In the run up to the release of Iceage’s fourth studio album, Beyondless, Matador records offered a vague description of how the album saw the Danish punks “finally catching up with their ambition”. With all three of their previous albums being nominated for IMPALA’s European Independent Album of the Year award, the record label’s statement could be read as either an insulting slight to a band of consistently high quality or a bar being set hubristically high. Given the dizzying heights Iceage had reached by their third album, you could even be forgiven for entering this album expecting to be disappointed; but following the release of Beyondless, it’s clear that Iceage have not only met the bar they set for themselves but surpassed it, creating an album that at once matches the prestige of the previous three and stands out as an astonishing musical achievement in its own right.
The album opens with the riotously political ‘Hurrah’ which rejoices in the bleak subject matter of violence in the blind belief of societal superiority. The lyrics conjure images of police brutality or military barbarism, proudly exclaiming “we can't stop killing, and we'll never stop killing / And we shouldn't stop killing, hurrah”. Lyrically, this isn’t new ground for frontman Elias Rønnenfelt, who previously rasped about police racism with his side project Marching Church on the song ‘Inner City Pigeon’. But with Iceage characteristically choosing the path less trodden, ‘Hurrah’ differs from this as the singer postures himself as the voice of the antagonist, a position the controversy-plagued singer revels in for most of the album.
The following song, ‘Pain Killer’, steams ahead on the exuberant tracks laid out by the album’s opening and sees Rønnenfelt accompanied by the equally enigmatic art pop singer, Sky Ferreira, who joins him in belting out the song’s lovesick chorus. Sonically, the song is just as joyous as the first and the relationship between the two singers is made tangible and believable. The next four songs on the album show a side to the Copenhagen post punk outfit that was hinted at in their previous work; a drunken, folk-inspired tangle of strings and horns that shapeshifts from the droning twangs heard on ‘Under the Sun’ to the raucous portrait of debauchery that is ‘Plead the Fifth’. Debauchery becomes a main theme in the second half of the album as the music takes on a charmingly arrogant character that staggers around Rønnenfelt’s biblical prose. The best example of this is ‘Thieves Like Us’, possibly the band’s most infectious song yet, which centres around a bluesy guitar lick that wouldn’t sound out of place in a song from Fat White Family or Country Teasers. Meanwhile, Rønnenfelt slurs and moans lyrics about all manners of chaos. If this song had a smell, it would have the warm, musky stench of a pub carpet.
The final three songs on the album are possibly the most ambitious. The first of the three, ‘Take It All’, creates a beautifully spacious, string-heavy backdrop for some crushingly raw lyricism that is lifted by a cacophony of violins to become somehow hopeful again. The next track, ‘Showtime’ describes a singer “as handsome as he’s talented” which mirrors both the descriptions Rønnenfelt often receives in the music press and arrogant persona created by the vocalist in older songs such as ‘The Lord’s Favorite’. The song culminates with the character of the singer committing suicide in front of an audience, an horrific scene that plays out over a surprisingly cheerful horn section that invokes thoughts of a debased lounge singer, imagery that Iceage surely played up to during their recent concert residencies in New York and Los Angeles. The album’s final, titular track is where it’s easiest to understand the band’s trajectory from brash punk band to crooning lounge act as Johan Wieth’s guitar tones which undulate and wail beneath tight, hissing drums are juxtaposed by quivering violins and the singer’s charmingly forlorn, breathy howls.
The album as a whole feels like a breath of fresh air, joyous in the face of adversity, offering slivers of hope that pierce the melancholy in much of the lyrics. It’s a piece of art that convincingly invites you to wallow in its alcohol-soaked rambunctiousness. Iceage have filled the vacuous boots laid out for them via their previous efforts and promise to be remembered as one of the best post punk acts of our time.