream that should cement their already burgeoning myth. That the whole thing is wrapped up in under half an hour seems fitting, in its way. This is raw, uncompromising punk rock without a skateboard or a beer bong in sight. It’s been righteous and riotous, and it’s all over in the blink of an eye.
In the end, ‘You’re Nothing’ is a sort of toast: to loud music, hard drinking and the energy of the unbroken. It’s a band taking all their introverted anxieties and turning them outwards into a furious energy. Iceage run with the doomed, and until the dark fist of fate crushes us into dust and says finally ‘you’re nothing’, records of youth and anger and dark joy like this one are really all we have.
Kevin EG Perry