I’ve always been intrigued and drawn in to the world of horror from a young age; from avidly reading a majority of the older Goosebumps series, to sitting down and watching the original Evil Dead trilogy (which soon became some of my all-time favourite films), to making my father purchase all the old A Nightmare On Elm Street movies he could from Cash Converters, horror has always been a massive influence in what I write as a musician and author, from the chilling and spine-tingling soundtracks to the diversity and stories of the horror villains and (most commonly) the poor teenagers who meet their fate at the hands of them. So, when Boston-based metalcore act Ice Nine Kills announced that they would be releasing a record based entirely around all my favourite horror films, I was ecstatically drawn to it.
To be honest, I had never properly taken the time to properly invest myself in INK’s discography. Their last record, Every Trick In The Book, which focussed around famous horror novels, completely flew over my head. But when “The American Nightmare” the opening track of their newest record The Silver Scream suddenly came on my shuffle on Spotify, two things immediately hit my mind; “goddamn, this is sick, who is this band?” and “hang on a second, is this song about Freddy Krueger?”. From there, much like the character Pam in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) (and many other victims of the film’s antagonist Leatherface), I was hooked.
The record covers most of the famous horror films, like A Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday the 13th, The Shining, and Stephen King’s IT, but also throws in a couple unexpected and pleasantly surprising tales such as An American Werewolf In London, Edward Scissorhands and, my personal favourite, Silent Night, Deadly Night. To say they encapsulate the essence and terror of these films in the music and lyrics is an understatement; they truly went in depth with how they wanted these songs to sound, taking inspiration from many of the films soundtracks and events, and even throwing in some of the famous lines in the verses or as ‘mosh-lines’ (yes, that ‘Garbage Day’ line from Silent Night, Deadly Night Pt. 2 is used as a mosh-line in the chaotic, yet jolly “Merry Axe-mas”). If you’ve seen any of the film catalogue that INK cover on this record, you would probably pick up on a few of these movie-esque moments, such as the homage to the Jaws theme in the track “Rocking the Boat”, or the creepy dissonant piano in the breakdown of “Stabbing In The Dark”, mimicking the swing of Michael Meyers’ knife in Halloween. INK even go as far as writing in passages as an ode to scenes from the movies they cover, such as a 911 call that identifies Michael Meyers as ‘armed and extremely dangerous’ in “Stabbing In The Dark”, to recreating that terrifying opening scene of Stephen King’s IT in the record’s closing track “IT Is The End”, with vocalist Spencer Charnas playing King’s character Pennywise The Dancing Clown (and by god, what a performance it is).
Creating a record with such intricacy couldn’t have been an easy task, and I had the pleasure of sitting down with Spencer to discuss the record, providing insight as to how the band went about the writing process, as well as the inspiration that went into the record.
SPENCER: “I started writing the record in the summer of 2017, and we basically worked on it off and on between tours since then and I actually finished up recording the album on our bus on the summer of the last Warped Tour. Basically the overall vision and starting idea of a song most of the time comes from myself, whether it be a progression with a melodic vocal melody, or a scream pattern, or some sort of intro to a song. That usually always stems from me, and then we bring it to our guitarist (Justin DeBlieck) who’s great at coming up with great riffs and the orchestration side of the process. From there we sort of funnel it through our brains. We also work with our long-time producer and ghost-writer Steve Sopchak; him and I always tag-team the lyrics together. We work really well; just sort of feeding off each other, like I’ll start a line and he’ll finish it or vice versa. We have a very similar vision in the kind of stuff we like to write. Drew Fulk (WZRD BLD) produced this last album and contributed to the writing, as well as the overall structure side of things. Overall, it’s a team effort!”
Ice Nine knew they had to step up their game when it came to creating this record; they had already done a fabulous job of recreating the feel and atmosphere of the horror novels tributed in Every Trick In The Book. The vocalist tells me he knew there was a lot riding on this release, and that the band knew that they had to crank it up a notch instrumentally, visually, and lyrically.
SPENCER: “For me, I think this is the quintessential Ice Nine Kills album. I’ve always been a huge, huge fan of horror [music] and it’s always permeated its way through our music. Whether it be a lyrical reference, or song title, or merchandise, or overall general aesthetic. But this is the first album where we embrace Ice Nine Kills being the ‘horror-band’ in full force, full-fledged, and I think that this album has the strongest material we’ve ever done. We really tried to step it up in every aspect of the band; from instrumentation to the lyrical content, to making sure every song had a very infectious hook. We also experimented in doing different things that you don’t usually hear in this genre, or really from any rock band, like taking the influence from each movie and not only adding singing and harsh vocals, but adding dialogue that was inspired by the film, that isn’t directly lines from the film but stuff that I took and made my own as a tribute to those films, really trying to give it a cinematic aura to the record.”
