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Call me biased or what not but whenever I talk about good, fun and interesting punk rock it’s very hard to not name drop None More Black. It’s not even that Jason Shevchuk is nearly a legend for being the front man to the impressive and caustic Kid Dynamite, a band whose existence was as loud and short as their entire repertoire of songs. Sure, None More Black wouldn’t be who they are without the wonderfully rusty pipes that Shevchuk contributes to the music, but even when looking past the vocals, None More Black is an extremely talented and versatile bunch of dudes. Unlike most bands in their genre they stand out and have a style that is totally their own and have a versatility that made “This Is Satire” and its predecessor “File Under Black” both stand out albums for nearly entirely different reasons. But then they broke up giving almost no reasons except to pursue other musical endeavors. We saw the rise and fall of Ram & Ox and the short lived LaGrecia, but neither band could fill the void that None More Black left in the heart of this avid music listener. Much to my good fortune, None More Black recruited prolific punk drummer Richard Minino and decided it was time to get back together and churn out an album, their reunion as sudden as their break up years before. But could they pull it off? LaGrecia was good, but not incredible and Ram&Ox weren’t even in the same genre so they were no indication as to what the band was capable of now. I was almost sure that “Icons” would suffer from the dreaded comeback album syndrome; It could either be and incredible return or a horrible miss. Or at least I thought so. Instead, “Icons” surprised me.
If I had to describe “Icons” in one sentiment I would say this: “It sounds way, way, way bigger.” The album starts with the massive “Mr. Artistic” a mid tempo stomper that showcases the heaviest None More Black has ever sounded, with a chorus not unlike what you would find on Strike Anywhere’s latest release; We find Shevchuk crooning “In the nose/At the mouth/ I just do what I can to calm down/ Caught on the heels and yet somehow I stumble home” over waves of guitar sound. The track has a frantic and explosive outro before the band kicks into full gear for “Stillssternlange&morris”, a short yet bouncy track that would find itself a comfy home both between the catchier moments of “File Under Black” or the heavier moments in “This Is Satire.” The song quickly transitions into two other classic sounding None More Black tunes, “Cupcake Wednesday” and “Here Comes Devereux” that give the album familiar and welcomed warmth that fans of their past two albums should thoroughly enjoy. The band throws it’s second of several curve balls with the desperate and galloping “I’m Warning You With Peace & Love”, which takes the cake for one of the fastest track None More Black has ever written (maybe falling second only to “Nothing To Do When You’re Locked Away Inside A Vacancy”) and it’s definitely a stand out track on the album. It’s quick pace is a bit off putting at first as Shevchuk seems to be having to catch up to the song as he sings over ping-ponging guitar leads but it’s quickly apparent that this was the band’s intention all along, especially when they abruptly step it down a few notches to close the song off on a mid tempo conclusion.
“When Mickey Died” is possibly the worst track on the album and is overshadowed by being sandwiched between the aforementioned song and the dark zinger to follow, “Iron Mouth Act”. Now I know I said worst but it’s not even that it’s a bad track, it’s actually better than a lot of None More Black songs, but it sounds a bit out of place in the album. It still has a ton of replay value and I definitely don’t skip over it, it’s just not the song I’m most looking forward to hearing. As previously mentioned, “Iron Mouth Act” is another dark and feisty number which is cordially accompanied by a nifty little mandolin intro before it explodes into None More Black at their most pissed off. Not ones to stop their rampage, the album continues with the magnum opus of the album, the absolutely enormous “Sinatra After Dark”; a somber and frantic song that possibly has the most intricate tempo changes and riffs None More Black has ever penned. The bass solo at the end is a delicious cherry on top of the cake; it’ safe to say this will be a crowd favourite at future None More Black shows. None More Black decide to brightened the mood a little and slow things down with the one two punch of “Backpedal” and “Gary Page One In Pink”, the first showing off the band at their most balladesque while the second picks up the tempo a slight bit and proves to be one of the bounciest numbers on “Icons.” The album closes with the somber “Budapest Gambit” that concludes the album in a similar fashion as it was opened. Sadly, it’s no “Majestic” but it proves a solid closer nonetheless.
A generous mix of new and old makes “Icons” an exceptional album that once again proves that punk rock can be intelligent and original without sacrificing energy. I didn’t instantly like it like I hoped, but it’s grown on me quickly and I wouldn’t be surprised if I was ready to call this the best cohesive album None More Black has created and my favourite of their releases. Best album of the year? It’s most definitely possible. However, I also feel like this isn’t an entry level album and it seems most suitable to the seasoned None More Black listener. If this is your first time listening to the band (though it definitely shouldn’t be) then this is probably not the album for you as far and wide their least accessible album. The treats are harder to hear, but if you give it a shot, they’re definitely there and in generous amounts.