A track-by-track run through the 13 horror-movie inspired cuts of the new Ice Nine Kills LP, 'The Silver Scream'.
Ice Nine Kills have always loved their movies. That was evident by the Inglorious Bastards inspired 'People Under The Stairs' video; how their 2007 EP, 'The Burning', had a cover closely resembling Cabin Fever posters; and how the band dresses up as their favourite horror-movie villain when playing live of late. This movie admiration is reflected right away with the first claw-marked cut of 'The Silver Scream': the quick-paced opener, ‘The American Nightmare‘.
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This initiation really sees Ice Nine Kills putting their best foot forward for their fifth LP. Starting off with a voice-over about dreams and a creepy lullaby vocal, the scene is perfectly set to capture Wes Craven’s 1984 classic, A Nightmare On Elm Street. From here, it instrumentally kicks off with a blast-beating, theatrical, symphonic-tinged metalcore vibe, with a love for call-back samples and frontman Spencer Charnas showing why he's one of the best vocalists in the genre today. With all his researched lyrics solidly referencing the series' sleep-demon antagonist, Freddy Krueger (“my cruel hand will rock you to sleep", "where I went down in flames/The beast has been awakened", and "Fell in love with hate cause evil fit like a glove"). Making sure that Ice Nine Kills and Elm Street fans alike get a proper kick out of it all. Also, I see you INK, dropping some love for Wes Craven himself with the line, "Craven my revenge from the shallow grave".
While the song's cleanly-sung “I’m the American Nightmare, with American dreams” chorus definitely sounds like what you’d expect from a modern metalcore act, I give it a pass for a couple of reasons. Namely due to the song being genuinely catchy, properly impactful when it's heavy, showing off well-written lyrical call-backs, and having a loving appreciation for the source material. Also because this band has really come leaps and bounds in sound, songwriting, lyricism, and performance chops over the last ten years, and this opener flexes that evolution hard. 'The American Nightmare' reveals how much INK has gone all-in with this LP's movie-inspirations too; leaning right into the lyrical, musical and visual references. And it pays off superbly!
The track's insane nu-metalcore breakdown, complete with some really off-kilter guitars, at the midsection is just glorious, accompanied with the lyrics: “They all think it’s just pretend/You’ll never ever sleep again/All your friends are fucking dead". Personally, I love how these lyrics play into multiple aspects of the film. “They all think it’s just pretend" addresses how those around the characters don't believe them regarding the murders, simply aren't paying attention to what's happening, or are in denial. A deeper aspect of this films 1980s youth-empowerment idea. "You’ll never ever sleep again" points towards the dread the heroes feel about falling asleep, thus having to face Krueger in the dream world. (A line delivered via a cold whisper from Spencer during an instrumental pause that’s perfectly set up and executed). Then, "All your friends are fucking dead" alludes to how protagonist Nancy Thompson has lost many people close to her by the movie's end. And if you thought that Freddy Krueger's spin on the “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe” nursery rhyme was creepy in ANOES, than this song will re-conjure those feelings with its own take on said children's nursery rhyme.
As a pre-release single, 'Thank God It's Friday' was originally released on Friday, July 13th, 2018... because of course it was. ‘Thank God It’s Friday‘ is, as the name suggests, all about the cult classic, Friday The 13th; the forever unkillable Jason Voorhees; as well as his murderous mother of whom the first film focused on. (The band even make a jab about Jason's immortality, and maybe even the ludicrous amount of sequels this franchise has spawned, with the line, "he'll never be gone for good"). This film's setting is painted immediately with the song's intro: a fire-crackling, campfire-suited sing-along jingle that pulls you into the role of a counselor stationed at Crystal Lake Camp over a soon-to-be-bloody summer. INK's knack for appropriating the visuals and places of these films into their songs and lyrics is so fuckin' impressive with this new album, as is the case with this song. It speaks of how much effort and detail they've put into 'The Silver Scream', how well their arrangement abilities have expanded, and how Spencer's vocal timbre and higher-pitched screams suitably fit the violent source material.
