Here’s a quandary: What do you do when a band builds a loyal following solely from the intensity of its live performances and off-stage antics, then puts out an entirely mediocre record? The answer, it seems, is to ignore the music and try to convince yourself that the band is saving rock ‘n’ roll by living the cliche rock-star life of sex, drugs and tour follies. This is the case with the Icarus Line’s sophomore full-length, Penance Soiree — actual rock ‘n’ roll seems to be the one thing missing. Sure, rock ‘n’ roll is more than just music; it’s an attitude and a lifestyle. But let’s face it: You only rock as much as your record does.
It’s clear the Icarus Line tried to make a rock record with Penance Soiree. It has all the elements: heavy guitar riffs that melt into feedback, driving bass lines, angry drums, and slurred, distorted lyrics. The five-piece, which got its start touring with Ink and Dagger in the late nineties, didn’t forget to throw in some electronics for good measure, either. After all, what’s a good rock record nowadays without a vintage synth sound? The Icarus Line understands the elements of rock ‘n’ roll, but they don’t understand how these elements should come together.
Of bands the Icarus Line claims as influences (the list is long and a little embarrassing considering the result), Black Sabbath stands out as the biggest, as evidenced by the repetitive, heavy but sluggish bass lines that tie Penance Soiree together. Don Devore, former Ink and Dagger bass player, joined the band for Penance, and his work is the one thing that makes this record interesting. Unfortunately, the guitars, percussion and vocals can’t keep up.
The guitars get lost in the effects and tangled up in Joe Cardamone’s also effected vocals, which he mostly mumbles through. And the lyrical content is less than intriguing. The drumming hardly complements the intricate bass lines, doing little to form a solid rhythm section. The result is a lackluster attempt at rock ‘n’ roll that falls flat. It’s a struggle to get through Penance without losing interest. If you do get through, you’ll be rewarded. Closer “Party the Baby Off” has some real rock appeal; it’s a catchy but honest rock song. Cardamone sings, “Take off all your clothes!” at the end, almost making up for the rest of the record’s mundane lyrics.
Living with eccentricity and generating hype from solid performances are important in a rock ‘n’ roll band. But writing good songs is more so. What’s rock ‘n’ roll without good music? If fans can’t enjoy some part of a live performance away from the stage, the band hasn’t done its job.