The idea of music as a healing force is something that I think most music fans can get behind. We’ve all had experiences and hardships that would have been more difficult to come out the other side of without the music we love to get us through. For some people the phrase “punk rock saved my life” will always be more than just an annoying soundbite. Healing is something clearly on the minds of the members of cult post-hardcore act Iceburn as they release their first new music in over 20 years. Their new album, released on Southern Lord, is called Asclepius and named after the ancient Greek god of doctors and medicine.
Formed in Salt Lake City in ‘91, Iceburn are one of those bands that defy easy categorisation. While they certainly boasted the heaviness of doom metal and My War period Black Flag, the band also dealt in odd, jazz-infused time signatures and transcendental prog passages which had more in common with early post-rock acts like Slint and Lungfish. Eventually mutating into the Iceburn Collective, the band added in a brass section and bigger instrumentation to become a full-blown free-improv noise act.
Having stripped back to a quartet, and now trading simply as Iceburn again, Asclepius finds the band rediscovering the rawer, heavier sound of their early records (such as the iconic Hephaestus) while still exploring their sonic pallete. Comprising two longform tracks, the album is a byzantine endeavour that can switch gear at the drop of a hat while never leaving you cold. Guitarist, vocalist, and bandleader Gentry Densely holds everything together with a composer’s skill, weaving disparate ideas together in a gloriously heavy tapestry.
The first track “Healing the Ouroboros” kicks off with a driving rhythm before eventually giving way to some dazzling guitar interplay between Densely and long-time guitarist James Holder. It then descends into a heads-down thrasher before ending in stabs of guitar noise and feedback.
The second cut “Dahlia Rides the Firebird” opens by pummelling the listener with discordant guitar tones before morphing into a Sabbath-like groove complimented by Densley’s otherworldly vocal. Apparently built around the melody of an old, Greek folk song, the sprawling track culminates in a heavy as hell groove which is reminiscent of Densley’s doom side-project, Eagle Twin.
Drawing the listener into its labyrinthine world, Asclepius is a truly immersive album. The heaviness of the record is offset by a sense of warmth that makes even the more abrasive passages feel inviting. True to its title there is something healing about the music created here. I personally hope it’s not 20 years before we get to hear more out of Iceburn.
Asclepius is out today via Southern Lord Records and can be ordered here.
Words: Dan Cadwallader