August 15, 2011

Vote for Douglas Martin in your next straw poll.

New Brigade is an incredibly visceral experience. It’s the sound your head makes after you’re bludgeoned repeatedly with a shovel. It’s the sound of Hüsker Dü getting mashed inside of an industrial-strength garbage compactor with Refused, Don Caballero, all the bands featured in the No New York compilation, and Joy Division when they were still called Warsaw. The guitars sound like grinding metal; the drums sound like being stomped out by fifteen pairs of Doc Martens in a mosh pit gone horribly awry. The songs  skitter with a nervous, jittery energy, stop and start multiple times, and sputter in every direction. New Brigade sounds like the work of seasoned punk veterans packing up everything they’ve learned as musicians in order to venture forth into new territory. None of the members of Iceage are old enough to purchase alcohol in the United States.

In spite of the breathless praise bestowed upon the Danish quartet, the wheel is not being reinvented here, nor does punk need yet another savior. But Iceage’s youth yields dividends immediately. Throughout New Brigade‘s twenty-four brutal minutes and go-for-broke urgency, it’s clear that this is the sort of thing only unruly adolescents can produce.

“Collapse” has a lead riff that’s like having your eardrums gouged with glass shards, while “Count Me In” is a near-150BPM sprint divided by arrhythmic stabs punctuating Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s shouted words. As you may expect from a band who has been playing together since they were twelve years old, New Brigade is incredibly advanced; the guitars spouting hardcore and post-punk simultaneously, the rhythm section pattering, pounding, stopping on a dime and starting again with both the intense focus of math-rock and the gut-punching violence of vintage Dischord or SST.

While the angularity and dissonance of the guitars are at the forefront of New Brigade, the album’s immediacy is ever-present, due in no short part to the abundance of melody found in the difficulty. Rønnenfelt has a great deal of emotional range, his thick Western European brogue sounding as lively at times as it does tortured. The rest of the band proves just as capable, interjecting catchy numbers like “Remember” and “Broken Bone” into full-on assault. Closer “You’re Blessed” is the closest Iceage comes to a pop tune, and the song’s charge toward the horizon, and away from the dystopia that marks much of the album actually ends up sounding like a hopeful would-be punk anthem.

Unlike a lot of hardcore records– most of them sounding either straight from 1986 or like they could have been recorded in any era since then– New Brigade sounds fresh; while the influences cobbled together are very much established and have been for years, the abrasive guitar tones sound like nothing from any era of the past. While the vast majority of rock records these days go through great pains to antiquate themselves, Iceage don’t mind sounding like a just-built machine.

It’s unclear as to whether the New Brigade is a positive or negative entity, whether it’s a nascent uprising willing to seek a greater change in society, or the looming threat of the ruling class hell bent on eradicating anything that stands in its way. New Brigade is the cacophonous soundtrack to very uncertain times, and if appropriate context is what helps an album transcend being really great and boosts it into the pantheon of cultural (or sub-cultural) classics, then this may just become rock album of the year. Not bad for a bunch of kids.

Download:
MP3: Iceage-“New Brigade”