There are a couple of moments that I adore further about 'Thank God It's Friday'. Firstly, the massive breakdown that follows the acoustic-guitar intro, a brutal mosh sectioned paired with lyrics “ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma“. I love this deep cut of an easter egg, one that harkens back to the very sound design of the original film. How Mrs. Voorhees would "hear" the voice of her young dead son, saying "kill, mama". But the delay, reverb and other time effects added to those recordings created this eerie 'ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma' sound. Another part I enjoy is how later in the song, it suddenly transitions into this happy, twinkling major key orchestral section, almost as if the day has been saved and good has finally triumphed over evil. Then, jarringly, you're dropped right back into the intro's monstrous breakdown; evoking the original movie's classic jump scare where the corpse of Jason attacks Alice right near the end on the canoe.
Enjoy the song or not, you gotta give these dudes points for effort and truly knowing their shit about these films. And as per usual, Ice Nine Kills really went the extra mile in their homage-paying film clip too. From the schlocky font and scream-sample that fittingly announces the video’s title card; to re-creating the death scenes from Friday The 13th; the band members wearing Camp Crystal Lake T-shirts; to paraphrasing the crazed Mrs. Voorhees. It’s great stuff, created with care and love for the subject matter. Plenty of other bands could learn a thing or two on how to do gimmicks and themes correctly from what Ice Nine Kills have pulled off here.
Spencer and Ice Nine Kills are all big fans of Wes Craven's Scream, and rightfully so - that meta-slasher series is an absolute gem. But that's not what this particular song is for. No, this track is about John Carpenter's deadly 1978 classic, Halloween, and it's white-masked serial killer, Michael Myers. If the police radio skit in the bridge doesn't sound this off, then the syncopated instrumentals, keys and panic chords mimicking that film's seminal piano score, as well as evoking the literal slashing motion of Myers' knife, most certainly will. The song itself lyrically focuses on the fifteen-year anniversary return of Myers, Sam Loomis' description of the killer ("These are the devil's eyes"), his escape from the Warren County's Smith's Grove Sanitarium (referenced by an alarm sound during the opening portion), his inhumanity, and his stalking of the film's protagonist, Laurie Strode. And that unnerving vibe that the first film nailed - the kind that freaked the bejeezus out of viewers at the time - is definitely felt within the homicidal bones of this third track.
Other than showing the authenticity in his clean singing, this is the first real taste of the greater theatrical inflections Spencer imparts on his vocal performances. We see this in how he quickly but grotesquely screams "you can't kill the boogeyman" at the end of a rapidly-picked section about halfway through; a passage guided along by guitarist/co-vocalist Justin "JD" DeBlieck, who also adds some solid tapping parts to the song throughout. It's the kind of added flair that INK really excels at, getting into "character" of each song regarding whichever film is the basis. Musically, this is Ice Nine Kills going straight for the throat instrumentally and JD dolling out some savage riffs left, right and centre. It's a ripper, for sure!
While there are some truly terrific songs on this LP, not every single track is a winner. For while so much of 'The Silver Scream' is pure gold, 'Savages' is sadly the first bump in its well-paved road. Pulling from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre ("Because the sound of the saw is our soundtrack"), the song is kinda miss-matched between the music and lyrics. As while the words touch upon the Sawyer family's savagery, even their cannibalism, and how the original 1974 film is often considered to be the first-ever slasher flick ("The original villains in the night"), the song itself just cannot hack it. And nah, I ain't sorry for that pun.
The actual track is this really generic, post-hardcore/rock "anthem", complete with big vocals hooks, big riffs, and big synths that feel way too try-hard. It's one of the least heavy tracks of the whole record; the kind of limped take I'd expect from INK's peers, not from the band themselves. It's one of the more under-cooked tracks lyrically in terms of references and mood-setting too. Seriously, this is not what I hear or think of when my mind turns to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. One great thing about 'The Silver Scream' is how it's an incredibly varied and creative record genre-wise, and also in terms of lyrics. Yet this one merely feels like the band tried everything else with the remaining tracklist stylistically, and were left with opting into a safer, more mainstream rock approach here. While I can understand the thinking behind it, I just feel 'Savages' doesn't quite hold up when compared with many of its pals. Shame.
