For a band that secured notoriety through an unhinged mastery of spitting, snarling punk rock prowess (not to mention their many extra-curricular acts of antisocial vandalism and Durst-molesting comedy terrorism), The Icarus Line’s last album felt tired, conservative and jetlagged.
A half-hearted attempt to showcase Joe Cardamone’s ability to actually write proper songs, 2011’s distinctly un-wild Wildlife resembled a parallel-universe Rolling Stones who had never hit the big time, carried on taking grubby drugs while gigging in toilets, replaced a couple of members with a burnt-out Stooge and a dead New York Doll, and sneezed out a demo LP to post off to EMI between dismal shifts at the KFC fowl-slaughtering factory. So essentially better than the bloated, Thatcher-snuggling behemoth that the real Rolling Stones became, just not up to The Icarus Line’s usual frenzied standards.
It starts quietly, as John Peel used to say. Slave Vows begins as a long, sinister, suspense-building drone slithers out the speakers like a leather-jacketed tapeworm. Eventually, a scowling guitar starts relaying a simple but swaggering refrain. The rumbling bass takes over the same primitive, repetitive pattern. The cymbals start to splutter and splash. Another guitar screeches away in the background. A caveman’s snare clunks in. There are vocal mutterings beneath the murk, nothing comprehensible, like a hobo drowning in a swamp. An industrial static fuzzing noise emerges from the bog and starts ingesting the hobo. At seven minutes, the storm resides at the insistence of a dictatorial tambourine bashed like a wave against a bony-hipped cliff-face. “The tide goes out / The tide comes in”, drawls Cardamone. “I tried my best to swim / What chance do I stand?” He sounds like Iggy, stripped of the sobriety and Tinseltown dental scheme. He sounds simultaneously rejuvenated and on the very brink of disillusioned implosion. He sounds dangerous.
In the old days, Cardamone used to sketch out riffs which his bandmates would overdub for the final album cut. Deprived of any such guitarist compadre (he’s probably fallen out with every other guitar player in the Western hemisphere... and couldn’t pay ‘em if he hadn’t), here he does all the axe-work himself. And what a revelation. Slave Vows is - easily the finest guitar album The Icarus Line have produced since Aaron North precariously sprinted across a row of trembling amps to crash out the window and join Nine Inch Nails in 2005.
Boy, you ain’t never heard a guitar squeal ‘til you’ve heard the squeal of the guitar that squeals its way through ‘Marathon Man’. It’s a desperately unrepressed, feedback-haemorrhaging, weeping, wailing, existential shriek of a guitar squeal and the most beautiful, spine-tingling, goose-bump-erecting sublime outpouring of pure rock ‘n’ roll fury you’ll hear all year. It’s presented so high in the mix - especially deafening on headphones - that you can’t decide whether to turn the volume down to protect your precious eardrums or turn it up because we’re all going to die anyway and what better way to go than having your brain perforated by The Icarus Line?
‘Don’t Let Me Save Your Soul’ is a chugging, sneering glam stomper with “loaded gun” imagery and street-gang backing vocals, the kind of thing Bobby Gillespie aims for (but often bungles) when he puts his studded punk rock hat on. ‘No Money Music’ is a more abstract, looping, vox-distorted jazz-noise yelp reminiscent of Penance Soiree’s ‘Meatmaker’. ‘City Job’ sounds like a freedom-fighting guerrilla march led by an AWOL draftee who recently tunnelled his way out of solitary confinement using half a rusty nail file and copy of Swans’ The Seer. ‘Dead Body’ starts sleepily and then, half way through its eight minutes, explodes into a screaming, sweating, flailing tornado bastard.
“Being in love is being fucked”, growls Joey on Slave Vows’ final track. Just when you think you’ve fallen out of love with The Icarus Line, they fuck you up all over again.
9J.R. Moores's Score