Anyone could’ve reasonably predicted that this is where Ice Nine Kills would take themselves going forward. The Silver Scream was unquestionably their most successful work to date in basing each song around a specific horror film, and this seems like a measure to follow the dual-headed tradition of keeping a working formula going and the horror industry churning out a billion sequels whenever possible. That’s not something to be overly concerned about though, seeing as The Silver Scream’s appeal has lasted a surprising amount of time and might’ve even blossomed further, as a means of leaning into the inherent melodrama and theatricality this sort of polished metalcore can make work. It’s still not a completely great album, but conceptually, it’s easy to see why they’re returning to the well and how they can pull it off without feeling like they’re running dry already; horror is a fertile ground to draw from, and there’s clearly an appreciation of it within Ice Nine Kills to get down some solid ideas from it. Plus, it’s being released at the seasonally appropriate time which counts for enough in itself.
And with all of that in mind, it’s no huge shock that Welcome To Horrorwood does indeed feel like more of the same, from the theming, to the maximalist presentation, to the vamping glee that clearly comes from being able to realise an idea like this. It’s more fun to watch play out than anything else, especially when there’s no great depth or purpose to these songs beyond revelling in the highly stylised gore and drama that’s so easy to like for the most part. Somewhat surprisingly too, that comes from Ice Nine Kills putting a greater focus on the musical aspect of this idea and forming their ideas around that, rather than the other way around. It’s why the weaker moments are so easy to spot when they do crop up, like the grating voices that fuel the hyperactivity of Assault & Batteries or the new wave breakdown of Hip To Be Scared that’s clearly trying to lean into its own wackiness. It’s honestly a wonder moments like that aren’t more common, where the gimmickry overtakes the actual intent, but it’s to Ice Nine Kills’ credit that they’ve got such a strong command of where they’re going with this concept. Granted, there’s not much of substance beyond plot points or references to each track’s respective film sprinkled in when possible, which can also sometimes lurch into a gimmick when it’s done less well; Würst Vacation loads itself with German words and voices despite Hostel being set in Slovakia, an example of how Ice Nine Kills seem to want to replicate the memetic value of wedging in the Jaws to Rocking The Boat last time. On the other hand, a song like The Shower Scene actually holds its own rather well in finding a balance between the horror theming and actual substantive composition, and the likes of Take Your Pick and The Box work perfectly well as metalcore songs even when divorced from the album’s central concept.
There’s clearly been a lot of work put into making this album sound grand to match its cinematic intentions, which is probably the area that Ice Nine Kills fare most consistently the best in. They make the most of the greater concessions to polish and melody that their scene-leaning status lends them, though not at the expense at some genuine heaviness that makes this a lot more thrilling. Having Corpsegrinder onboard for Take Your Pick is one thing, but even their own, Ice Nine Kills come up with some cracking work on Funeral Derangements or Rainy Day in taking their darker cultivated atmosphere and using it to drive a brand of modern, polished metalcore that, pleasingly, doesn’t find itself watered down at all. It’s akin to Motionless In White’s approach but even more expansive in how they’ll throw in strings or, on Ex-Mørtis, a horn section and still having it work. That latter point means that it goes without saying that this isn’t interested in adhering to the po-faced norms of ‘true’ metalcore, but that’s entirely to their credit. Ice Nine Kills have a pop sensibility that’s undeniably potent, not only in Spencer Charnas being a versatile performer to extents that spans to borderline pop-punk on F.L.Y., but in the sheer volume of utterly immovable choruses that so many bands of this stripe just can’t stake claim to. It’s rare that’s not the case on Welcome To Horrorwood, even on its weaker cuts, and it facilitates the enormity that Ice Nine Kills look to build for themselves, while also doubling down on the levity of it all. There’s such an obvious tongue-in-cheek slant to this album, and to play into it so blatantly and forcefully just breathes so much life into it and makes it that much more enjoyable.
It should also probably be said that, as what’s effectively an extension of its predecessor, it’s not hard to see Welcome To Horrorwood as the same sort of album within the scene, where it’ll carve out its own little pocket of appreciation but won’t have the biggest impact outside of that. It’s also got the likely parallel of becoming more likable over time though, and that’s undoubtedly better than spawning hordes of copycats doing botched jobs and not even having the initial appeal down. Right now, Ice Nine Kills feel comfortable in their field of one, making their horror albums with a surprising amount of accessibility and hitting some real high watermarks by doing so. In what’s at the very least a lateral move but might even be a better overall package, Welcome To Horrorwood has a freshness and fun that most metalcore seems utterly allergic to, but that Ice Nine Kills excel in regardless.
For fans of: Motionless In White, Atreyu, The Word Alive
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘The Silver Scream 2: Welcome To Horrorwood’ by Ice Nine Kills is out now on Fearless Records.