Putting us back onto the album's stellar track record, we have 'The Jig Is Up'. With a title like that, and with lyrics of "you're all gears in my machine", it's a little on the nose. Cause we're talkin' about the Saw films here, my friends. For as soon as that low-tuned chug section erupts into a venomous double-tracked vocal of "live or die" from Spencer and JD, 'The Jig Is Up' instantly establishes itself as a love letter to John Kramer/Jigsaw. The song uses distorted spoken word to imitate Jigsaw when he's speaking menacingly and cryptically to his victims via the Billy puppet, just as their traumatic trials are about to begin. The song lyrically speaks of Jigsaw's god complex and how his intent is to “save" people via subjecting them to these psychologically and physically demanding traps. How he sees himself as a hero leading lost souls to salvation; how he cuts a puzzle piece out of his victims' skin to keep as a memento; and how he believes these experiences will make his victims better people who will be more grateful for their own lives. (The song also plays into a narrative that INK are hinting at with their videos, in which Spencer dreams of the villains and events of these films and that maybe it's all actually happening).
In a stroke of genius, the choral and string movements across the piece remind me of the Saw series' "Hello Zepp" leitmotif. That's the music that plays when either of the first seven films plot twists would occur; revealing the contingencies upon contingencies staged by whichever person was acting as Jigsaw - John, Mark Hoffman, Lawrence Gordon, etc. There's no way that wasn't the band's intention, given their keen eye for detail and going balls-deep into this record's theme. Of course, are this track's 'game over' vocals kinda corny? Yeah, sure, but I mean, just look at this album's cover! You know exactly what kind of experience you're getting into even before you hit play. Hell, a lot of these films themselves are schlocky and corny by nature, yet INK authentically captures those elements too.
That being said, 'The Jig Is Up' is a great track that nicely balances out each element of INK's current sound: high-hooks, heaviness, and a horrorcore MO. This track also keenly highlights the album's slick and solid production from Drew Fulk, who has done a killer job here. On top of that, Randy Strohmeyer of Finch actually features on this buzzing cut, funnily enough. Which maybe explains why those awesome guitar melodies and vocal refrains sound like an early 2000s post-hardcore wet-dream akin to Finch. As someone who loves that band's 'What It Is To Burn' LP with every fiber of his being, this feature spot is a massive deal for me. It's nice to know that INK also enjoys the work of Finch, making it even more of a solid song to get trapped within, I found.
Really changing up the pace of 'The Silver Scream' now is the mid-tempo of 'A Grave Mistake'. This vengeful yet bittersweet ballad-like track lends it's inspiration to 1994's The Crow, the final film that Brandon Lee would act in prior to his on-set fatal wounding. The track is a darker yet inviting piano-lead rock song, but a decent one at that. Unlike 'Savages' before it, this proves that the band can do a lighter, yet still catchier rock sound more than well enough; making sure that it still sounds like them in the process.
Spencer's crisp vocal hook of "But I heard that you reap what you sow" is easily one of his best in the band's entire backlog too. And his powerful vocal performance captures the movie's tragic story of the prematurely deceased Draven bride and groom, of righting wrongs, of making sure wicked men meet their maker, and of beyond-the-grave revenge all beautifully so. As does the screaming guitar solo from JD and the layers of piano sprinkled over the song as well. I don't have much else to say about it other than it's all perfectly in keeping with the mood and tone of the first Crow. In the case of this record, that's all that was needed for it to work well!
7. 'Rocking The Boat':
I know what you're about to say: Jaws isn't a horror movie. Maybe not now in 2018, but at the time of its release in 1975, the American thriller kept more than a few people off beaches and out of salty waters. Setting the track right on the film's doomed vessel, the Orca, and with having some SOS "skits" and Spencer even yelling at one point "We'll need a bigger boat", you can practically feel the great white circling you. Talking about "fish to fry", "taking the bait", and "floating in a shallow grave", to even the song's opening elongated scream of "SHARK!", the band are really having fun with it all. This record sees them embracing each song and each movie to the best, fullest extent. (Well, for the most part). And 'Rocking The Boat' is all the stronger for it. Oh, and don't you worry. The band does indeed re-create the unforgettably suspenseful E-to-F Jaws theme in this song's final stretch too, tastefully merging it with their own metal flavour by doing so.
'Rocking The Boat' is also the most Euro-metal-sounding song the band have written guitar melody-wise, whilst also showing off some seismic harmonies. This song highlights how JD and Spencer have this terrific vocal relationship, where they more or less complete each other's sentences. Another really cool thing is how INK seamlessly namedrop all of their previous records into this song's lyrics: 'Last Chance To Make Amends', ‘Safe Is Just A Shadow’, ‘The Predator Becomes The Prey’, and ‘Every Trick In The Book’ (that last LP based all of its songs off classic novels). It's a great reference and in-joke for long-time fans, for just like how they've referenced movies they love, the band are self-referencing their own work. And this goes even further by having former INK guitarist/vocalist Jeremy Schwartz perform on the track too; showing there isn't any bad-blood in his and band's collective water.
