Test Icicles, Barfly, Birmingham

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The Independent Culture

A quick look at the number of "friends" the Test Icicles have attracted to their myspace.com message board in the space of a year is enough to uncover the roots of their success: an extended family of 2,000 fans has been the breeding-ground for the London-based trio's sudden ascent. Just before they go on stage, the Icicles are surrounded by girl fans snapping photographs, clinging on to their skinny-jeaned love-objects. The next morning these images are already posted on the myspace page.

It's Hallowe'en, which also happens to be the release date of their debut album, For Screening Purposes Only. Test Icicles are an unlikely signing for Domino records, usually a home for thoughtful electronica or angular guitar complexity. They rock, in the primordial manner. Much is made of this band's metal leanings, but their reality is rooted in rough punk violence, not poodle-haired preening.

They have succumbed to absurdity in the adoption of stage names, however, with Rory Aggwelt becoming Raary Decihells, Sam Merrann re-christened Sam E. Danger, and Devonte Hynez choosing the slightly more sensible DevMetal. The first two spend equal amounts of time in the roles of lead singer and guitarist; the latter sticks to his six strings, apart from a few keyboard dabbles. The two guitars aim to make a scuzzy wall of disembodied noise, and both singers are limited in their shouty range.

Test Icicles are constantly in blurred motion. Maybe they played the current single, "Circle, Square, Triangle", and its predecessor, "Boa vs Python", but given that the entire spurting set of very short songs has a kind of suite-like continuity, it's difficult to tell for sure. In the live setting, most of their numbers merge into a single onslaught of frenzied guitar buzz and drum-machine stuttering.

The best thing about not having a real drummer is that they can take turns jumping on the vacant podium, careening into each other with a cartoon hyperactivity. But the Icicles don't contribute much of their own personalities.

The trio certainly have dynamism in abundance, but they lack the songwriting and sonic-sculpting skills to turn themselves into a truly threatening presence. The set is over in almost exactly the time it takes to play their album. Watch the band close-up, and they seem unsure about taking themselves too seriously; appropriately, perhaps, as the crowd show little appreciation afterwards and evidently have no desire for an encore.

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