In 2008, things seemed bleak for the musical future of ex-Kid Dynamite vocalist Jason Shevchuk. He had moved on from None More Black into LaGrecia, only to have that band implode rather quickly after one well-received album, On Parallels. Shevchuk had even stated that he left the band with the intention of "never playing in a band again." However, instead of packing it in, Shevchuk did the absolute best thing he could have possibly done*: reform None More Black. First it was a few shows and then the announcement that a full reformation would be taking place. Great news for the ‚??Org.
So how does Icons stack up? As the next step after This Is Satire, it follows in similar musical and lyrical lines. This is most likely because Shevchuk's songwriting in this context (outside of the hardcore confines of Kid Dynamite) is actually pretty unique. His lyrics are personal, but usually convey a kind of disgusted and exhausted take on life (for instance: "You take want you want and give a little, that's the worst."). The poppy hooks, belied by his gruff voice, are atypical and are usually placed in unexpected places. Because of this distinctive style, most of NMB's songs don't quite click on first listen. However, when it might take a few listens for the songs to fully reveal themselves, it usually bodes well for repeat playability, a trait which None More Black has always held as a strength.
While the band has its share of laid-back, lighter moments, like past NMB releases, and on Icons as well, the band is at its best when it's playing fiercely and full-on, like in much of closer, "Budapest Gambit." By the end of that track, the band is pounding away at a mid-tempo groove with Shevchuk getting really intense overtop before finally making it to a full scream: "Blame it on the subtext. Blame it on disease. Blame it on the money. Blame it on the freeze. Blame it on the jester--the one who wears a frown. Blame it on the king, the queen and burn this kingdom down."
Shevchuk's strength in his lyric writing with NMB is his ability to write relatable and personal lyrics that don't quite give enough away to restrict the listener to any one interpretation of the song. For instance, in side B opener, "The Iron Mouth Act," he uses the metaphor of an escapist to explore what I interpret to be the confines of other's artistic expectations of him. However, it could just as easily be about escaping a bad relationship, whether personal or from the confines of a band relationship (LaGrecia?). Either way, by maintaining the balance between the specific and broad emotional ideas, the content remains relatable.
Icons is another solid release from None More Black. It should please fans of previous material as it follows the path previously laid by the band, but does offer enough new approaches to stay fresh, while still maintaining the band's mix of catchiness and intensity.
* - For those that would say the best thing he could have done would be to reform Kid Dynamite, I would argue that is wrong because Kid Dynamite was a hardcore band with a perfect track record and (1) you wouldn't want them to risk ruining that and (2) hardcore bands aren't supposed to reform. It's get in, get out, and make no mistakes. They did that. End of story.