Ice Nine Kills Is Slashing Their Way to the Top

“SOLD OUT,” The Granada’s website posted about its upcoming show.

I can count on my fingers the amount of sold-out shows I’ve been to at The Granada, Lawrence, KS’s flagship venue for alternative and metal gigs: Taking Back Sunday, Parkway Drive, and Vince Staples are the few that come to mind.

But to my surprise, Ice Nine Kills became the newest band to add itself to the list.

To say I was shocked to see them become one of those hot, in-demand acts would be an understatement. Once upon a time, they were the scene band many thought would be nothing more than a decent opening act (see: 2012 All-Stars Tour with Suicide Silence and The Word Alive). But that was nearly a decade ago, and times have changed — and so has a band that’s proven to be bigger visionaries than most of us thought.

The Massachusetts natives are supporting the second act in their horror-themed repertoire, the recently released Welcome to Horrorwood — the sequel to 2018’s The Silver Scream. They’ve found their niche in a genre mired by monotony and copycats, becoming trendsetters themselves by fusing horror film inspirations with theatrical metalcore craftsmanship.

Ice Nine Kills are far from newcomers on the scene. They formed in 2000 while the members were still in high school, and it wasn’t until 2009 that they shifted from ska-punk to metalcore (Photo Credit: Rock Sound).

It seems that the time spent at home over the past year and a half has led many to discover the next “big thing” in heavy music, judging by the line that snaked several blocks around the venue. I’m giddy with excitement over the fact that this much fanaticism surrounds a band triumphing at the immediate return of live music.

We’ve just come out of a pandemic that halted live music in its tracks, and no genre felt more of that impact than metal (unless you’re Metallica or Megadeth, you’re not exactly swimming in riches). In the few months since it’s been back, many bands have seen a dramatic surge in popularity: Beartooth, Wage War, Fit for a King, and now Ice Nine Kills have suddenly become staples in a metalcore class once ailing, yet now proves to be in capable hands.

It’s an inspiring success story, considering it took the band nearly 20 years of grinding to get to this point. What once was a ska-punk band in the early 2000s (that’s hard to imagine now) has slowly transformed from a scene band akin to Make Me Famous and I See Stars, and now into something much more than that.

Ice Nine Kills has released six full-length records since 2006. The most recent three take the shape of concept records themed around classic literature and horror films.

2015’s Every Trick in the Book found the band going beyond the constraints of the “scene” trends of quirky song titles and autotuned vocals, taking a more conceptual route with bigger production and songs inspired by classic novels. But three years later, The Silver Scream arrived, and Ice Nine Kills was no longer just another scene band. They hit gold with an exploration of all things horror cinema, from Freddy Krueger to Jason Voorhees to Pennywise and everything in between.

It’s at this point that the band found its identity. Call it a “gimmick” all you want, but it works — and they do it so well that no one else has dared to step to them.

“We love horror, metal, musicals [and] the history of film — and it’s just a big melting pot that makes us our own thing,” Charnas said in an interview with Spin. “True to horror franchise tradition, there’s always a sequel.” That brings us to 2021 and Horrorwood, and the harrowing hits just keep coming, with songs based on Psycho, Resident Evil, The Fly, and more.

Finn McKenty has a lot to say about Ice Nine Kills’ fascinating career arc, which has been one of constant rise to the point they’re at now. They fit a lot of Finn’s ideas about success in alternative music: great packaging, showmanship, and star power.

Ice Nine Kills is certainly one of the genre’s most capable acts, and it’s obvious why.

The outfit has turned basic metalcore exercises into a full-fledged experience, and that’s what’s helped catapult them to immense adoration. From a fan club offering all sorts of extras to cinematic music videos (plus behind the scenes of the videos), they’ve taken a page right out of the playbook from Slipknot, My Chemical Romance, and Panic! At the Disco: substance is important, but you have to package it well.

Those three bands also describe their demographics, as they brought together a range of audiences at The Granada: the Octane hard rock and metalhead crowd (Slipknot), the goth and emo types who hang out at Hot Topic (My Chemical Romance), and the theater kids who never grew up (Panic! At the Disco). You’ll find Stranger Things nuts cosplaying as Steve Harrington alongside 40-year-olds with Punisher tattoos and beers in their hands. (At least, that’s what I saw on this night.)

With this array of fans packed into the sold-out venue, it’s no wonder I couldn’t even find the end of the merch line — an ungodly amount of them were eager to take home a tangible piece of Ice Nine Kills. As it turns out, if you build a fanbase, they will come.

“Funeral Derangements,” based on Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, is one of the more aggressive songs off Welcome to Horrorwood. Yet, its chant chorus stands as a climactic point on a supremely memorable LP.

By the time the curtain fell and the members took the stage, it was obvious that this show was exactly that: a show. The ringleader behind it all is frontman Spencer Charnas, who is not merely a vocalist but also an entertainer at his core. He clearly understands the mainstream infatuation with horror cinema, since he’s as knowledgeable about it as anyone (“I guess I never grew out of it,” he said about his horror phase).

