Iceage are releasing their sophomore album You're Nothing after a two year gap since their debut New Brigade brought punk rock back to its roots. It was with New Brigade that amplified Denmark's Iceage into a new found stardom of independent punk rock with a dedicated fan base across the world. After the success of New Brigade, Iceage played small venues all over the western world, and then toured extensively playing every month in 2012 except October. It's actually amazing how Iceage have found the time to write and record a follow-up album. Don't let this put you off though, because like the Danes debut album, You're Nothing barely hits the half hour mark.
"Ecstasy" opens the album with two and a half minutes of what could be Kevin Shields and co in the very early days of My Bloody Valentine. It's loud, raw, in your face and its punk. The guitars are layered and then the drumming hits with extremely distorted percussion. Lead vocalist Elias Bender Ronnefelt shouts: "Pressure," followed by: "oh god no, can't take this pressure." It's one of the few lyrics we're able to decipher, because even though Ronnefelt sings in English, it's still punk, and you know as well as I do that punk lyrics are one of the hardest to understand. With "Ecstasy", Iceage transform from this quiet and almost shy group of Danish teenagers to a mature, grounded and worldly band. Ronnefelt uses the word ecstasy in correlation to his screaming repetition of the word pressure. He, alike his trio of Danish comrades feels the pressure to succeed and live up to expectation. These emotions and cynical views can be seen in almost all interviews with Iceage.
We see transitions on You’re Nothing like I mentioned above. The band has matured and Ronnefelt especially has improved his vocal and his lyrics. New Brigade was an incredibly bleak album that forced the comparisons to early Joy Division. Instead of bleak, You're Nothing takes a more personal look at Ronnefelt's emotions. "Coalition" being the prime example of Ronnefelt delivering the goods. The opening lyrics are hauntingly typical of every male indie pop band, but the music tells a different love story: "She gives me signals, but our hearts are not the same." With the abrasive guitar work and an absolutely fantastic lead guitar by Johan Surrballe Wiet. Unlike Sex Pistols or the foundations of Joy Division, Iceage know how to play their instruments. Even though they're smashing these instruments to create their volatile and industrial sounds, they still have structure and a musical quality that modern punk just doesn't have. So when listening to the third track "Interlude", you wonder why and how Iceage manage to create such sounds. The ambience, the textures, there's something quite unnatural and alien about Iceage.
"Burning Hand" cuts deep and highlights the structural significance of Iceage's music. They show that it's not all about the noise and the chord progressions, sometimes the little things are better than the big things. The bass is one of the most memorable aspects of this album, it's constantly loud and going off on tangents which I absolutely adore in music of this nature. Paired alongside this track is "In Haze", a straightforward punk track with Ronnefelt giving his all. Previously, Ronnefelt's vocal was hidden in a facade of effects, this time it's much different. There are no effects on Ronnefelt's deep and dark vocal, it sits almost perfectly on top of the lead guitar, given spectacularly by Wiet. In sharp contrast, "Morals" sounds as if Queen has given a tiny influence in what would be considered an Iceage 'ballad' track. This is where we hear the first inclusion of a piano in Iceage's work. The drum and bass come together to create a marching rhythm which opens, closes and plays its part in the centre of the track. There's also a fade out of this marching drum like pattern which is effective. The guitars follow the same pattern as the piano which sounds purposely out-of-tune, again, effective.
Two very similar tracks are played alongside each other on You're Nothing. "Everything Drifts" and "Wounded Hearts" both open with distorted bass riffs in similar fashion. These two tracks are the forgettable duo on the album. "Wounded Hearts" is the better of the two, with its loud and aggressive lead guitar and pounding drumming. It makes you want to stamp your feet on the ground and just start looking at the volume level, awaiting your hand to turn it clockwise. Then you congratulate your body for following order when the hi-hats of "It Might Hit First" enters. Punk borders noise rock at times, and Iceage are certainly on that border between punk, and excess noise. It's a spectacular sound to create with just strings and drums. And just in those 90 seconds, the track is over.
Like with New Brigade, Iceage haven’t dumped the lacklustre tracks at the back. In fact, it's hard to point out weak tracks other than those two similar tracks mentioned above. "Rodfæstet" is as raw and passionate as the first two gripping tracks. Instead of the chaotic nature of those first two tracks, "Rodfæstet" has a sort of, ease. After 40 seconds, the music drops, then picks up again. This is a recurring theme on this track. It's the "Mogwai Fear Satan" of punk rock. Loud / quiet / loud / quiet but still as fast and aggressive as the rest of the album. It's a great introduction to what is arguably the best track on You're Nothing, "Awake". After opening with a guitar riff that the post-punk revival bands of the 00s would be happy with, Iceage put distortion and reverberation on to their layers upon layers of guitar. It’s fast and fresh and highlights the differences in sound between tracks on You're Nothing.
The titular track "You're Nothing" closes the album in quite some style. These energetic Danes come together one more time for a final bashing of instruments. Ronnefelt repeats the lyric and title: "You're nothing, you're nothing," in a desperate call for aggression and revenge. It's one of the few straightforward sub two minute tracks on the album. New Brigade succeeded with short tracks that have fast and furious instrumentation, You're Nothing is similar, but far more complex and advanced than their debut album two years ago. And it comes as no surprise that You're Nothing is a strong sophomore album. At just 28 minutes, it's not exactly the longest of punk albums. Iceage have built on the energetic structures and effects of New Brigade. As expected, their follow-up is a bold and loud album that captures the imagination and musical skill of four very unique individuals who would be to blame for a surge of punk releases in the alternative scene.