And step it up, Ice Nine Kills have; it’s become somewhat of a popular thing now for heavy bands to do conceptually based records in the same aura of such bands like Defeater (also Boston based), Alesana, and Periphery (with their twin LP’s Juggernaut: Alpha & Omega), and many fail to deliver on the goods, either allowing the music and metaphorically based lyrics to take precedence over telling the story, or vice versa. Ice Nine Kills, however, have perfectly balanced this see-saw of story-telling in the record, from the lyrical metaphors and lines that tell the story of the movie they’re tributing, to having those few (and not overused) ‘tribute’ dialogue lines, to having melodies that elude to the movie’s original OST, it rarely comes across as over the top or unnecessary. When it does come in as over the top, you know it’s because they’re emulating how the character is portrayed, like Freddy Krueger’s cynical and sadistic narcissism, to Pennywise’s childish and innocent demeanour right before he rips off a kids arm.
Although Ice Nine Kills have always had subtle references to their horror roots, it wasn’t until they began to fully flesh out their true inspirations in their record Every Trick In The Book did they realise what seemed like the plausible concept to cover next; their favourite horror films.
SPENCER: “The overall ideas always stemmed from me. You know, sometimes something would just come to me, like with Every Trick In The Book. We had done a [stand-alone] song about Doctor Jekel and & Mr Hyde, and the reaction to that song was so great that I thought ‘maybe what we should do is, for the next album, we should have every song should be about a different book’, and that’s how this whole idea started. And then for this record, the idea of having a unified concept really seemed to resonate with people and that this record would be the next logical step for us because we’re so horror-centric. On top of that, not only was I thinking this in my head as we were getting good reactions from the last album, but we had fans tell us ‘you guys should do movies next; I’d love to hear films like A Nightmare On Elm Street or Halloween, or Friday the 13th done by Ice Nine Kills, as how the band see it in their eyes and see what that would be like’. So for us, it just seemed like the natural next step for us, and I’m really glad we did that.”
As you could imagine, there’s quite a lot of source material to cover when it comes to these films; Friday the 13th, Halloween, and A Nightmare On Elm Street all have a large catalogue of movies behind their names, along with other adaptions. It’s quite a large task, especially with so much material to cover in just 3 or 4 minutes of song and picking and choosing what to specifically cover couldn’t have been easy. For the horror-enthused vocalist however, the task came naturally to him, like the characters themselves were assisting in the lyrical content and instrumentation themselves.
SPENCER: “These films, I’m so familiar with them. I feel like I know them like the back of my hand. So re-watching them isn’t even an issue, because it felt like relistening to your favourite record; I’ve seen these movies quite frequently, whenever they happen to be on cable or if I’m looking for a movie to watch on Netflix or On Demand, or Hulu, you know, so I’ll often pick these movies just because I love them so much and I’ve seen them so many times. But while I was writing and working on the album, I definitely made sure to have them on in the background; just in case I had forgotten one thing, or if I wanted a visual image of what I was writing about, or to set something off to make me go ‘awe man, maybe we should do this’. For instance, when we were watching Friday the 13th while working on “Thank God It’s Friday”, I was really drawn to that last scene of the camp counsellor in the canoe, and then Jason [Vorhees] attacks her, and how it’s playing this really beautiful music and we think everything’s alright, and that Mrs. Vorhees is dead and that the story is over… And then all of a sudden, this horrific music comes in and little boy Jason drags her into the lake. So I said, ‘man, wouldn’t it be so cool if we ended the song like that? We have this big beautiful orchestral piece come in before that last breakdown and recreate the emotion from that scene’. And then there were other things, like having The Crow on while writing “A Grave Mistake”; there’s that scene on the rooftops with Eric Draven playing the guitar solo, and we thought ‘oh man, we should have a guitar solo in this song’ as an homage to that aspect of the film. It was the little things like that which made the songs what they are.”
As intricate and phenomenal as these details are, sometimes it wasn’t until seeing them in music videos that I realised what they were meant to represent; as per example, the guitar solo in “A Grave Mistake” completely flew over my head until I saw the music video and realised it was, as Spencer said, an homage to Draven’s guitar solo (and guitar destruction) in The Crow that I realised why the guitar solo was in there. There aren’t many moments like that on the record, however; the band do a terrific job both visually (in the music videos) and audibly of delivering the content they have through lyrics and instrumental samples.
