“If I could dive into the other / like it was an ocean” cries Elias Bender Rønnenfelt on the Iceage track “Forever,” from the Danish band’s new opus, Plowing Into the Field of Love, and just for a fleeting second, Ian Curtis is resurrected. The poetic despair transmitted through Rønnenfelt’s unique moan seems like the second coming of the Joy Division frontman. And for at least as long as their new album lasts, Iceage make you believe punk, as well as post-punk, are not dead.
Although they do draw heavily from those genres, what makes this album exceptional is its expansion of influence. The growth shown by Iceage on Plowing Into the Field of Love is most evidently shown on their song “The Lord’s Favorite.” For their previous two albums, the band focused on blistering pace, gothic ambience, and an ethos of noise. Yet on this track, punk gets a bit of twang on the heels of a Texas two-step bass line. “I do believe in heaven and I do believe it’s real” proselytizes Rønnenfelt, like a true God-fearing cowboy. And what’s more punk than that?
Even on “Forever,” their traditional post-punk anguish is reborn through the boisterous horn section included in the last stretches of the song. Rønnenfelt channels his inner Nick Cave while groaning over the shrieking guitar sounds. A violin even finds its way onto the track, though it is ultimately distorted in the wake of the commanding drums. The swelling of each instrument on the calamitous finale is astounding.
The album’s strongest track, however, draws from the rawness Iceage displayed in their previous efforts. “How Many” begins with a slurred guitar riff that becomes accompanied by a similarly jarring piano in the verse. Rønnenfelt sounds discontent and out of tune, which culminates into the chorus, where a slight ray of hope in the ascending vocals is offered until Rønnenfelt howls “How many?” and the discordant guitar riff starts over again. This song reminds listeners how deft Iceage are at making noise sound cohesive and harmonious.
Besides similarities in frontmen and genre, Iceage share something else with Joy Division. In between Unknown Pleasures and Closer, Joy Division realized that the straightforward desperation of their first album could be amplified by making use of emptiness and non-traditional instruments. In the same way, Iceage have grown and become even more punk on Plowing Into the Field of Love. The result is, so far, one of the best albums of the year.