It’s becoming clear the music industry prematurely judged Iceage. When these raucous Danes first emerged with the blistering thrash of New Brigade back in 2009, it felt like lightning in a bottle—an album by a fully-formed band that perfectly cross-bred punk and indie-rock into a form that both seasoned punks and the Williamsburg elite could unite on. Last year’s less frayed, but no less corrosive, You’re Nothing, advanced the narrative further while folding in more complicated structures (songs that reach past two minutes, intelligible lyrics) and an even more oppressive atmosphere.
Plowing Into the Field of Love, Iceage’s third album, completely changes the narrative. The album is so different that it feels like a totally different band—but this band is a fundamentally better one that is messier, but also far more ambitious and paradoxically formed. Whether it’s come through time or expanding influences, Iceage has a new-found clarity and sensuality in its songwriting, and it’s to the band’s enormous credit that its sound has become so opulent without losing the vacuum-sealed dread or chaotic abandon that Iceage made its name on.
Toning down the cascading guitars and dizzying time signatures that dominated the band’s previous output, Plowing Into the Field of Love skillfully pilfers from operatic art goths like Nick Cave and Scott Walker.
Iceage hasn’t just gone bigger, it’s spread out into rockabilly, goth-rock, folk, country, avant-garde and celtic-punk.
The tarantella opener “On My Fingers” firmly establishes these new muses with its scraping guitar, southern gothic piano, and a vocal delivery that sounds like it was recorded after singer Elias Bender Ronnenfelt polished off a bottle of cheap vodka and ran a marathon. Ronnenfelt’s slurring is so thick that the title line sounds less like words than the growls of a monster, and even with this increased unintelligibility, the imagery has never been stronger. Taking another page from Cave, Ronnenfelt’s voice pulses with a manic desperation. “On My Fingers” climaxes with Ronnenfelt singing, “I don’t care whose house is on fire/As long as I can warm myself.”
From then on, the album follows its own flow. “The Lord’s Favorite” kicks up dust like a regular cowpoke. Fondly recalling the grimy rockabilly of The Cramps and the feverish energy of The Gun Club, it’s pummeling punch-drunk rockabilly that equally belongs in arenas and dive bars. There’s a thrilling looseness and confidence that feels seismic to the band’s growth, even if some will find Ronnenfelt’s vocal style off-putting and abrasive.
“Lord’s Favorite” is only one departure in an album full of them. “Abundant Living” tiptoes around a prickly mandolin figure, “Cimmerian Shade” indulges in EVOL-era Sonic Youth abrasion, “Simony” is a transfixing combo of The Cure and R.E.M., and “Against the Moon” is a crass but radiant ballad with a twinkling piano and violin arrangement.
Even on songs working with familiar tools, Iceage has refreshed its formula with instrumental flourishes, tempo changes, and other hairpin turns.
“Glassy-Eyed, Dormant and Veiled” subverts a thickly ordinary post-punk spine with blustering horns, “Stay” grinds its attack to a halt with flurrying guitars before exploding with sawing violins, and “Let It Vanish” splinters Iceage’s usual sound with stampeding snares.
Lyrics have often felt secondary in Iceage’s songs, but Ronnenfelt has grown into a bolder and more articulate lyricist. There’s certainly some semantic confusion with English phrases, and the wording may occasionally sound like it was translated on Babblefish, but Ronnenfelt is working with far weightier material, lending melodrama, eroticism, and a pervading menace that makes for a much richer experience.
In an interview with Self-Titled magazine, Ronnenfelt said he no longer feels connected to previous Iceage records. He said, “…one is a picture of me as an 18-year old. People can tap into that if they want…I’m somewhere else.” For long-time Iceage fans, Plowing Into the Field of Love might feel like a betrayal, but Iceage no longer feels like a band with an expiration date. If anything, these punks have never had a brighter future.
Iceage – Plowing the Fields of Love tracklist:
- “On My Fingers”
- “The Lord’s Favorite”
- “How Many”
- “Glassy Eyed, Dormant and Veiled”
- “Let It Vanish”
- “Abundant Living”
- “Cimmerian Shade”
- “Against the Moon”
- “Plowing Into the Field of Love”