Back in the early days of the punk rock movement, there wasn’t nearly as much of a consensus about what the term “punk” meant, soundwise, as developed later. At the time, the sorts of postpunk bands who were a direct influence on the early days of the goth scene, such as Bauhaus and Christian Death, were not seen as all that different from heavier, more metallic punk bands like Antisect and Amebix. It was only retrospective establishment of timelines that split these groups into separate subgenres and made it seem, to modern ears, as if none of them had ever had anything to do with each other. In recent years, however, the musical democratization of the internet has allowed young punks to have the entire 35 year history of the movement at their virtual fingertips. In turn, it has enabled young bands like Denmark’s Iceage to make the connections that historical narratives had previously erased
On their debut full-length, New Brigade, Iceage have found that lost connection between early goth and early crust. In fact, on many of these songs, they have managed to fuse the two styles together entirely. This stylistic fusion is entirely to Iceage’s benefit. Their overall sound is noisy and overdriven, with a lo-fi crackle originally achieved by 80s UK anarcho-punkers like Crass or Dirt on independent, vinyl-only releases with cover stamps bearing messages like “Pay no more than £3.99.” However, there is a melodic sense inherent in Iceage’s songwriting that can’t be entirely obscured. Beneath a grimy guitar attack that’d be perfectly welcome on a Doom record lie the dark melodies of early Joy Division.
It is ultimately the melodic choruses found on the best tracks here that make New Brigade worth your time. Crust-punks have spent the last 30 years doing the UK 82 sound to death, to the point that there’s even an entirely saturated subgenre, known as d-beat, the whole of which is devoted to ripping off the first three Discharge albums. While I’m sure there are punks that would argue the point, it seems clear that, in order to make an interesting album descended from that early-80s UK punk style in the year 2011, a band needs to mix in some new influences. By channeling the gloomy ambience and staccato, dub-fueled guitar and bass rhythms of postpunk bands who were also part of the early 80s UK scene, Iceage are able to inject some new blood into the shambling corpse of the UK 82 style. These influences also seem to have pushed Iceage away from the generic angry political statements of the typical crust-punk band, which they have instead replaced with a foreboding atmosphere that, by virtue of the heaviness of the music, avoids the over-the-top excesses that caused groups like Christian Death to descend almost immediately into self-parody.
With New Brigade, Iceage have created an album that hits upon quite a few familiar reference points. However, due to the fashion in which they have mixed these sounds together, they’ve also created a previously unheard style that manages to sound fresh even as it pulls from a number of genres that should by all rights be done to death at this point. Iceage have just as much to offer to the jaded fan who has spent the last decade avoiding anything even remotely resembling d-beat as they do to the crust-punk diehards.