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Iceage: Seek Shelter

Copenhagen’s favorite sons Iceage have kept the faith in a rock-averse climate, producing album after album of such high-quality (and stylistically varied) guitar music that even publications who seem to have sworn off the more aggro forms of rock cannot help but celebrate them. Seek Shelter, their fifth full-length, finds the quartet now augmented with third guitarist Casper Morilla Fernandez, whose presence adds yet more texture to a group already well-versed in crafting dense soundscapes that blend noise and melody.

Each new Iceage release shakes up the band’s sonic palette, and this LP is no different. In fact, none of their prior albums have so consistently changed tack from track to track than this. Opener “Shelter Song” begins with a dissonant drone before brightening up into something akin to shoegaze country, the squall of guitars bent toward twang, as if Godspeed You! Black Emperor had somehow wrangled their first album into pop structures. And for a group who can explore harrowing aggressiveness, they can be unexpectedly tender here, with Elias Bender Rønnenfelt singing lines of desperate devotion like “We become each other’s sedatives / Giving shelter till the cloudburst dies down.” This then leads to the jittery funk of “High & Hurt,” which lopes out on Jakob Tvilling Pless’s bassline before the guitars enter in opposition with each other, complicating the stiff-legged dance with jagged intersections of distortion. A classic work of self-dissolving post-punk, “High & Hurt” sounds like a long-lost tune from some band that lasted barely long enough to cut a 7” and was rediscovered for a crate-digging compilation.

“Love Kills Slowly” pivots even further, offering a shimmering kind of anti-power ballad in which squalling guitar is turned into easy listening, except for when it drifts into buzzing dissonance. Rønnenfelt’s lyrics constantly oscillate between indulging wistful recollections of romance and the sense of defeat left when a relationship ends, contrasting “The long kiss goodnight” with the belief that “Love kills slowly / And it burns with every fading memory.” Dan Kjær Nielsen’s skittering, heavily processed drumbeat adds a slowed-down Madchester energy to “Vendetta,” rendering the sinewy and swaggering guitar lines with a rave-up energy at odds with their tempo.

The back half kicks off with the Tom Waits-esque perverted lounge jazz of “Drink Rain,” complete with mournful, soggy saxophone that bleeds into rising guitar lines as Rønnenfelt softly croons somber adages like “Life is but a flicker then you die.” That arty retro vibe carries over to the woozy blues of “Gold City,” where Rønnenfelt sings like he’s drunkenly stumbling and the instruments rush and wobble with his sudden lurches with a scuzzy Stones energy that recurs in the fully hissed-out “The Wider Powder Blue,” which lets off the gas only so it can thunder back up to full volume a few seconds later. Of the album’s nine songs, only the charging “Dear Saint Cecilia” has any kind of normalcy to it, pure noisy punk as if to prove that Iceage can still throw down without all the trappings of their expanding set of styles. Yet even it too has a bar-band energy that feels as classic as it does contemporary, with an honest-to-goodness riff that slices through the album’s preference for texture over crunch.

“The Holding Hand” closes the album with its most stripped-down, abstract track. Where elsewhere the guitars collide and scrape off each other in harmonic ruptures of noise, here they pull apart, leaving a gulf of space in the center that matches Rønnenfelt’s fragile lyrics where “‘O limp wristed god, limp wristed god /Don’t you know I’m not at a fault in your weakened arms.” Even as the guitars slowly climb toward a meeting point, the buzzing electronics that bathe Rønnenfelt’s voice remain overpowering and stark in the loneliness they communicate, so that the final cresting crescendo that greets the final line “Pleading for relief, a call to aid” feels as desperate as the words being sung. In spite of the defeatism of the closer, though, the track, like the rest of the record, finds Iceage at their protean best. With their fifth album, Iceage only further cements their status as the most significant, consistently challenging and endlessly rewarding post-punk band since Unwound hung up their instruments.

Adding yet more wrinkles to their ever-evolving sound, Denmark’s Iceage further solidify themselves as a shining light in rock’s post-imperial era.
78 %
Dynamic yet direct
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