Iceage, a Danish four-piece known mostly for their brooding punk rock and stirring up trouble, are having a change of pace. ‘Plowing into the Field of Love’, their third full-length for Matador, turns everything they’ve already established upside-down, on its head, and pulls it inside-out for good measure. No longer concerned with the shock factor or their teenage misdemeanours, Iceage have torn up the rule book and started again, producing a country and western album that Nick Cave would cook up if he were possessed by Ian Curtis’ ghost. It’s sweeping, grand and majestic; dark, theatrical and dramatic. Yeah, that’s right - we’re still talking about the same kids who sold locks of their hair on the internet barely even a year ago. Iceage have grown up, albeit rather suddenly, and we’re all the better for it.
Retreating to a desolate house studio in the middle of nowhere in Sweden to record, the end results are nothing you could ever expect from these guys. Truly let loose and arming themselves with everything with a piano to a mandolin, ‘Plowing into the Field of Love’’s twelve songs are unrestrained and razor-sharp, and the whole thing unfolds like a highly anticipated stage show pulling back its curtains for the grand opening night. ‘On My Fingers’ begins with the simple rat-tat-tat of two drum sticks, but expands into a highly dramatic scene of beautiful piano and ramshackle guitars. It’s like the final, soaring scene before the intermission, but Iceage are only just getting started, and what takes place next is grin-inducingly great.
Scratchy guitars jangle and rattle; some kind of glockenspiel lets rip in the background. Frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt becomes an entirely different character, asking reluctantly “for a helping hand” even though as “God’s favourite one” he shouldn’t need it. Rønnenfelt becomes the ultimate anti-hero on ‘Plowing into the Field of Love’, a self-indulgent little shit who sings of “one hundred Euro wines” and believes he’s “the only one breathing on this planet tonight”. Echoing Matthew McConaughey’s similarly frustrating mind games in True Detective, you can’t help rooting for him as he pours his heart out in front of you even if he’s just in it for himself - not when the music’s this good, at least. Rønnenfelt’s the star of this show, directing it as well as playing its lead; crafting his own personal magnum opus for his own consumption.
Although the album’s storytelling doesn’t quite hold your attention for its entire duration, the music refuses to let up in its originality and forward-thinking flourishes. ‘How Many’ is almost classical in way it sways elegantly from one part to the next, whereas ‘Glassy Eyed, Dormant and Veiled’ is vicious and exciting, sounding like a Beirut song left out rotting in the bitterest of winters. ‘Forever’ - which is quite possibly Iceage’s best song to date - bubbles underneath the surface before exploding into a rage of show-stopping viola and disparate darkness. That same darkness permeates the entire record just as it did on their last two full-lengths, but on ‘Plowing into the Field of Love’, it’s fully realised and refined; harnessed like a tool that’s able to craft something truly epic out of what the band have previously established. From what they’ve cooked up here, it’s hard to imagine hearing a record this immersive and mesmerising from anyone else.