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The Icarus Line - Slave Vows (Album Review)

Tuesday, 16 July 2013 Written by Huw Baines

The Icarus Line aren't the band you once knew. Joe Cardamone stands front and centre still, but all the same he's receded into the shadows. 'Slave Vows' is a pitch black record, a soundtrack to dark corners in dangerous bars, and it's the band's best in years.

It's been almost a decade since Aaron North upped sticks for Nine Inch Nails, taking with him some of the fire and unpredictability that made the Icarus Line darlings of the punk world with 'Mono' and 'Penance Soiree'. On 'Wildlife', their 2011 full-length, Cardamone came across as a gothic troubadour, ghostly white and drawling through a collection only dotted with high points.

It was another departure for the band, but not as visceral a shift as the one encountered on 'Slave Vows'. Aside from a couple of overdubs the album was recorded live at Cardamone's own studio in Burbank, California, with the whole thing written and tracked in two furious months.

Cardamone has also stepped up to take over guitar duties on the record, a change from his previous routine of recording 'guide' tracks for the band's guitarist, and he's swung for the fences. 'Slave Vows' drips with feedback, with riffs and grooves emerging from the squall across eight tracks that are more loose and long-form than anything the Icarus Line have previously released.

The easy route has been ignored throughout the 45-minute run time, with Cardamone perfectly at ease with the decision to put a little more water between his band and the current state of rock 'n' roll. “Rock’n’roll has been turned into this, like, Motley Crue charade, a parade of fucking dicks,” he said. “It’s the '80s again. It’s crazy how everything I love has been driven back into the underground. That’s where we came from, and that’s where we’ve ended up, and anything else good is back down there too.”

Appropriately, the first sound to pour from the speakers is feedback as Dark Circles rumbles into life. Clocking in at just under 11 minutes in length, it's just about as far removed from the spiky fury of Feed A Cat To Your Cobra as it's possible to get. Discordant, jangly guitars, cymbal splashes and droning bass come and go before Cardamone's vocals kick in after seven and a half minutes. “The tide goes out, the tide comes in,” he half whispers.

As openers go, it's not the easiest to get along with. It's hazy, portentous and recalls the grimy hinterland of '70s cinema, but it also possesses a hypnotic power that sets the stage perfectly for Don't Let Me Save Your Soul, an early highlight that explodes into life after another sombre intro. Cardamone's guitars chop away beneath some Murder City Devils-style organ, with drummer Ben Hallett's beat skittering around in the background.

Marathon Man pits a slinky groove against Cardamone's squealing guitars, with a tide of noise at the midway point sinking beautifully back into Alvin DeGuzmann's picked bass. The loud/quiet dynamic is nothing new but, hell, when it's done like this it can still work. Dead Body is another noisy little thing built around a lone bassline, one that thrillingly hits home halfway through its eight minutes with a burst of primal power chords.

The second half of 'Slave Vows' is slighter than what's gone before, and as such doesn't land as many telling blows. No Money Music is the album's most inconsequential song and finds Cardamone in Mick Jagger mode over a droning bassline, but City Job returns to the loose template established earlier and is all the better for it. On the later tracks, DeGuzmann's bass is every bit as prominent as Cardamone's guitars and City Job benefits from a thudding, repetitive groove.

'Slave Vows' closes with the twin-handed assault of Laying Down For The Man and Rat's Ass, the former bursting forth under waves of coruscating guitars and the latter perhaps the sharpest look into the band's past, with raging riffs over rapid-fire drums and Cardamone's howling vocals.

Very few recent punk records have sustained such an air of brooding menace as 'Slave Vows', and the extended format undoubtedly suits Cardamone. The hooks are buried deeper than they were in the band's early days, but when they wrestle them free from the feedback, they hit just as hard.


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