Iceage – New Brigade (What’s Your Rupture?)
by Tom Randall
Noise-punk. It often seems that it is when a band sets out to meet this description that is when damn themselves to artifice and irrelevance. I approach this one with trepidation.
I turn out the usual adjectives. Clangorous guitars. Gattling-gun drums. Abraisiveness. They’ve got it all.
What they don’t have is a singer with a personality. No; just not a personality in the sense to which we are accustomed. He’s functional, dehumanised. His jaw hangs more slackly than it should as it enunciates, disturbingly so. His voice is both distant and enveloping.
It’s revivalist, sure. Namecheck Big Black; Gang Of Four; Joy Division. But, fuck, these guys sure sound like they mean it. Noise, hate, melody, confusion, each twist and anxious change feeling like a relapse, a reversion. Like struggle; like failure. Another thwarted grasp at meaning.
The album proper starts with ‘White Rune’, snapping between precise scrapes and blast beats that ricochet into your soft pallet, and an elegant two-chord chorus as punk as fuck. A headrush riff skewers ‘New Brigade’, and the imperfect fingerprint of humanity is revealed at the heart of this machine music as the guitars struggle jerk in and out of sync with the drums.
‘Remember’ is where I forgot that the album was playing. See what I did there? A low point on first listen, the riff forgettable. It’s not enough that I can tell you want to be catchy but noisy; you still have to come up with something I want to listen to. Validation comes on repeated listens, where the force of intention takes over and a presence is revealed.
The best moments are when the hooks are foregone for disjunctive series of chords that are embedded with barbs that scream against the rusty capsular cage into which they’ve been tossed, struggling to find a point of purchase. So, the double threat of ‘Rotting Heights’ and ‘Total Drench’ wrest my attention back to the proceedings. ‘Rotting Heights’ is a hammer driven repeatedly with the cruel insistence of the child, the surface warping and cracking under the building wash of white noise frothing at the impact point. ‘Total Drench’ takes two notes and shunts them from tempo to escalating tempo and back, finishing with a chorus that sounds like skate-punk if it were belted out on iron bars by lobotomised robots fueled on sheer bloody mindedness and the lingering taste of tragedy.
‘Collapse’: a fuck-yeah melody wrought from splintered glass skittering across a heavy iron door that has frozen shut and locked you in. ‘Eyes’ goes a bit new wave, but still all the while clattering metallic overtones spew from the instruments, hemmed in by two deliriously atonal riffs. The stop/start hardcore of ‘Count Me In’ evinces a command of experimental song structure, relied on more here than elsewhere. ‘You’re Blessed’ is almost umblemished by the dissonance of the rest of the album. This would be bad, if not for its simple success as a song.
New Brigade is punk, which is your sliver of safety. But it’s also alien, hideous at first, but seeded with the suggestion of a beauty beyond our initial grasp. We ‘other’ it, while it seeps in and takes over.
The songs are short:12 tracks in about 24 minutes. Iceage have the wisdom to be brief: what they evoke is too much to bear for too long. But it’s not all night-sweats and rocking in the corner in the foetal position. There’s … not hope, but validation with the desperation. An affirmation that, even if what you do might amount to nothing, it’s still better to do it than to not.