Congratulations, throwing children nonchalantly onto a bonfire, you finally have a soundtrack. Iceage—a punk band of teenagers who make searing, blisteringly dark songs in two-minute bursts—wrote it. It’s called “White Rune,” and it’s on their frighteningly good, angst-packed debut album New Brigade. 12 songs, 24 minutes. All heat.
You read that right. “Teenagers.” “Debut album.” “Frighteningly good.” These words rarely appear so closely grouped together.
Iceage is, fittingly, rare. Four teenage friends who play dissonant punk with twinges of bands past like Wire, Bauhaus, Mission of Burma, and contemporaries No Age and Fucked Up.
Photos on their website depict Iceage and friends drinking beer, engaging in shirtless arm wrestling and drinking more beer. There are plenty of photos of the general mayhem at their turbulent, oftentimes violent live shows on the site too, where sweaty, fresh-faced youngsters grimace angrily through bloody teeth (bloody noses, bloody ears, bloody everything) while hoisting their fists in the air. It is, quite frankly, terrifying.
At least it is to the local papers in their native Denmark, which, even before the group started touring, making waves and garnering a tiny bit of international press and notoriety, called them “teenage bullies full of anger and anxiety,” among other Sky Is Falling bits of hysteria. “It is energy, mad and not least the youth vigorous,” is a loose Google translator version of the body of a story from Danish paper Ekstra Bladet.
And so here I am, packed tightly in a minivan, staring these four teens in the eyes. It’s June 19, and we’re outside the Barbary, where they’ve just come off stage after the second show of their first U.S. tour. They’re sweaty, wide-eyed, and ... utterly harmless. Soft spoken. Kind. Beyond excited to be in the epicenter of a land and coast brought to life for them by someone they much admire and respect, Bruce Springsteen.
“There are a lot of things the press gets wrong about us,” says Jakob or Elias or one of the other two, I cannot tell them apart.
One is that they’re angry, angry, angry all the time, a Danish punk version of Odd Future beset on mayhem and chaos. They’re not, they say. The just want to play music. Another is that “The New Way of Danish Fuck You” is the name of the scene they’ve given birth to in Copenhagen. It’s not. That’s just something their friend Lukas had tattooed on his leg. It took on a life of its own.
“The biggest thing they get wrong,” says Johan or Dan or one of the other two, “is they always make us younger than we are.”
I’ve seen that. Any given article about Iceage might say they’re as young as 14—“Danish punk rock jailbait.” Understandable in some respects. They certainly look younger than they are. But the music they make, their cryptic lyrics, the dark artwork that adorns their albums and merchandise (all death and skulls and a logo they claim is just an “IA” but looks like some historic Masonic symbol), the shroud of mystery that hangs heavily over their videos and the way they carry themselves suggests their young bodies are merely vessels for old, old souls.
This might be because they’re nothing like the stereotypical American teen you’re used to, and seem more mature as a result. These kids have never threatened their parents with death because their X-Box was taken away, or used the word “swagger.”
Then there’s the music. Songs on New Brigade are about brotherhood and sex and time. “Various topics, lucidity,” one of them says. They’re all sung in English, and you definitely get a heavy whiff of the brotherhood vibe while reading through the lyrics and listening. There’s lots of talk of solidarity, marching, remaining steadfast in the face of an unexplained something that can be, will be, defeated, but only if we stick together. There’s a cultish streak running through it all, a riddle you become intrigued by and want desperately to solve.
The mood of the music is best typified by an unofficial video for “White Rune” made by an artist named Theodore Walrus who took some old black-and-white film footage of a marauding army of chainmail-clad, cross-bearing soldiers intent on killing everyone and everything in its path, and simply set it to the music. The soldiers hack at people with their swords while crows pick meat off the bones of horses left for dead. Houses burn in the distance. And, yes, children are ripped out of the arms of their loving parents and thrown into a giant fire like so much kindling.
All the while, “White Rune” chugs along menacingly: “Marching/ Across The Land/ A Marching Church/ Our Marching Church/ It Reaches You/ Withdraws You.”
Spookier still when you consider this is all, again, born out of Denmark, which often finds itself atop many of the “Best/Most Livable/Most Beautiful/Happiest In the World” lists that come out every few months or so in the types of magazines that do such lists. The country has the highest level of income equality in the world, and is the least corrupt nation on the planet. Still, with Johan, Elias, Jakob, Dan, there is unrest, unease. They may not be rage-filled bullies, but they’re certainly more Lars von Trier than Hans Christian Andersen. And New Brigade is a glorious listen as a result, “one of the best punk rock records released in years,” according to punk/hardcore writer/expert Noel Gardner of the thoroughly enjoyable British music website the Quietus. “This album is, basically, perfect,” he writes.
PW's Music Issue 2014