The band expertly curated its set around both Silver Scream albums, and even the sole song off Every Trick in the Book (based off The Exorcist) had plenty of eeriness to mesh seamlessly with the horror theatrics. Charnas and his band have prepared a performative master plan, following in the footsteps of live legends like Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson.’s interview with Spencer Charnas was pre-coronavirus, but the strategies he speaks about still stay true as live music returns: visual elements are vital to an entertaining live production.

“The bands that I really loved growing up…didn’t just sit up on the stage and go through the motions and play the songs from the album. They really brought that visual element,” he said.

For his own band, Charnas says, “I hope they take away from the show that this wasn’t just a concert but an experience.” “Experience” is the best way to describe the next hour and a half, as it was chock full of elements that took their performance way beyond the songs — riddled with props, skits, and plenty of crowd interaction.

They made it clear with “SAVAGES” and “Stabbing in the Dark” that this night was going to be pure, unadulterated entertainment. The songs, themed around the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween respectively, featured a number of video clips and reenactments from the films — including a masked Charnas playing Michael Myers as he stalked Laurie around the stage. How’s that for visual?

Vocalist Spencer Charnas often acted alongside an actress in the reenactment of scenes from famous films, including these terrifying moments from Halloween, IT, and American Psycho (Photo Credit: Clinton Hatfield at AMPD Agency).

Charnas gets to the core of why we love horror movies: They give us a rush unlike anything we can experience in our own lives. Like riding a roller coaster, they’re a thrill that gets the blood pumping — after all, what’s more thrilling than watching someone try to outrun a bloodthirsty killer? Metal, with its headbanging and mosh pits and walls of death, is the musical equivalent — a rush that breaks up our everyday drudgery.

Then, the frontman comes back on stage dressed in the clear raincoat from American Psycho, and it’s time for him to channel his inner Patrick Bateman. Yet another expert move, the song “Hip to be Scared” targets the cult following of the film with its violent satirical spin and quotable lines. “Hey Paul!” he screams as he pretends to kill Paul Allen with an axe on stage — in the music video, Allen was played by Papa Roach’s very own Jacoby Shaddix.

The music video for “Hip to Be Scared” depicts the sociopathic antics of Patrick Bateman — including a very meta Paul Allen murder scene, in which Spencer Charnas replaces Huey Lewis and the News with his own band.

It’s no wonder “Hip to Be Scared” was the first single off Welcome to Horrorwood: It taps into the film’s cult following, a collection of 20- and 30-somethings obsessed with “edgy” films — think Fight Club and Pulp Fiction but with more murder.

But more than anything, the key is that they reach the right people — I can’t tell you how many conversations at the show I overheard that began with, “So I first heard these guys on Octane radio…” Ice Nine Kills knows their audience so well it’s almost scary — not that it compares to the eerie frights of their horror influences.

The band’s wardrobe style for the tour is themed around American Psycho, with the members wearing matching suits and ties. Yet, the members frequently ran on and off stage to change costumes, which included a variety of masks and weapons inspired by the movies.

This is where the Slipknot mentality comes in: Masks can get your audience to pay attention, but the songs are what get them to come back. I’m sure wearing the animal masks from Pet Sematary (“Funeral Derangements”) or Chucky masks from Child’s Play (“Assault & Batteries”) must’ve made playing a tad uncomfortable, but it’s yet another part of their craft — one of heavy metal musical theater.

Ice Nine Kills often took time between songs for wardrobe changes, including the changeout of a number of props from notable horror movies — from creepy masks to weapons like chainsaws and knives (Photo Credit: Axeliron Photography).

The songs themselves are at the core of their craft, too. Choruses are delectable sing-alongs, and breakdowns are cleverly set to some of the most memorable film moments: “The Shower Scenes” features backing strings from the actual scene in Psycho, while a haunting children’s chorus sings “1, 2, Freddy’s coming for you” in “The American Nightmare.” There’s some branching out, too — “Rainy Day” is heavily electronic-driven, and it’s a delight to hear a bit of the band’s old ska style in “A Rash Decision.”

Throughout both Silver Scream records, Charnas accomplishes his mission: Get fans to nerd out over the songs just as they nerd out over the movies. Performative aspects in check, the live product is even more compelling.

Whether it’s holding out a chainsaw over the crowd, licking a prop knife, or letting a red balloon float to the ceiling, the frontman knows how to seep into the imaginations of his audience. The set concluded with three of the most iconic horror films in the crosshairs: Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and IT. Pennywise approaching Georgie with a red balloon leaves a lasting imprint — what other than a creepy clown mask can do that?

With Ice Nine Kills, one thing is certain: They don’t get where they are without the horror themes, nor do they get there without the killer songs (pun intended). Charnas could just be this generation’s Gerard Way, Davey Havok, or Corey Taylor — all visionaries who go beyond simply great musicianship to become transcendent stars of their own.

But let’s leave those thoughts for another time, as — even 20 years into their career — Ice Nine Kills is just getting started. So next time you see that they’re coming to your venue, you better buy those tickets quickly, because who knows how soon they’ll sell out?

Listen to Ice Nine Kills’ spine-chilling setlist from the 2021 Hip to Be Scared Tour:

Featured Image Credit: Ice Nine Kills (Tina K./Fearless Records), Spencer Charnas as Freddy Krueger (Georgia Moloney/Rock Sound)

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