The below video's thumbnail says it all: The Shining. With an intro sample of a hotel butler asking if the 'sir' is going down, the track then drags you screaming through the haunted, mentally-fracturing hallways of the Overlook Hotel; painting over the walls in blood a grim yet accurate picture of the horrible fate that awaits the Torrance family. With samples and lyrics referring to those creepy twin girls, Jack's dwindling sanity, Danny's psychic abilities, the song raises the stakes by having Stanley Kubrick’s own grandson, Sam Kubrick (the vocalist of U.K. metalcore band, Shields) guest vocal during the track's psychotic-sounding breakdown. This just makes 'Enjoy Your Slay' all the sweeter; having an actual family member of the man who created such a seminal film is a huge addition to the record overall.
'Enjoy Your Slay' - arguably the best pun of the whole LP - has actually been out since late last year. But it hasn't lost its impact since, and Spencer's manic, verbatim shrieks of “I'm not gonna hurt ya/I’m just gonna bash your brains in”, the kind that'd make Jack Nicholson proud, are still a huge highlight. While it is more or less your usual INK song, it's still a goodin'. It skirts across many different sections that it without a doubt makes for an interesting listen. Actually, that's something INK do very well here - near-constant listener engagement. To label this song or this record overall as 'boring' would say more about you than anything or anyone else.
With the exception of this record's upcoming closer, 'Freak Flag' borrows from a much more recent movie; the 2005 Rob Zombie flick, The Devil's Rejects. The sequel to the musician/director's 2003 film, House Of 1000 Corpses, the psychotic Firefly family from that first film now being the main anti-hero's here ("Rejected 'til we die"). However, the song itself doesn't really tell you that nor gives you a huge amount to work with. For like 'Savages', it's a very generalized conceptualization of the film's source material, aiming once again for an over-polished, palm-muted-loving, pop-metalcore sound. While it does have a better groove, structure, and more intimate vocal performances than 'Savages', the wording lets it down.
With sweeping, shallow lyrics like "They tried to sell us the convenience and conformity" and "Just let your freak flags fly tonight", it's basically a misfit anthem; an "us vs. them" call-to-arms. But my god is it cheesy, whilst not giving you much to work with in terms of the movie that it supposedly stems from. It feels malnourished when compared to the better developed and deeper songs on offer during the run-time of 'The Silver Scream'. Almost like a pre-movie screening trailer that you don't think twice about once the actual film has its credits rolling.
While not the album's greatest track, the riffy and dramatic 'The World In My Hands' - featuring Mest's Tony Lovato - does pull up out of the nosedive the record takes with 'Freak Flag'. This surprisingly emotive take on Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands is what I feel 'Savages' and ' Freak Flag' where aiming for in terms of themes of personal maladjustment. It neatly sums up the sheer isolation and personal tragedy that the titular Edward Scissorhands experiences; that what he wants and loves he cannot ever hold, both metaphorically and literally speaking. One lyric that's particularly moving is in the song's bridge prior to the smooth legato guitar solo: "Cause when it snows/It falls to you from me", a bitingly real representation of that 1990 movie's rather depressing ending.
No, this isn't about Krampus, but rather the bloody, not-so-happy holiday times of 80s slasher, Silent Night, Deadly Night. With some jingle bells, an old-timey "slashing through the snow" sample, and lyrical mentions of sleighs and a noose being "yule-tide tight", the gruesome theme of the drop A-tuned 'Merry Axe-Mas' is packaged neatly under a brutal Christmas tree. This song also highlights how well-planned Spencer's vocal and lyric phrasing often is across 'The Silver Scream'; centring the chorus or hook on a specific set of words to clue even the most clueless of listeners onto what films these songs are pulling from. Meaning that the accessibility for this record remains wide open for people who just don't like old slasher and classic horror films.