The record holds 13 tracks of absolute terror (and love, ie “The World In My Hands” and “Love Bites”, both tributes to the films Edward Scissorhands and An American Werewolf In London, a personal favourite of this writer), but I was curious to ask if any movies didn’t make the cut when producing this record. There are thousands of horror movies out there, with a minority of them actually being good. But of that few minority, I was surprised that some of them didn’t make the cut, such as Hitchcock’s 1960’s classic Psycho, or Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy, or any of Romero’s zombie flicks, films that at the time of their release, became the pinnacle of horror. The vocalist confessed to me that one film didn’t make the cut, and it wasn’t a film I was expecting.
SPENCER: “Well, the album has 13 tracks, so we couldn’t really do much more without it becoming too long for people to digest. But, one film I had hoped to cover actually was ‘Scream’, because it’s one of my favourite horror movies and favourite movies in general. Unfortunately it just wasn’t coming out the way I envisioned it, and because I have very high standards for what we do, and I just didn’t want to put out something that, for me personally, didn’t live up to the greatness of the film. So, yeah sadly that one didn’t make it, but I plan to revisit it and hopefully get it onto a re-release or deluxe edition and really make it something special; to make it something worthy of the film.”
I truly hope that the Wes Craven classic does eventually become ‘Ice Nine Killed’, as I too am a lover of the franchise; from the multiple movie adaptions, to the series adapted to television and even the parodied version of it in Scary Movie 1, it still stands as being one of those pinnacle slasher films that became an icon amongst horror fans.
As I’ve covered, there are many peculiar and experimental parts to the albums track-list; be it a part of the wild instrumentation that weaves its way throughout the record, to Spencer’s vocal deliveries, to the tribute lines of the films they are covering, which got me wondering if there were any interesting or peculiar methods the band went about recording the album. Bands have been known to experiment in different environments when recording an album to really flesh out the feel and emotion they want to portray. Take for example, Slipknot’s sophomore record Iowa; the band literally put themselves through hell when recording with Ross Robinson, with the world-renowned producer abusing the members of the band, to the members of the band abusing themselves. What came of it however, was a long-lasting, much loved record adored by millions of people across the globe. I could feel that Spencer wanted to deliver a similar kind of experience and feel when creating this record, and to my delight, I was correct.
SPENCER: “We were recording in Los Angeles, so we definitely took advantage of the fact that the original sets from Halloween sets are here, the original Elm Street was filmed here. We were lucky enough to be allowed into those original sets and record parts of the songs in those original houses where the shooting took place!”
The songs themselves were already an audibly perfect representation of the films as they were but knowing that some of the songs were actually recorded in the places where those movies were filmed just adds to the entire experience, adding a certain type of authenticity to the tracks.
My closing question for the vocalist, however, was the most difficult one for him to answer. There’s so many iconic horror villains in pop-culture, and Ice Nine were able to cover and nail some of the biggest and worst baddies out there. A lot of love went into the record, as you can hear both in the record and from the interview I had with the vocalist, and with that I felt I had to ask him the question; who was your favourite horror villain to write about in ‘The Silver Scream’?
SPENCER: “Oh man, that’s hard to answer… we just had so much fun with all of the songs that it’s too hard to pick one, but I can tell you what I think the most challenging part of the whole process was, and that was trying to find a voice for all the characters. Because, you know, characters like Eric Draven (who’s more of an anti-hero than a villain) or someone like Freddy Krueger; these people speak in the movies. But characters like Michael Meyers, they don’t say a word throughout the entire movie(s), like ever. So trying to find ways to throw my voice in a way that would be like what I think these characters would sound like was a challenge. Like ‘if Michael Meyers screamed a line, how would that sound?’ It was really interesting and challenging at the same time; trying to give a voice to someone who has never spoken was definitely an interesting experience!”
Ice Nine Kills truly deliver with their latest record The Silver Scream; from the catchy hooks in the choruses, to the crushing breakdowns, to the subtle and obvious homages to their favourite horror classics, they’ve produced a record that, even for those who aren’t fans of horror, has created a dark and terrifying atmosphere that has something that everyone who are fans of the genre will love. Capturing the evil and villainous of just one of these characters is challenging enough, albeit 13 different characters, yet Ice Nine Kills have managed to truly homage these monsters (and anti-heroes, yeah I’m looking at you Scissorhands) in their own very special way, solidifying their place in the modern metal and hardcore spectrum of music today. You’d be Michael Meyers-level crazy to not to give this metalcore masterpiece the time of day. Go listen to The Silver Scream below.