A decade ago, Iceage made its bones with a blistering wave of desolate punk rock. Since then, the Danish band has been impossible to pin down, reconfiguring its noisy, abrasive style into combinations as unpredictable as they are exciting. In 2014, the band mixed its music with a shot of country. In 2018, a dose of art pop. With new LP Seek Shelter, the band finds sonic salvation, emerging with a bright new sound that finds catharsis in reinvention after a year of relentless suffering.
The result is its best-sounding record yet. Production from Peter Kember (Sonic Boom of Spacemen 3) and the addition of guitarist Caspar Morilla Fernandez take the band’s sound in an unexpectedly outward direction, moving from full-throttle post-punk toward lush, expansive art rock. What’s here is some of the most vibrant, downright epic music Iceage has ever made, reaping the benefits of the band’s embrace of anthemic rock ’n’ roll. Take cover, the Danes have left the mosh pit and are headed straight for the stadium arena.
Case in point is “Shelter Song,” one hell of an album opener and the most surprising turn in the band’s catalog. Accompanied by the unyielding warmth of horns and strings, the band’s roaring guitar attack slows, crackling with anticipation. The band reins in the rage and emerges — for the first time on an Iceage song — full of hope and love, while the sparks eagerly wait in the wings like horses ready to burst out of the stable. Frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt turns in a rousing, melodic vocal performance as the lyrics stir up comfort in the face of turbulent times. He’s eventually met in the stratosphere with gospel harmonies from the Lisboa Gospel Collective in a swelling chorus apt for barroom camaraderie and a sky full of lighters alike (“Come lay here right beside me/ They kick you when you’re up/ They knock you when you’re down”).
The gargantuan sound doesn’t stay restrained for long; sonic fireworks are unleashed in rapid succession as the avalanche of addictive rock splendor quickly makes its way across Seek Shelter, leaving a trail of awe in its wake. Moment to moment, the album is electrifying. Immediately, the stampeding rocker “High & Hurt” charges straight into the fray, transforming the melody and words from the Christian hymn “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” into a debauched battle cry with rapid-fire drums and all the high energy guitars you could ask for. “Vendetta” ups the ante, dealing in an intoxicating haze with more than enough coldblooded swagger to match. A barrage of fuzz ensures that the heart-racing “Dear Saint Cecilia” is enthralling enough to give Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones a run for their money. If rock is your genre of choice, then there’s plenty here to behold.
It’s not all restless rock theatrics though. “Love Kills Slowly” and “Drink Rain” flirt with elements of cabaret and jazz standards as Rønnenfelt turns the album’s slow burners into confident, simmering waltzes full of flash and style. These songs are the farthest the band has strayed from traditional rock, but it’s the gothic atmosphere that keeps it feeling consistent with the rest of the band’s sound. The polar opposite ends of the record come together on the show-stopping “Gold City,” a glorious, harmonica-infused stomper which perfectly merges the band’s nihilistic palette with its newfound turn toward hope. Here, the mutual fear of impending darkness fosters comfort and connection. Amid crashing drum hits and swirling guitar noise, shelter and light are found.
Apocalyptic closer “The Holding Hand” is the album’s clearest tether to the Iceage of old, an immensely claustrophobic track that suggests the band’s partial distrust of slipping away from its roots. It’s an existential cry against the void, one that hints at the ominous uncertainty below the surface of some of the most intriguing, irresistible rock music of the year.
Like an agent of chaos, Seek Shelter triumphantly revels in the fears of operating outside the comfort zone. Though it’s Iceage at its most accessible, brace yourself for the sudden impact of something entirely new.
Vincent Tran is the deputy arts & entertainment editor. Contact him at [email protected].