Danish band Iceage started out as an abrasive punk rock quartet before exploring a more multi-faceted approach to songwriting. They formed in 2008, led by singer and guitarist Elias Bender Rønnenfelt, guitarist Johan Suurballe Wieth, bassist Jakob Tvilling Pless, and drummer Dan Kjær Nielsen. The quartet, whose average age at the time was 17, had been friends for years before they began making an impression with their music. In 2009, they issued their first self-titled EP, and by 2011 they'd teamed up with Tambourhinoceros Records to issue their debut album, a nervy and hard-hitting set called New Brigade. When the album was issued in the United States in mid-2011, Iceage made their American debut with a performance in Brooklyn, New York. In 2013, the band unveiled their second album, the more sophisticated but still brutal set You're Nothing, and the LP earned them a deal with the successful independent label Matador Records. In 2014, Iceage released album number three, Plowing Into the Field of Love, again through Matador, marking a new creative direction for the group, with horns, keyboards, and acoustic guitars introduced into the arrangements as the songs became more dynamic and eclectic without leaving their darker side behind. They continued that trend on their next full-length, 2018's Beyondless, although they were further influenced by Rønnenfelt's burgeoning side project Marching Church, with whom he had released two albums in between Iceage records. The group's fifth LP, Seek Shelter, arrived in May 2021. It was their first to feature external production the hands of Spacemen 3's Sonic Boom.
© Mark Deming /TiVo
© Mark Deming /TiVo
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On their fifth album, Iceage continue their metamorphosis into poetic harbingers with a flair for the theatrical, leaving their scrappy beginnings firmly behind for better or worse. As always, there is a sense of urgency to the record, with the group even veering into Brit-pop bombast, like Oasis reimagined for red wine-guzzling literary fanatics. Elias Bender Rønnenfelt's signature drawl only further positions him as a prophet of sleaze, and the band remain as capable as ever, but it's hard to escape the feeling their rougher edges have been refined, as some tracks glide by a little too smoothly to become the kind of earworms they have crafted in the past. Something that decidedly hasn't changed is their propensity for explosive openers, like "Shelter Song" and its massive chorus that manages to hit like a truck; even at midtempo, the Wall of Sound and soaring backing vocals are staggering. Despite a brief change of pace in the beautified "Love Kills Slowly," the energy travels right through to centerpiece "Vendetta." The track is all swagger -- it comes out swinging like something in between Happy Mondays and Kasabian, running the risk of becoming stadium-built lad rock, and only avoids such damning praise by virtue of Rønnenfelt's natural attitude. It is followed by a strange left turn in "Drink Rain," which channels Jacques Brel, and as admirable an influence as he may be, the song just doesn't land correctly, serving only as a distraction. The closing numbers pick up the slack, with "Gold City" standing out as a highlight. That's until the finale, "The Holding Hand," which proves Iceage still know how to end things on a high note. It's a fantastic feat of songwriting; dripping in drama, it manages to squeeze angst out of tension rather than raucous energy, coiling itself around subtlety and then pulling taut in the closing moments before breaking down completely. Ultimately, this record is a triumph for the band, born out of strange times, and although it may not be their best, their blend of bitter and sweet still rings true. Iceage's rugged roots may be gone, and there may be fewer thorns, but Seek Shelter is still a rose by any other name. © Liam Martin /TiVo