Now, look, there are a lot of serious, straight-faced interpretations of some very grim films across this release. 'Merry Axe-Mas', however, is not one of them. Because when Spencer screams in the bridge, "IT'S FUCKING GARBAGE DAY!", I lost my utter shit with laughter. If you don't know what for, please refer to this absolutely pitiful black comedy acting. Then, right after said part, the whole band enters into what is by far the heaviest section of any INK song to date; a slamming deathcore breakdown, complete with low guttural vocals, that all comes out of goddamned nowhere. (I honestly didn't know Spencer had this kind of extreme vocal take within him, but goddamn, does he pull it off).
This track creatively and heavily slaughters through your ears just like the killer Santa Claus in the first Silent Night, Deadly Night, Billy Chapman, does. Then, equally, the “Fa-la-la-la-la” screamed part in the song's outro nets a few laughs as well. In fact, it's all just fuckin' ridiculous, truth be told, yet I love every part of it. It's a goofy yet fun, over-the-top and heavy ride. This is absolutely the band taking the piss out of themselves and the original movie(s), but I sure ain't complaining.
'Love Bites' sharpens its teeth to the sound of 1981's An American Werewolf in London, creating some Beauty & The Beast parallels between the relationship of cursed protagonist David Kessler and love interest, Alex Price. Despite the London-lyrical setting and some decent word-play ("bit off more than you could chew"), it's a pretty 'meh' ballad, honestly. And the cheesy "yeah" cries don't help much either. However, this afflicted, never-meant-to-be love story works in favour of how the song is structured vocally and melodically. Mainly down due to a surprisingly, gripping guest vocal performance courtesy of Chelsea Talmadge (AKA Karol from Stranger Things), forming a really solid duet with Spencer as a result. Making what would've been an entirely forgettable song thankfully salvaged. Without Chelsea's inclusion, this track would've turned real ugly and hairy very quickly. Sink your teeth into it below:
Alas, here it is, the end. Not just the final scene of 'The Silver Scream', but also it's peak quality-wise, 'IT Is The End' sees Ice Nine Kills putting all of their eggs into one basket for a giant climax. Creating inarguably one of their best, most ambitious songs to date as a result. So much so that I don't even really know where to begin with this thing. But I guess I'll start by saying that if you've had doubts about 'The Silver Scream' and how effectively it references and reflects the tone and events of the films that fueled its very creation, 'IT Is The End' is the best convincing you'll ever get. And it's why I have huge admiration for most of this record's material: the band didn't hold back and they went all in with the concept.
As far as the movie lore goes, this album ender has Spencer and co. go all fuckin' out, lyrically speaking. The track mentions everything from the Deadlights, Georgie, "we all float down here", the outfit of the flesh-eating Pennywise The Dancing Clown (how it's more than just "a costume and red balloons"), said creatures 27-year cyclic reign of terror over the town of Denny, how it uses fear as a weapon, and so forth. While I'm sad there’s no “hey, egg boy” line from Andy Muschietti's fantastic 2017 remake, there's a great bit of word-play with the lyric, "just like Georgie, it's all out of hand", as in how the little boy has his arm torn right off at the start of the new remake.
Musically, this a creative and ever-changing, innards-hungry metalcore song; one that's a dynamic and crazed piece that matches the shape-shifting, twisted physique and mentality of Stephen King's infamous demonic entity. The vocal performance here is incredibly eccentric, with Spencer even delivering a sinister, solid impersonation of Pennywise in the intro and verses that'll make you double-take to see if Bill Skarsgård is actually on the song. Just in how the frontman flicks his vocals up into a slightly higher-register as he sings with a twisted grin about "devoured juveniles". It's also one of the busiest, most energetic songs of INK's catalogue too, with drummer Patrick Galante carrying it all along superbly. It's fast, it's dark, it's heavy, and above all else, it's fantastic!
The song even features Less Than Jake's brass section too. Yes, you read that right: Less Than Jake's trombone player, Buddy "Goldfinger" Schaub and their tenor saxophonist Peter "JR" Wasilewski lend their bright, piercing brass instruments to this grand piece. All along with some decent orchestral and choir elements swirling beneath and behind the song's super-charged chaos. This even includes the use of some cheeky little clown honks as well, leaning even harder into the playful moods that IT undertakes when acting as it's Pennywise persona. Horns in a metalcore song? You sure don't see that every day. Yet it all works stunningly. Even more fittingly is the track's outro, which is awash with mourning strings, lyrics declaring that IT literally is the end, and layers of vocals that float through the air... just like the many poor victims of IT themselves.