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ICE NINE KILLS: The Silver Scream (2018)

In 2015, Ice Nine Kills released an experimental concept album, Every Trick In the Book (read my review here) where each song was based on a work of literature. Following both critical acclaim and a strong reaction by the band’s fan base, Ice Nine Kills recorded a follow up where each song was based on a horror film. Front man Spencer Charnas is a fan of both literature and cinema, and the horror genre suits the band’s style well. Where only half the songs on Every Trick in the Book were based in the horror genre, each one on The Silver Scream is, with some like Edward Scissorhands more tangential to the genre but remain well placed on the album. I recently had a chance to see the band at the Warped Tour in Jacksonville, Florida and experience their incredible energy and on-stage persona, including lead guitarist Justin DeBlieck performing in a Jason hockey mask, as their single “Thank God It’s Friday” inspired by Friday the 13th had been recently been released on Friday, July 13.

The album opens with “The American Nightmare” based on A Nightmare on Elm Street, which is a catchy song with a furious lead guitar riff and pounding chorus, which includes the album title “I’m slashing my way through the Golden Age of the silver scream”. “Thank God It’s Friday” follows with one of the catchiest choruses of the set. Both of these songs include soundbites meant to be from the films as intros as well as within the song, adding an element that literature works could not. Halloween inspires the third song, making the opening sequence based on these three classic franchises with “A Stabbing in the Dark” and plays on the idea from the original film that Michael Myers is pure evil. The slow song on the album is "A Grave Mistake" based on The Crow, and has melodic similarities to the Romeo and Juliet-inspired song "Star-Crossed Enemies" from the previous album, and is one of the highlights.

Like Every Trick In the Book, Charnas’ lyrics feature countless plays on words and capture the essence of the films without making the songs corny or obvious. The chorus for “The Jig Is Up”, based on SAW, uses both the double meaning of the word ‘saw’ as well as the basis of the Jigsaw killer capturing and testing people who are rotten inside: “I saw through the selfish but saw no soul/They saw through skin, they saw through bone/Out on a limb to save my city/All systems go”. Similarly well-crafted, the song inspired by Jaws, “Rocking the Boat” is able to summarize that the film isn’t about the shark, but about the town’s reaction to the shark and wanting to keep their summer profits intact: “They’d rather sell out instead of save/We’re all so starving that we’ve taken the bait/You’d think we would’ve learned from the past that/The predator becomes the prey” where the last line even referencing the impact Jaws had on people’s fear of sharks. The song also has a fun line in the second pre-chorus that references their first album, “Reel it in with every trick in the book/It’s time to set the hook”.

Another new aspect to this album is a variety of guests featured in different songs, including Less Than Jake, who they traveled with for the Warped Tour. The band had featured guest vocalists on previous albums, like Tyler Carter on “What I Never Learned in Study Hall”, but never this many, and it highlights the band versatility and comradery on tour. “Enjoy Your Slay, which was released in 2017 and is based on The Shining, features Sam Kubrick as a guest vocalist, who was part of the UK band, Shields, and who’s grandfather was Stanley Kubrick, the director of The Shining. “The Jig Is Up” features guitarist Randy Strohmeyer from Finch, “Rocking the Boat” features Jeremy Schwartz, who was the original lead guitarist for Ice Nine Kills, “World In My Hands” features Tony Lovato from Mest, and “Love Bites” is a duet with actress Chelsea Talmadge, who played Carol in Stranger Things. “IT Is the End” features multiple guests including vocalist Will Salazar from the band Fenix TX and two wind players from Less Than Jake, JR Wasilewski on tenor saxophone and Buddy Schaub on trombone.

Many of the songs have a similar sound to previous songs, but the production and attention to detail keep the album interesting and far above any sense of ‘more of the same’. The last track on the album, “IT Is the End” pushes into new territory with a racing pace, backing brass orchestration and brilliant lyrics, making for my favorite song on the album. The offbeat brass behind the chorus adds a march and carnival sound reminiscent of Avenged Sevenfold’s “A Little Piece of Heaven” in tone. After a bit of an act as Pennywise for the intro that acts as a similar dramatic opening as “The Nature of the Beast”, the song explodes into a rhythmic pattern of screamed verses and a catchy clean vocal chorus. Again, Charnas’ lyrics capture the essence of the films, here from the perspective of Pennywise: “Catch me at the big top/Buried underground/You know I’m not clowning around/Evil has a smile from ear to fucking ear/IT’s everything you know/IT’s everything you fear/A carnival of carnage/That much you assume/But IT’s more than just a costume and red balloons/IT’s coming back around every 27 years”. Adding to the carnival sound are the Less Than Jake’s frenetic horn accompaniment. The song closes with an outro that also ends the album.

Like the album before, the lyrical details show Charnas’ love for and grasp of the genre. For example, in “The World in My Hands” he sings “when it snows, it falls to you from me” representing the scene when Edward carves the ice sculpture and the shavings fall like snow on Kim. In “IT Is the End” he works in small details like that Bill tells Georgie that boats are always female, so the lyrics are “the storm blew her off track”. In addition, the line “we all float down here” is reoccurring and is a large part of the Pennywise mythos, here showing the depth of the lyrics.

Where works of literature inspire lyrics, films bring in other elements, and Ice Nine Kills are able to capture some of the essence of the films inspiring the album in musical references to elements from the film scores. Given the musical genres covered by this blog, this is particularly interesting. While the band could not use actual music from the films in the songs for copyright reasons (also note, he introduces IT as ‘the dancing clown’ rather than using the name Pennywise), they do reference both thematic musical motifs as well as general tones for many of the films. “The World In My Hands” has a Danny Elfman vibe in some parts while the orchestral outro to “Thank God It’s Friday” is reminiscent of the music accompanying the epilogue scene on the lake in Friday the 13th. The band uses a staccato monotone piano beat for Halloween in “Stabbing in the Dark” and a 3-note rising motif like Charlie Clouser’s theme for SAW in “The Jig Is Up”. Most iconic is John Williams’ 2-note theme for Jaws, which they hint at in the guitars.

The Silver Scream is a solid follow-up to Every Trick in the Book, pushing the musical boundaries of literature and cinema while providing a fascinating metalcore concept album. I particularly appreciate the musical nods to the films in addition to the lyrics and look forward to what the band comes up with next.

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