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Artist Spotlight: Ice Nine Kills take their love of horror films seriously in their music, live performances

The horror community and heavy metal fans have had a massive overlap with one another over the past several decades. Metal bands and artists like Alice Cooper, the Ramones and Cannibal Corpse have incorporated horror into their music, live performances and music videos. Let's take a deep dive into an artist who takes their love of horror to another level.

Ice Nine Kills, or INK, originally Ice Nine, was formed in 2000 in Boston when two high school friends, Spencer Charnas and Jeremy Schwartz, went to a Goldfinger concert and found their love for music. They decided to form Ice Nine that exact night, which started as a pop-punk/ska band. They were musically influenced by Goldfinger, New Jersey pop-punk band Midtown and Metallica.

In 2002, the band recorded a demo EP called “The Pop-Punk-Ska Years,” which would not see the light of day until 2009. Before then, the band changed its name to Ice Nine Kills and released its debut indie record “Last Chance to Make Amends” in 2006. At this point in time, the members include Charnas and Schwartz for vocals and guitars, Grant Newsted on drums and Hobie Boeschenstein for bass guitar and backing vocals.

The following year, INK released “The Burning,” an EP released through Red Blue Records, an independent record label based in Boston. The band switches to their well-known metal sound on that EP after just skimming the surface of it on “Last Chance to Make Amends.” However, they still had a long way to go to fully solidify their sound. The EP is very rough around the edges as far as production goes, but they continue to improve with their next album, “Safe Is Just A Shadow,” released in 2010.

On “Safe Is Just A Shadow,” they re-recorded the sonically charged track “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” which was originally released on “The Burning.” The listener can tell the distinct difference between the improved production style and the overall flow of the track when listening to these tracks back to back. It was further improved upon with a re-recording of the album that was released seven years later.

Since 2009, the line-up of the band has changed significantly. Schwartz had left the band after struggling with life on the road, leaving Charnas the only original member of the band. Justin "JD" DeBlieck replaced Schwartz on lead guitar and co-lead vocals. Conor Sullivan replaced Newsted on drums and Shane Bisnett took over on bass after Dave Marvuglio’s short-lived time in the band from 2008 to 2009. Justin Morrow then took over rhythm guitar from Charnas, who leads with the vocals and keyboards.

The band would continue touring “Safe Is Just A Shadow” for the next three years until releasing another EP, “The Predator,” in 2013. Their follow-up full-length record, “The Predator Becomes The Prey,” would be released a year later through Outerloop Records. That album was the band’s first entry in the Billboard Top 200 where they charted at number 153. It also marked the end of an era before they went into the theatrical elements of their music.

In 2015, the band signed to Fearless Records and released their fourth studio record, “Every Trick In The Book.” That album is a concept record as each song is based on a piece of literature. Some are famous pieces that you’ve probably read in high school like “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare and “Star-Crossed Enemie while others are less well-known like “Go Ask Alice” by Beatrice Sparks, “Alice” is based on. The band also tips their toes in horror media like “Dracula” by Bram Stoker on “Bloodbath & Beyond” and “Carrie” by Stephen King for their song “Hell in the Hallways.” 

They further those concepts by having music videos for each single corresponding with their respective pieces of literature. “Every Trick In The Book” reached number 122 on the US Billboard 200, and the band found a solid fan base with their solidified metal-core sound. They continued to tour for the next three years with member changes (Patrick Galante replacing Conor Sullivan on drums) and single releases before releasing their next record.

In 2018, Ice Nine Kills fully embraced their love for horror in their second concept record, “The Silver Scream.” Similar to their last album, each song on that record was inspired by different horror films. The songs take inspiration from iconic franchises like “Friday the 13th” (“Thank God It’s Friday”) and “Saw” (“The Jig Is Up (feat. Randy Strohmeyer of Finch”). However, there are a few tracks that give flowers to lesser-known, niche scary movies like “Silent Night, Deadly Night” (“Merry Axe-Mas”) and “The Devil’s Rejects” (“Freak Flag”). That record charted at number 29 on the Billboard 200. It is arguably their most well-known record as horror fans flocked to the band’s live shows and boosted record sales.

The band’s fictional “lore” started with that album as the music videos for the record’s singles show Charnas visiting his psychologist after experiencing strange dreams that correspond with each song and their film inspiration. The album lore goes more into depth with its book novels: “Ice Nine Kills: Inked in Blood,” its sequel and “The Silver Scream - A True Crime Novel.” It’s an in-depth tale that reads much like a typical horror film, yet the love that was put into this story makes it feel more than just a “typical scary movie.”

Ice Nine Kills continued its horror-filled lore with the release of “Welcome To Horrorwood: The Silver Scream 2” in 2021. That concept record followed a similar format where most of the songs were based on horror films. From well-known scary movies like “Child’s Play” (“Assault & Batteries”) and “Psycho” (“The Shower Scene”) to niche spooky films like “My Bloody Valentine” (“Take Your Pick [Feat. Corpsegrinder]) and “Hostel” (“Wurst Vacation”). That album is the band’s biggest commercial hit as it reached number 18 on the US Billboard 200.

For that record and present, most of the band members have been replaced with the exceptions of Charnas and Galante. Ricky Armellino became the band’s new rhythm guitarist when Justin Morrow briefly switched over to bass in 2018. After Morrow left in 2019 to join Motionless In White as their bassist, Joe Occhiuti took over for bass and backing vocals. Finally, Dan Sugarman took over for DeBlieck as lead guitarist in 2019. Most members tour with the band with the exception of Sugarman who took a step back from touring in 2021.

The music videos for that record were bigger and gorier than ever with graphic descriptions of violence and murder. The lore from the previous record continued and revealed that Charnas is under investigation by the LAPD for the murder of his fiancé, and the music videos for this record are used as “evidence” for his crime. It’s an enthralling chain of events that all lead up to the conclusion in the music video for “Meat & Greet,” a song inspired by “The Silence of the Lambs” and was released on the deluxe version of “Welcome To Horrorwood.”

The deluxe version of “Welcome To Horrorwood” will be released this Friday, Oct. 20 which will officially end that era of The Silver Scream. The future of Ice Nine Kills’ music is unclear at this point; however, Charnas has teased a third entry into their “Silver Scream” universe. It’s unclear when it will come to fruition, but what is clear is that their love for horror will never stop, especially when it comes to their live performances.

I have had the pleasure of seeing INK live twice, and their performances are just as gimmicky as their music videos with their extensive use of costumes, props and masks. It’s quite the show as each member brings a level of energy that is tangible to the audience.

The concertgoers chip into the fun as they also dress up as horror movie characters and sing along to their favorite tracks from each album. In the next month, INK will take the stage with In This Moment on the Kiss of Death Tour ‘23. I highly encourage you to see them at least once in your life.

Overall, Ice Nine Kills has had a long and interesting career that spans over 23 years. It’s intriguing and almost prideful to see how long they’ve come, especially since the band didn’t garner mainstream success until almost 18 years after they originally formed.

The band member line-up has changed significantly over the years with Spencer Charnas as the last original member. It’s admirable to see how far he’s come and see the passion and love he puts into the music, videos, live performances and other miscellaneous INK side-quests like merch and horror conventions. Nevertheless, it’ll be exciting to see what Charnas has up his sleeve and where he’ll take Ice Nine Kills in its next chapter.


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