w/ White Lung, Fins and Blessed State. $10 adv., $12 doors. 8 p.m., Apr. 18. Lilly's Pad, 300 York St., New Haven, toadsplace.com
Listening to Iceage and interviewing Iceage fundamentally function as two variations on one experience. Musically, the Copenhagen-bred four-piece specialize in punk rock that snatches the grimmest traits from punk-related 1980s bands — the tension and ruthless speed of Minor Threat's hardcore punk, the minimalist structures and overarching gloom of Joy Division's post-punk, the exotic and artsy rage of Swans' noise rock — and uses the pieces to build an animalistic killing machine. The earnest Iceage do not care for smiling, playing nice, making you feel cozy or concentrating on things that aren't in the interest of assembling said machine. They are hungry for action and exist to feed that hunger. Everything else is secondary.
When doing interviews, Iceage keep most of the above adjectives in play. They wear the cold expressions of Terminators in training, speak in curt sentences that more reflect an unwillingness to open up than any language or cultural barrier, and alternate between answers that are straightforward and endlessly cryptic. Still, there's something refreshingly raw to them, which manifests in the occasional awkward move on record and, more often, their awkward talks with strangers.
In this regard, my 20 minutes with Jakob Tvilling Pless don't disappoint. The Iceage bassist, who fields my call from Denmark, is more polite and willing to speak than I expect, but he still sounds panicked and uncomfortable. Responses are pointedly short and guarded. For example, I ask him about the cover of You're Nothing, Iceage's recently released second full-length. Its cover subject is a regal falcon sitting on a falconer's arm. The bird looks unbelievably solemn — maybe he is grief-stricken or feels oppressed by his master — but for an album with such a title and such anxious music, the picture doesn't gel with those elements. Pless confirms that the front of You're Nothing does indeed have a falcon on it but won't cough up much more worthwhile information. "All of us thought that the falcon is [a] beautiful bird. We didn't come up with anything better, so we just talked to this falcon trainer, and he said that we would come by and take pictures of his falcon. It seemed like a good thing to do, so we just did it," he says. "It doesn't really have anything to do with music or the lyrics. We only chose it because the photo was beautiful [and] it was just a beautiful bird."
It's frustrating to have such an important image brushed aside with little insight when, based on their commanding music and wounded lyrics, they clearly spend a lot of time thinking about their image and methods of attack, but again, mystery is just the Iceage way. Their unwillingness to open up was probably hardened by the fallout of one thread that's been following the band around since soon after the indie music press latched onto them in 2011. Going on murky evidence — among other details, vocalist Elias Bender Rønnenfelt's sketches of hooded Klansmen for a zine, the Iceage logo's close resemblance to the Algiz rune (a symbol repeatedly employed by neo-Nazi and white power groups) and fans who might be throwing the Nazi salute up at performances — Iceage have been repeatedly accused of being fascists in disguise. The case against the band isn't particularly convincing, but then again, neither is the tone of the group's rebuttals. "None of us are fascists or Nazis or anything," Pless said in an interview with Collapse Board in February. "Iceage is not political in any way. It's only about music and, you know, feelings." As long as the ties don't become obvious, all that gray is only helping Iceage's mystique.
Another major topic of conversation constantly surrounding the band has been age. At the time of this interview, Pless is 20 and the other three members are 21. Since they launched the project circa 2008, they would have started as teenagers — a detail that the press can't get enough of and Iceage are tired of hearing. But the obsession makes sense. These young people aligning themselves with such deep-seated seriousness and darkness — in records, shows and interviews — seems like a meaty revelation that's on the cusp of saying something big about the band and their music. While their actual sounds have clear roots that are decades old, the notion of Iceage as a voracious, relatively popular group who play very hard and could feasibly quit early (Rønnenfelt said as much in 2011) makes them feel thrillingly now. "I'm just going to do this as long as it feels right and that's what I want to do," Pless clarifies for himself. "If it stops, then it stops."