“Rock’n’roll has been turned into this, like, Motley Crue charade, a parade of fucking dicks,” sighs Joe Cardamone. “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.”
Anger, they say, is an energy, but energy counts for nothing unless you know how to wield it correctly.
Los Angeles hellions The Icarus Line have spent a decade and change mastering that energy, manifesting via retina-scarring, pulse-quickening live performances ever on the edge of total collapse and often tumbling into brilliance, via well-publicised pranks at the expense of corporate rock’s sacred cows (that time they graffiti-ed The Strokes’ tourbus, that time they stole Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar, that time they published Fred Durst’s cellphone number on the affiliated website Buddyhead), and – most potently – via four albums of sleek, sulphurous punk-rock that stoked their rage into a righteous, seductive party.
Slave Vows, their fifth album, is also their best yet. The Stoogian roar of a band that refuses to die, it captures Cardamone and his charges at their most alive, across songs that slither, lash and rise into venomous crescendos, dark and heroic and seductive and seething. Recorded at Cardamone’s own Valley Recording Company studio in Burbank, California, it distils The Icarus Line’s past, present and future into 8 tracks and 45 minutes of profoundly uncompromised rock’n’roll hurtling from the malevolent glower of opener ‘Dark Circles’, to the slow, corrosive ooze of ‘Marathon Man’, to the savage explosion of ‘Dead Body’, to the Sabbath-plays-Funkadelic writhe of ‘Rat’s Ass’.
Work on the album began after a 2012 spent mostly on the road, including a sortie across Europe in the company of Killing Joke. “We got home and said, let’s make a record,” remembers Cardamone. “I had enough money saved up to spend two months working solely on the album.” The songs were written during the first month, and recorded during the second, Cardamone favouring an old school approach. “Apart from a couple of vocals and some keyboards, it was all recorded live. All we do with ProTools is fucking press ‘record’. It’s about capturing performances. We’d just come off the road, and none of us could face putting on headphones. Wasn’t gonna happen.”
This ‘live in the studio’ approach pays dividends on Slave Vows, especially on the glorious slow burn of the aformentioned ‘Marathon Man’ and ‘Dead Body’, capturing this latest line-up of The Icarus Line in perfect simpatico. For Slave Vows, the group number familiar faces Lance Arnao and Alvin DeGuzmann on bass and keyboards, with new drummer Ben Hallett, a Londoner who stepped aboard for the Killing Joke shows and has yet to step off. The lion’s share of the guitar is played by Cardamone himself, and he plays like a badass motherfucker holding his ax like a murder weapon.
“I’ve always played guitar on our albums,” Cardamone says, “But only as a guide; whoever was our guitarist then would record over it. But this time, I had no one else to play guitar… My guitar is like the conductor’s wand, across this whole record.” The method allowed Cardamone to arrange songs on the fly. “The songs didn’t have any set cues or lengths, and when stuff happened, the tapes were rolling to catch it. I knew I wasn’t going to get the sound I wanted by planning anything. If you plan shit, it won’t happen. And I don’t really wanna hear anything that sounds like that, because everything sounds so fuckin’ pre-meditated these days.
“It’s a heavy experience,” Cardamone adds, and he’s not wrong. But Slave Vows is a supremely rewarding experience, a last-gasp of compromise-free rock’n’roll arriving at a time when the form seems to have devolved into a hobby for rich kids. Cardamone’s no rich kid, though: he a street-hustler willing to risk everything to make the music he wants.
“In previous years I’ve put out records that have been too long, because I’ve been working on them for like four fuckin’ years, and I’ve imagined it’s probably the last one I’ll ever do, so I just put everything on there. But at this point in my life, I don’t really give a fuck anymore. I know I’m gonna make records for as long as I’m alive, so I’m not as precious any more, I don’t care. This thing only exists so we can be happy and do something that matters to us, and to the people who need this as much as we do.”
Whether you know it yet or not, you need Slave Vows in your life. A masterpiece of wracked, sordid and vital rock’n’roll, it’s the sound of a spirit that won’t be extinguished – the sound of four young men channelling their darkest, most honest selves and letting loose a righteous, decadent wave of noise that’ll blow the lightweight, inconsequential indie-rock and opportunist pop out of your life forever. This isn’t an album you simply listen to; it’s an album you bow down and pledge allegiance to, a statement of no-bullshit resistance, the latest and greatest statement from a group who never met a bridge they didn’t wanna burn.
“I tend to write to the black holes in the vernacular,” concludes Joe Cardamone, with the grin of a man who knows he’s right, and if you disagree, well then fuck you. “This is what I think the world needs, whether I’m right or wrong. I don’t know if that’s a smart marketing strategy by any means, but it just seems the right thing to do. I don’t know how you could do it any other way.”