Listening back to ICEAGE’s debut album – 2011’s New Brigade – it’s easy to see why this band of Danish teenage punks caused such a stir when first they appeared, seemingly out of the blue.
Although things like lyrics, harmony and instrumentation were at times a struggle to extract from the clatter, their songwriting and unbridled energy was – and still is – genuinely exciting. Lead singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s snarls across the clanging guitars and cacophonous drums were an aggressive panacea to the mild-mannered output of their contemporaries. Under the murky surface their potential shone through like white gold and had listeners and critics alike rabid with anticipation for where they’d go to next. It was blood, sweat, testosterone and the promise of a return to genuinely threatening music.
Although it was their brutish aggression, stellar songwriting and flirtations with fascist imagery brought them notice and notoriety in equal measures, it was perhaps their age that got mentioned the most. At an average age of just 17 when New Brigade was released, journalists seemed fascinated to figure out just what was going on with these fresh-faced, vitriolic punks. “People tend to romanticise people at a young age doing something that gains international recognition. I think that some people would still prefer it if I was seventeen years old and doing these things, but that’s not the case,” says guitarist Johan Surrballe Wieth. Even around the release of their latest album, Plowing Into A Field Of Love, much of the press had been focused on this being the point which they “mature”, marking a kind of natural progression from snot-faced kids into some form of adulthood. “I suppose it depends what you mean by maturing,” explains Johann. “Maturing is just another word for progress. Perhaps it’s maturing in the sense that we’ve played together for so long, we’ve gotten better playing and better playing together. We have the tools and the knowledge to play the things we want now, but I don’t see us any more mature in the conventional sense of the word.”
Though there are many similarities across all three of their albums, their latest showcases a very different kind of energy. Less frantic, more comfortable with themselves and with a broader emotional spectrum, Plowing Into A Field Of Love feels more complex than anything the band have released before. For Johann this marks more of a natural progression than any contrived development. “I think what we did then suited our state of mind at that time. What we have now reflects our state of mind now. I wouldn’t go back and change either of the first two albums, but we have to keep moving. Standing still is one of the most unpleasant things I can think of, especially when it comes to creating.”
It was always hard to see how the band would move beyond the brutish post-punk of their first two albums. It was a sound that they had forged and which had come to define them, and yet here they are, having retained their style but pushed it into new territories. The twenty-somethings now have a new air about them, their palette expand beyond the fizzing hardcore of their earlier releases, including things like mandolins, violas, and discernible lyrics. Plowing Into A Field Of Love certainly feels like a step forward for the band, fostered by their ever-strengthened working relationship. Though bordering on atonal and filled with the kind of antagonistic energy that would make GG Allen proud, there is a definite sense that the group have sought to draw out more of the sweetness from the tar. Vocals are clearer, harmonies are more prominent and structures more complex. Though they may shirk at the suggestion, there is almost something romantic about the album. “We don’t talk amongst the four of us about how something sounds. There’s not a whole lot of talking about it, we just do it. It’s about us as individuals having the tools to do exactly what we want and then channel that in an intense way. Playing together for so long, too, the writing process has become almost symbiotic.” From the country-tinged single The Lord’s Favorite through to the string backed Forever, their sonic touchstones have grown to include bands like The Birthday Party, Gun Club and even early Libertines, but it is their ability to take such simple and universal sounds and truly make them theirs that makes the band unique. “There’s all this talk about all these elements and different genres we’ve taken from, but really we don’t just sit down and say we want to take this and this. We write it and then we sit down and think about it. There’s no prescribed recipe.”
Moving forward again, it’s anyone’s guess as to where the band will end up next. “From the end of the first record we started writing immediately. The same thing for the third. This time around we’ve taken some time off. We’ve been touring a lot and needed some time before we engage with the new material.” What will be interesting is to see how this time to reflect will change the sound of the fourth album. Perhaps they will eschew their post-punk roots entirely in favour of something softer, or plough back into the cacophony that they’re so comfortable with. Whatever the case, hopefully we won’t have to wait too long. “We’re already back onto writing new material again, and we’re all definitely back into it. We’re not drained yet.”