Icecross – “Icecross” (1973 / 2013)

I was prepared to not like Icecross, or at the very least write about how it’s overrated, self-absorbed prog rock. And as generally happens when I have preconceptions about music before I actually hear it, what I found was something unexpected. In the case of Icecross, something unexpected in a big way.

Icecross might be the most infamous record to have come out of Iceland. Released in 1973, it quickly developed a cult reputation due to the combo of its quality, English vocals, obscurity, and that certain intangible that is hard to pin down. With an original press run of only 1,000 copies (there have been subsequent unofficial releases on both CD and limited edition vinyl), it certainly has always been rather hard to find, all the more so since record collectors tend to be hoarders of sorts, something that seems particularly true on genre specific fans like those into psych and prog. So these don’t see the light of day too often. When they do, copies consistently fetch hundreds of dollars, with two confirmed eBay sales in 2013 of $700+. In many ways this is reminiscent of Sororicide’s cult heavy metal record The Entity, though Icecross  have had their reputation for much longer than their metal brethren. Needless to say, I bought my copy on CD. About $13 with shipping.

Given the notoriety of Icecross, along with the fact that it’s psych, which isn’t exactly my favorite genre, I figured I wouldn’t be terribly impressed. And, of course, I was wrong. It’s a strange album, and one that’s hard to explain in part due to the mixing of styles throughout the album. You’ve got heavy (“Solution”), folk rock (“A Sad Man’s Story”), quasi country (“Wandering Around”), and even the truly bizarre dystopian nightmarish (“1999”). The one consistent element is the bass, which is the thread that keeps it all feeling related even when the styles differ. The bass gives it all weight, and always a bit of dread and doom. It’s not speed metal type heavy; it’s slow; it’s relentless; it’s the stuff of nightmares; it will come to your house at night and take your children.

He’s about to hit my head,
Everything is turning red,
I can’t make it any more,
I’m falling on the ground
And it scares me so,
Scares me so.
— “Scared”

I lean more towards the proto-heavy metal songs on Icecross. “Solution” sounds a lot like a prog version of early Black Sabbath with slow, doomy rhythm and vocals (including moaning harmony), punctuated by almost baroque guitar work that offers a jarring contrast. “1999” is about the future. A future where your body is going to get machined replacement parts, turning us into cyborgs. It opens with almost a martial sound which contributes to the oppressive vibe, making it feel like the man is coming to get you. And “Nightmare,” well, it’s creepy. Almost operatic. Grandiose. With a pace that keeps building. Frenetic. Then dropping in some of the most bizarrely modified vocals of the era, something that sounds like (WARNING! NERD ALERT!) the voice of Princess Leia in Return of the Jedi when she was dressed up as a bounty hunter at the start of the movie and tried to rescue Han Solo from Jabba the Hut. You know, before she was in that metal bikini. Kind of like what it would sound like if the devil was gargling as he spoke to you. But from the future.

Though I like the heavy stuff, my favorite song is actually “A Sad Man’s Story,” which is a straight up folk rock song about losing a chick. Maybe I’m a romantic. Or just like sad bastard music. But the guitar work is beautiful, there’s a bit of piano/organ here, and the vocals have the dreary sound of a man who has lost something.

I’m really into this CD. Unfortunately my copy has a fault about 1:20 into the song “Scared,” which digitizes the sound for about five seconds or so. Annoying, though not a terribly big deal. I’d be curious to see if the new version that was just released by Rockadrome has a similar fault. I’m not sure if this is a problem with my copy, or all the pressings from my version (the unofficial NL002 release). As a side note, the NL002 CD version has the songs slightly out of order, moving what should be the opening track “Wandering Around” into the fourth spot (though the rest of the order is correct).

Icecross is absolutely worth checking out if you’re into prog or metal. Obviously the CD versions are much more affordable, though the vinyl re-release is reasonably priced as well. And yes, it’s even available on iTunes for under $8. So you have no excuse.