Iceburn – Asclepius

Posted: 8 June 2021 in Albums
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Southern Lord – 25th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Twenty years is a long time. But that’s how long it’s been since Iceburn last graced us with new material. The shifting collective, primarily operative between 1990 and 2001 reconvened in 2007, with this current lineup again at the core.

As the band’s bio summarises, ‘The band’s initial output slowly evolved from hardcore and metal to free improvisation and noise. The 10 year arc saw the band following their own path and becoming more and more obscure as they got deeper into unknown musical worlds. By 2000 the cycle seemed complete and Iceburn did their final tour in Europe 2001. In 2007 this early core crew reunited to play a local anniversary show focused on the earliest material. Every few years since they would get together for another ‘reunion’ until that word became more of a joke, it was clear the band was back, getting together every week, and working on new material.’

And here it is: two truly megalithic tracks, each spanning the best part of twenty minutes, and packing them densely with some hard-hitting, churning, trudging, sludgy riffs.

This is some heavy, doomy, din: the riffs are Sabbath as filtered via Melvins, and let’s face it – Sabbath may have invented heavy metal, but it was Melvins who reinvented it with that gnarly, stoner twist and all the sludge.

It’s about halfway through the eighteen-minute ‘Healing the Ouroburous’ that things take a bit of a crazy turn. The lead riffing steps up to next-level flamboyant and I’m starting to think ‘this is maybe a bit much’. It’s not just that it’s technical, it’s just a bit fretwanky, even a bit Thin Lizzy, like ‘Whisky in the Jar’ jammed for fifteen minutes at a gig with three local support bands for a minor-league headliner – but then they pull it back and we’re returned to slow, lumbering territory. If there’s a brief burst where it sounds a bit Alice In Chains, it’s forgivable, because within the obvious genre framework, Iceburn bring in so much to expand the limits of convention, and it’s refreshing, especially from a band with so much history. It would have been so easy for them to just turn out a brace of droning riff beasts where not a lot happens, and no doubt they would have been lauded for their return to form and their place in the underground canon, but… well bollocks to that. Then there are the vocal – shifting between a low growl and some quite melodic moments, but all kept low in the mix.

‘Dahlia Rides the Firebird’ is another absolute bloody behemoth, a collision of Earth and Melvins, and a real slow-burner that takes suspense to a point near the limit. It takes three minutes before it even begins to take form, and then lumbers like some giant Cretaceous riff-lizard – one with big, swinging riff knackers at that. Yes, this has some swagger, and it builds, and it builds… The monster crunching riff that crashes in to punch hard in the last five minutes more than justifies the wait. When it lands, it’s absolutely fucking colossal.

Asclepius is a statement, and one which informs us that Iceburn are forward-facing and aren’t looking to recreate the past or retread old ground just to please people. And that in itself should please enough people, because this is so, so solid.

AAA

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