Sounds You Need In Your Ears
Episode 6: Ice Nine Kills
Spencer Charnas // vocals
Justin DeBlieck // guitar, vocals
Justin Morrow // guitar, bass
Conor Sullivan // drums
I am going to prefix this article with, despite the fact that I have a fairly eclectic taste in music, I am by and large a punk rock chick; Greg Graffin is my personal hero, my favourite non-pop vocalist is Tony Sly and one of my two tattoos is the Epitaph logo, so it might seem strange that I am writing a love letter to a metalcore band. But that’s the point. If I’m writing this, you should at least check them out.
Ice Nine Kills formed during 2006 when the members were in high school in Boston, Massachusetts. They were originally called Ice Nine, a reference to the drug in ‘Cat’s Cradle’ by Kurt Vonnegut. To start with their sound was very pop-punk and ska, as evident by the songs collected for the unofficial ‘The Pop-Punk-Ska Years’ compilation, before moving to the more screamo/ emo sounds that was super popular at the time, as seen by the independent release of their debut album Last Chance to Make Amends. Over time, and the subsequent releases of albums: Safe Is But A Shadow (2010), The Predator Becomes The Prey (2014) and Every Trick In The Book (2015), their sound has moved away from the generic metalcore influenced emo, to a more musically and lyrically complex sound.
So far, you’re probably thinking sounds pretty run of the mill, why should I care?
My brother, whose tastes are just as diverse as mine, but run slightly heavier, introduced me to Ice Nine Kills a couple of years ago, explaining that this band had an entire album in which the songs were all based on classic pieces of literature, many from the horror genre. My inner nerd, and not so inner English teacher, was intrigued. What the hell? Then I heard ‘Hell in The Hallways’ from 2015’s Every Trick In The Book. The song is based on Stephen King’s Carrie, and the video clip retells the story, but with an added twist. The song’s atmospheric opening with its slow chords builds, layering the music with haunting vocals before the drums kick in and vocalist Spencer Charnas starts growling, leading to the melodic chorus; “The girl that was lost/ The girl no one saved, with blood on her face/ Maybe now they’ll remember her name/The girl that they crossed/They’ll never contain and no one is safe/Maybe now they’ll remember her name”, and I was hooked.
The idea of a concept album is nothing new, but it is not that common in today’s music streaming age. The ones that do exist are either in a genre you don’t like (e.g. hip hop) or are based on a concept that does not particularly appeal to you. It’s hard to find a recent concept album that ticks all the boxes. It’s a delicate balance that can be hard to pull off, but Every Trick In The Book does so with aplomb. The songs are influenced by such classics as; George Orwell’s Animal Farm (‘Nature of The Beast’), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (‘Bloodbath and Beyond’), Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (‘Me, Myself and Hyde’), The Diary of Anne Frank (‘The People In The Attic’), William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist (‘Communication of the Cursed’), and the list goes on. The lyrics cleverly tell the story of each of these novels, many from the perspective of the protagonist; and the mix between the soaring vocals, deep screams, orchestra influenced sounds, heavy drumming and guitars make for an intriguing mix.
Fans seemed to appreciate the direction Ice Nine Kills were taking, as they held a fan voted poll on what book the band should write a song about next, and in 2017 we were given ‘Enjoy Your Slay’ inspired by Stephen King’s The Shining. To add to the meta-ness of the whole process, the track includes vocals by one Sam Kubrick, the grandson of Stanley Kubrick who infamously directed the disturbing 1980 film version starring Jack Nicholson.
If the music itself does nothing for you, then you have to check out their music videos, as the songs are based on well-known stories, the video clips are too. These video clips add some twists and follow the character of Kevin throughout ‘Communication of the Cursed’, ‘Hell In the Hallways’ and ‘The Nature of The Beast’. It’s visually stimulating and works well outlining not just the ideas present in the song, but the novels itself. It is so effective in summarising the complex plots in four to five minutes I have actually used ‘The Nature of the Beast’ to introduce a unit on Animal Farm.
It might be easy to create entertaining video clips if you already have visuals to base it on, but Ice Nine Kills, have always had a flair for visuals and ‘borrowing’ concepts from other people, as evident by the Tarantino inspired clip for ‘The People Under the Stairs’, (from the album Safe Is But A Shadow) the 50’s set ‘The Fastest Way to a Girl’s Heart Is Through Her Ribcage’ (from The Predator Becomes The Prey) and the laugh out loud funny cover of Maroon 5’s ‘Animals’ (from one of the Punk Goes Pop compilations)
To me music should either make you move, think, feel or just be plain fun, and Every Trick In the Book does all that. A concept album that sates my nerdy tendencies, and I can jump around too… Yes please!!!
Feature by Carys Hurcom