Whatever the clothes they’ve appeared in, the line-up they’ve presented, since first cracking the rock consciousness with 2001’s ‘Mono’ LP, Los Angeles’ The Icarus Line has always been driven by fire. In the gut, the heart, the head… crackling the skin to a crisp.
The group’s been through its share of changes, members coming and going, but frontman Joe Cardamone has been a constant presence. And it’s the voice and face of this band – Cardamone starred on the covers of 2007’s ‘Black Lives At The Golden Coast’ and 2011’s ‘Wildlife’ (a Clash interview from that album's campaign can be read here) – who’s ultimately responsible for keeping the volatile outfit in a state of operation. Both worker bee and queen, he’s a sweating, spitting, slick-haired embodiment of DIY attitude and can-do confidence.
Self-recorded in Burbank, California after Cardamone saved enough money to properly focus on it without distractions, fifth album ‘Slave Vows’ finds this four-piece channelling its influences to outshine expectations.
Having edged from the primal roars of ‘Mono’ to a sound slightly more refined on second set ‘Penance Soireé’ (2004), The Icarus Line always exhibited evolution between releases. But this is a substantial progression, impact wise, from the comparatively timid swagger of ‘Wildlife’.
Sure, those Stooges licks are present and correct – but there’s a much greater energy to proceedings here, which successfully infects the listening gear on a first spin, effortlessly encouraging repeat plays.
The 10 minutes of opener ‘Dark Circles’ might be an obstacle for some, the droning and sighing and swooning curtain-up amongst this act’s least-immediate numbers. But follow its shape-shifting trajectories, from screaming feedback to delicate strums, and on the other side delights are in abundance.
‘Marathon Man’ positively sizzles on the senses, a slow-burning sensation which drips and creeps across its six-minute duration, all Mary Chain-like percussive power and shoegaze shimmer atop widescreen guitars howling like hyenas. ‘City Job’ has that nonchalance-gone-atomic atmosphere that Pissed Jeans nail so grotesquely, albeit with undercurrents of Nick Cave in the mix.
‘Rat’s Ass’ closes the set with some of this band’s well-developed, almost Rolling Stones-recalling groove – but this time it’s a weighty expression of rock ‘n’ roll’s intersection with funk, blasting its deep basslines into metal walls with rocket-driven propulsion. And then: it collapses, snaps to silence, just as the listener’s anticipating its explosion into a climax worthy of new year’s fireworks.
Again, The Icarus Line is messing with our expectations: giving some of what we knew, what we’ve been lusting for, but snatching it back for their own damn selves at the last.
Sometime before this comes ‘Don’t Let Me Save Your Soul’, a wholly tuneful anomaly of sorts that really should crack A-lists on rock stations the world over, carried on (what sounds like) thick organ chords dancing around Cardamone’s pointed guitar lines. Naturally, it’ll probably receive all the airtime of a Gary Glitter comeback.
‘Slave Vows’ isn’t a reinvention. Nor is it a rebirth for these men: some who have been here before, and some who are new to The Icarus Line experience. It is what it is: a passionate, purposeful and wonderfully presented collection of combustive rock songs. Promotion of this LP probably won’t see its makers attempt to make off with a Texan legend’s museum-housed guitar, or graffiti the tourbus of a bunch of scene-setting hipsters.
But it doesn’t need to. That kind of craic is in the past. Now comes the skull cracking.
Words: Mike Diver
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