REVIEW: Ice Nine Kills – ‘The Silver Scream’ CaliberTV Rating: 9 / 10
Ice Nine Kills bring a sense of fun and inspired frenzy to metalcore on horror movie-inspired romp, ‘The Silver Scream’. This is a band that loves the b-movie style of over-the-top humor and gore found in the 70’s and 80’s, so it makes total sense that they would encompass such a topic on their fifth full-length.
Taken in the context of their work on past records, ‘The Silver Scream’ may not seem all that ambitious for Ice Nine Kills, but make no mistake, it IS ambitious in the realm of music overall. In fact, it’s shocking that making songs out of horror movies in metal especially is something that hasn’t been tackled in album length previously. Given that as a metal band, a more brutal, sharper sound is presented, using it to convey slasher movie scenes seems like a no-brainer. Ice Nine Kills take it a step further though.
There’s a theatricality to the biggest songs on the ‘The Silver Scream’. orchestras, choirs, various sound effects, dramatic voice-overs, and anthemic gang chants make for quite a set for the band to occupy. The bombast and whimsy typically found in musicals and showtunes is successfully interwoven with crushing, chaotic breakdowns with wild vocal patterns and full-speed-ahead classic metalcore riffing to form the bulk of the signature INK sound. Songs like opener “The American Nightmare”, “Thank God It’s Friday” and “Stabbing In The Dark” incorporate this contrast in consistent ways, “TGIF” even utilizing a deceiving clean acoustic intro before layered death growls roar in. This blend of sinister and tongue-in-cheek softness really comes to a head in “Merry Axe-Mas” when a twisted original version of Jingle Bells is sung by the band to create a fourth-wall break between the build-up and the explosive, definitely not festive, breakdown. Moments like this, the playful song titles that allude to which movie they portray and the band’s now-signature punny wordplay, ensure that nothing is ever taken too seriously, making for songs that are immediately a blast to and worth multiple spins.
As has become standard tradition on an INK release, attempts are made to broaden the band’s sound. In this case, it’s diving into hard rock, an especially popularized genre by the band’s peers at the moment. As a result, it’s songs like “Savages” and “Freak Flag” that feel unconventional for the Ice Nine Kills identity and in turn, lack that identity altogether. The “We” pronoun utilized in these tracks (“We are the savages”, “Rejected ’til we die”) is a dead giveaway too that these are supposed to be anthems. However, it’s the creative blend of ideas that has made fans gravitate to the singles from this album. Even “A Grave Mistake” being more of a straight-ahead track still incorporates a notable gothic influence in its sound that sets it apart from being just another rock song. There’s little to deviate the aforementioned two tracks from anything on rock radio aside from Spencer Charnas’ voice, which is trying to sound just like the hard rock singers who are already on the radio anyway. In turn, these moments of experimentation are instead transparent, bland attempts at nabbing more listeners. Their inclusion on a record promoting such creativity feels tacked-on and disingenuous. The only reasons these tracks could be a beam of optimism are the facts that they have an ability to flesh out INK’s live sets and that they could potentially draw in new fans who will discover how artful Ice Nine Kills can be with their *actual* sound.
Thankfully, there’s more than enough genuinely fantastic moments on the record that completely forgo a slight lack of effort in the rockier tracks. “Rocking The Boat” is a hell of an example, especially if you know its source material. Once the song’s breakdown hits, it’s a dead giveaway when the orchestra starts pumping out a consistent “Dun dun dun dun” as a particularly iconic shark approaches and every audio device that is being used to listen to it will likely be immediately rewound to hear this section again and again. I was hoping the band would be as true to the movie they’re using as inspiration for this particular song as possible and they didn’t disappoint one bit. What takes the cake far and away, however, is the album closer, “It Is The End”. Frank in its titling, but anything but in its ska-dashed execution (Less Than Jake guest on the entirety of the track), it’s the album’s best example of that brilliant genre contrast and how sound effects, in this case clown horns, can be used to tell which movie the song is about. It also features the album’s biggest earworm, a pre-chorus piece sung by Fenix TX, that won’t leave your head for days. What seals the deal is just how effectively the lyricism is one big pun following a main theme that won’t be spoiled here. Elsewhere on the record, some of the wordplay was occasionally a bit cheap, but on this song, it’s a highlight.
Going “behind the scenes” of ‘The Silver Scream’, the personnel themselves have never collectively sounded better. It’s not easy to play on top of nor behind so many things going on similtaneously and still find a way way to tell a narrative in under 5 minutes. Ice Nine Kills are metalcore’s masters at this — They know when to emphasize an especially brutal part, when to let choruses soar and when to dial back and create an unsettling sense of security. It’s thrilling too that the record’s mix absolutely crushes as opposed to the rather artificial guitar tone heard on ‘Every Trick In The Book’. JD’s guitars on this record pound and rip with the same reckless abandon as the killers the songs they’re playing in detail. It’s a shame that this is Conner’s last album with the band though because he displays a technical prowess and control behind the drum kit that he has been building to since ‘The Predator’ EP sessions. His contributions will be missed.
An interesting observation made while listening to this record several times is that the songs about the well-known horror movies are huge stand-outs. Meanwhile, the songs about the more obscure and quirky movies are, well, true to form. They don’t stand out. And that’s a shame. While Halloween and Saw certainly deserve AAA quality musical adaptations, why does The Crow and An American Werewolf In London not? This album is a chance to expose these movies to a younger, pop culture-hungry generation and only making the bigger films stand-outs on an album all about b-reel quality flicks and slasher culture almost seems contradictory. Although, maybe we should just be happy that there’s now a song about Silent Night, Deadly Night in existence and take that as it is. One just can’t help but wonder what this record would be if the same love and attention to detail went into every single track and not just half of them.
Even in light of its shortcomings, buying a ticket to ‘The Silver Scream’ is a great idea. I wouldn’t want any other band but Ice Nine Kills to write these songs because they’re very clearly passionate fans of horror flicks and it shows in their dedication to bringing these movies to life through their creative brand of metalcore. How fitting then that this record drops just a week before the next generation of the Halloween movies begins. Even more fitting that both are dropping in October. Happy Halloween indeed.