Aggression and anger were the fuel that ran through Iceage’s New Brigade. The metaphorical life blood that powered the band, this is despite the fact that for the most part there was an underlying restraint to New Brigade. Sure, Iceage’s debut could become intensely loud and blistering fast, but looking back they held a lot back; letting their songs collapse beneath clanging, guitar created noise rather than detonating them, or within the lyrics, which communicated mood easily but emotions only in the vaguest of sense. The catharsis was always tangible, but never completely realized.
You’re Nothing is the long coming release, a band that has shed their protective, apathetic shell to embrace raw, pure emotional turmoil, anguish, and energy. The shift happens a minute into the opening cut “Ecstasy”, after just pummeling your ears with an metallic, icy, and coiled guitar and drum barrage, drops to a crawl for the chorus of “pressure/pressure/oh god no”, with frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt shifting his usual detached bark to a throat tearing yell. You can almost picture him clutching head as he sings the lines.
“Ecstasy”, besides signifying the new emotional/cathartic release that Iceage embrace throughout You’re Nothing, also establishes how the band has somehow managed to become much noisier in their songs, yet somehow also become catchier in the process as well. Take the second track “Coalition” which is an even more of a blur than “Ecstasy”. It sounds like a hardcore band playing a shoegaze song, right down to the sexual confusion of the within the lyrics, the guitars are little more than rising and falling pitches of distortion. Yet, they work so well, giving way to a chorus with even more guitar ferocity that still manages to contain the central hooks of the songs as the lyrics are spewed out in the blink of the eye. The album follows this formula nearly throughout, presenting a bleak, angry, aggressive, but memorizing beginning before launching into a chorus that doesn’t shed any of these elements, but still brings in a new, addictive sheen that cements the likes of “In Haze”, “Burning Hand” and “Awake”. Even songs that deter from this like the piano laden “Morals” (which I don’t know how the band managed to pull off within the context of You’re Nothing but did), still operates perfectly on the principle of tension and release that Iceage create throughout this record.
The band’s lyrics and Rønnenfelt’s vocal delivery are the secret weapon on You’re Nothing though. What will probably be an over looked element due to Rønnenfelt having a Colin Newman level accent, the vocals are not the most prominent element in the mix, but are a notch higher than they were on New Brigade. Their higher presence is a necessity to emphasis the increase lyrical power the band has obtained on You’re Nothing. The lyrics are clear, goth influenced prose that capture a growing sense of despair, lack of self-worth, and emotional torment caused by other people. But the lyrics are not just black hole of darkness; the band paints in shades, bringing flickers of light and understanding, however brief their presence maybe. He sings with such pitch-perfect vitriol that even when listening to a track composed entirely in Danish, “Rodfæstet”, one can still feel the intensity contained in every word. By the time the album reaches its closing and title track, the repeated shouting of “YOU’RE NOTHING” feels anything but one dimensional, instead feeling like no other lyrics would do the song justice.
Aggression-rooted music truly isn’t a style that truly allows for evolution because then next step for those emotions (sadness, apathy, possibly happiness) are in such a different direction from the source the end result winds up sounding nothing like the starting point, and in turn worse. You’re Nothing proves how wrong this is, how fury, channeled Joy Division-like realism and intensity, channeled through nihilistic prose can result in something not just better than their last effort, but glorious as well.
Buy You're Nothing here, from Matador Records