Ice Nine Kills
Every Trick In The Book
There’s a reason that Metallica: The Musical hasn’t been a thing. Translating heavy music into a stage production is just setting yourself up for failure. Sure, metal and hard rock can be theatrical in nature. Those genres are great outlets for overarching themes, in-depth concepts, and winding stories, as long as they stay in the metal and rock realms. When it comes to Ice Nine Kills’ latest record, Every Trick In The Book, the listener will easily understand why writing a metalcore album that reflects the sounds of an off-Broadway indie performance piece is just bizarre and over the top.
Every Trick In The Book is a cool concept in theory. Vocalist Spencer Charnas is a huge lit nerd who wanted to translate his love of books and the theater into his love of music. I mean, even the name of the band is a Kurt Vonnegut reference. However, by basing all ten tracks of the album off of a famous work in literature, Charnas has instead created miniature summaries of already widely-known stories and plopped some djent behind them.
Ice Nine Kills’ previous release The Predator Becomes The Prey was an album that displayed key lyrical content, sophisticated genre-mashing, and fun instrumentals. It flowed as one work even though it lacked a direct concept. When you listen to the tracks that make up Every Trick In The Book, you are immediately drawn away from the album itself simply due to a basic familiarity with the themes of each track. For example, opening with “The Nature of the Beast” which is based off of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, lyrics like “We’re fucking animals” lose any sense of metaphorical content because if you’ve read Animal Farm you know that, yes, Napoleon the Pig is in fact an animal. This again reflects poorly on more well-constructed lines like “We are the beaten and the scorned/and now you’ve forced the beast to bear its teeth,” because, again, yes, farm animals are dominated by humanity and lash out in this incredibly successful novel that just about everyone passed their sophomore year of high school has read.
Themes like this continue throughout the entirety of this album as readers are constantly drawn away from the album itself to focus more on how each track regurgitates a work written by someone else. “You know what, baby? Your neck is next” (“Bloodbath & Beyond” inspired by Dracula), “The girl that was lost/the girl no one saved/with blood on her face” (“Hell in The Hallways” inspired by Carrie) and even “So where’s your savior tonight?” (“Communion of the Cursed” inspired by The Exorcist) all feel like interesting lines until you realize they are rehashing key moments from another person’s story. The whole nature of originality is lost in this album due to story content and a general familiarity with the influencing texts.
Lyrically and thematically aside, this record is proof that sometimes an idea really can bite off more than one can chew. There’s a strange disconnect between metalcore and theatrical vaudeville in this album. You can audibly hear how every track was laid out for a Broadway production score through the ballad-like nature of “Tess-Timony” to the pop-oriented chorus in “The Plot Sickens” all the way to the spotlight moments in “The People in the Attic” sampling part of Anne Frank’s diary for dramatic as well as historical effect. Hell, even tracks like “Star-Crossed Enemies” feel like filler to transition from one act of the record to the next. It’s all very clunky and formulaic, therefore losing the listener and coming off as forcing two musical genres to meld when they just don’t quite fit together.
I’m a big fan of Ice Nine Kills and I do love that they tried something different, but they seemed to have hidden themselves in their attempt to take on such a grand scale project with so many well known characteristics attached to it. Vocally and technically, the band is on par with where they should be. Charnas’ range in “Tess-Timony” reaches new heights for him and the displacing duality of the instrumentals in “Me, Myself & Hyde” is so fun and necessary to the topic of the track itself that it actually tells the story of Jekyll and Hyde simply through the guitar and drum work.
Ice Nine Kills has some really killer ideas and a cool outlook on where they can take their genre of music. And while this album may have missed the mark, a refined ear and a little more toning down of such grand ideas and concepts could really help develop a new style and sound for both the band and their genre as they grow into their next release. Hopefully, next time, Ice Nine Kills won’t try to pull out every trick in the book to make a record. (Natasha Van Duser)