In 2018, at the band’s San Diego date supporting Beyondless, Iceage played to a room only a little less enthusiastic than the guy in the front whose unfiltered cries of approval might well have proved just distracting enough for the band members themselves. Instead of offering an outsized heckler shut-down response, however, vocalist Elias Bender Rønnenfelt simply shimmied his way toward the man and put his finger to his lips to offer a kind of playful “hush.” It wasn’t scornful—a winking acknowledgement from the charismatic vocalist of one of the best rock bands of the past 10 years probably made that guy’s night, and more than anything it felt like Rønnenfelt was having a little fun breaking the fourth wall for a moment.
That scene seemed like a far cry from when the band toured behind 2011’s You’re Nothing, during which they wouldn’t have wasted any of their 20 minutes of onstage punk rock chaos to acknowledge the scrum in front of them. And the music they made reflected that. A band, especially a young band, can change a lot in a decade, though, and the three albums they’ve released since that brief, explosive debut have revealed that Iceage isn’t and probably never will be a fixed idea. They’ve dropped the BPMs, embraced humor and kitsch, and even proclaimed their love for the rock canon: “I fucking love the Rolling Stones,” Rønnenfelt said in a Spin interview. As they cross the 10-year anniversary of their debut, Iceage haven’t so much shed the youthful exuberance of their early records on Seek Shelter so much as confidently embody the band they started becoming back with 2014’s Plowing Into the Field of Love.
Seek Shelter is a bluesier, looser, even more soulful Iceage. The Stones influence lingers on their fifth album, and if anything the title Seek Shelter might be a little on the nose. But none of this is a problem; where Iceage once excelled at explosive hardcore and sinister post-punk dirges, this brighter and more anthemic rock sound is warmly infectious. It takes only one listen of opening track “Shelter Song” to hear an Iceage intended to fill an amphitheater like Red Rocks with its big opening riffs and gospel chorus harmonies of “They kick you when you’re up, they knock you when you’re down.”
The band’s energy hasn’t waned a bit on Seek Shelter, but it’s more diffuse—more slow-burning vamps with climactic moments than 90-second blitzkriegs. There are a handful of moments on “High & Hurt” where Rønnenfelt’s voice shreds and nearly broaches a scream, but they arrive between sexy, sinister grooves and triumphant recitations of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” The impossibly fun “Vendetta” layers on a little more sleaze and a touch more Primal Scream pulse against lyrics that paint a portrait of an organized crime mythos both exaggerated and romanticized in entertainment (“Cock the hammer, tuck it in/We keep it close, we keep with kin“). And the rollicking “Dear Saint Cecilia” has all the climactic energy of a great live set closer.
While Seek Shelter is, in sound, simply the biggest Iceage record to date, it’s perhaps more importantly the biggest hearted. A world in crisis is within the frame of view throughout these nine tracks, but rather than offer a survey of what’s been lost or damaged, Rønnenfelt expresses a desire for connection and community on songs like standout “Gold City”: “What you have lost I shall provide/All that you left behind, I’ll pick up the supplies.” As Iceage continue to evolve as a band, they’re no longer content to remain stoic in the face of the chaos around them. The songs on Seek Shelter seem to invite the audience to lean in a little closer, even as they aim for something bigger.
Label: Mexican Summer
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.