Iceage has been active and gradually making waves across the pond since 2008, but the Danish quartet really started to make an impression on the American underground with the January 2011 stateside release of their impressive full-length debut, New Brigade. Though certainly not the first band to do so, Iceage found a rock-solid sweet spot where hardcore, post-punk, American noise-rock, and good sturdy punk intersect.
This, combined with the band's young age and good looks, was exactly the perfect storm to cross the band over from their origins in the D.I.Y. basement-show subculture to the embrace of a much wider audience. For once, this was a situation where the hype-to-quality ratio was balanced by a strong album and explosive live show. At a time when bands like Parquet Courts were being referred to as "hardcore" (fine band, but not hardcore) by music media outlets, Iceage was a refreshing and much-needed shot in the arm.
On the strength of New Brigade and a lot of touring, Iceage came to the attention of Matador Records, which released the excellent You're Nothing in early 2013. The independent powerhouse already had out-of-the-box but similarly top-shelf punk/hardcore enigmas Fucked Up and Ceremony in its roster, so it wasn't that jarring a move and made sense for all parties involved.
You're Nothing, like New Brigade, didn't seem to meet a set of ears it couldn't win over, but this time there were a lot more people listening. Pitchfork granted the album its exalted badge of "Best New Music" and the album's overall Meta-critic score turned out to be 86 percent, which is extremely high.
Singer Elias Bender Ronnenfelt's vocal delivery is one attribute that helped see a large-scale audience cottoning to a rather aggressive and discordant musical backbone. Rather than yelled, screamed, dramatically yelped, growled, convulsed, or vomited, as would be a small sampling of more popular singing trends with more visceral music, his vocals (on the first two albums) are spat out in a lower-register spoken/sung Mark E. Smith (The Fall) cadence. Considering that You're Nothing didn't dial down the intelligent power and punch of the debut but did show an improvement in songwriting, Iceage proved influential in opening doors for musically disparate but like-minded bands like The Men, Pop. 1280, and Metz.
Later in 2013, lending to the band's current and totally understood distaste for interviews, the music press and the underlying blogs that feed it, did what it sadly does best and found an idiotic "controversy" to latch onto regarding Iceage. Misinterpreting the band's appreciation of black metal entity Burzum, a misunderstanding of the hoods worn in some videos, and Ronnenfelt's words in zines when he was 17 all led to Iceage having to waste time explaining that they were in fact not fascists or racists.
The adage that all publicity is good publicity is not always accurate, but it didn't slow down the momentum of the band, who released album number three, Plowing Into the Fields of Love (great title, btw), in October of last year. A distinct homage to Nick Cave (à la Bad Seeds) as well as knowing or unconscious nods to other mid-'80s dark post-punk bands like Crime & the City Solution, early Psychedelic Furs, mid-period work by The Fall, and even early stuff by The Pogues can be heard on Plowing. But Iceage put their own spin on opening up the breathing room on several songs where acoustic guitar, piano, trumpets, mandolin, and viola can fit into the deranged bluesy or traditional folk songwriting structures.
Iceage may be headlining Tuesday night's show at the Hi-Tone, but the underlying support (in both the big and small rooms) bears mentioning.
On tour with Iceage is Australia's Low Life (not to be confused with the U.K. goth-y/post-punk band Lowlife from the '80s), whose own fantastically thudding take on darkwave/post-punk recalls countrymen Feedtime, if that band were less a caveman noise-rock outfit and more a darkwave/post-punk group.
Low Life's first full-length, Dogging (released last year in the U.S.) has found a lot of love with the stateside garage-punk underground and comes highly recommended for fans of the aforementioned, as well as the art-stomp of the A-Frames or Intelligence.
Low Life will be occupying the line-up slot immediately before Iceage and right after the first local appearance of our own Ex-Cult (who couldn't fit better on this bill), following a three-week tour that took our hometown hopefuls from one side of the country to the other.
In the Hi-Tone's small room, and scheduled to avoid rubbing against the action in the big room, the bill will also be opened by another bright light out of Memphis: the unclassifiable hardcore outliers Gimp Teeth. Headlining the small room is Austin's Institute, another band that does its own (very enjoyable) thing with the template known as hardcore, and if the band has its Salt 12" EP available for sale (released last October), its earlier 7" or the Demo 12" for that matter, this writer strongly encourages their acquisition.
Music Editor's Note: In the print version of this story, the article is credited to Chris Shaw, and not Andrew Earles. We regret the error.