Sitting in a car to obscure the noise from a shoot for an upcoming music video while donning shades, a white shirt, and a pair of flame-emblazoned black shorts, Ice Nine Kills frontman Spencer Charnas is eager to talk about the start of his love of slashers, the catalyst that would eventually become the band’s experiment in marrying horror and rock. In a gentle voice, he wistfully recalls trips to the video store with his mother. He was always attracted to the covers in the horror movie aisle, leading him to beg his parents to see classic horror films like Halloween.
“I think they thought my obsession would eventually grow out, and here we are 25 years later,” Charnas tells SPIN over Zoom. “I guess I never grew out of it.”
Charnas seems calm and cool with a hint of playfulness as he patiently explains the origins of his band and shares that the shorts he’s wearing are from his clothing company, Kleaver Clothing. “Keep that a secret,” he sarcastically quips about the shorts.
Ice Nine Kills — Charnas, guitarists Ricky Armellino and Dan Sugarman, bassist Joe Occhiuti and drummer Patrick Galante — is known for their dedication to horror metalcore, making fans feel as if it’s Halloween year-round. The band celebrates pop culture’s darkest edges, giving fans sardonic wit and new horror tracks regardless of the season. But while that may seem like a gimmick or a niche that can only go so far, the horror devotee in Charnas has been planning for this all along.
As the only remaining member of the band who predates their 2018 release, The Silver Scream, the Swampscott, Massachusetts-born and Los Angeles-based Charnas originally formed the band in 2000 under the moniker of Ice Nine — a reference to a fictional material in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. After adding “Kills” to the name, the band released their debut album, Last Chance to Make Amends in 2006. But it wasn’t until a handful of years later when Charnas and his bandmates began focusing on the clever lyricism, horror aesthetic and theatrical elements (like iconic horror actors reprising roles in their music videos) that they really struck it big. Leading up to their latest release, The Silver Scream 2: Welcome to Horrorwood (out now via Fearless Records), Ice Nine Kills has landed four consecutive albums on the Billboard 200, three of which reached the top three spots on the Hard Rock Albums chart.
Their 2015 offering, Every Trick in the Book, saw them craft an entire album of songs based on literary works, but it wasn’t until The Sliver Scream when Charnas and the band truly embraced their horror movie inspirations. The Silver Scream’s tracks were directly inspired by Halloween classics like Friday the 13th (“Thank God It’s Friday”) and The Shining (“Enjoy Your Slay”) as well as more modern horror flicks like Saw (“The Jig Is Up”) and The Devil’s Rejects (“Freak Flag”).
Their new sixth album sees Ice Nine Kills stepping up the horror-themed brutality once again, as illustrated by the video for “Funeral Derangements.” The dark visual features horror icon Miko Hughes reprising his role from Pet Sematary, further attaching Charnas and the band to the horror metalcore style they’re known for. The Sliver Scream 2 also builds on the breadth of horror movies the band has been able to draw inspiration from while letting them pay homage to the history of the genre, with the album’s first three music videos channeling American Psycho and Child’s Play in addition to the aforementioned Pet Sematary.
Aside from their horror influences, the theatrical side of the band largely stems from Charnas’ love of musical theater — which all started with his parents bringing him to time-honored plays like Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera as a child.
“I think it’s really come to the forefront with the last few albums,” Charnas says of the impact of his passion for theater. “When we play live, we really try to make it a show, not just a concert. We put on a show, and I hope people enjoy it.”
But a horror metalcore band with the longevity of Ice Nine Kills needs more than an electrifying live show and some catchy tunes in the studio. Each of the band’s unforgettable music videos are taken as seriously as the songs they represent. For that matter, Charnas sometimes even has snapshots of the video that will embody a song as he’s writing it. Of course, it helps that the band’s driving force has surrounded himself with a full team of directors, writing partners, producers and cinematographers to bring such elaborate visions to life.
Viewers of the band’s music videos may also notice the frequent appearance of Charnas’ fiancée, Nadia Teichmann, a green-eyed beauty who usually portrays either the love interest or the victim. Why not hire an actor for such roles? Well, it’s a combination of things. Charnas wants to replicate the way that Rob Zombie uses his wife, Sheri Moon Zombie, in his films, but also the band’s fanbase loves Teichmann, and there’s the added convenience of not having to audition and hire another actress.
Beyond the uniquely elaborate videos, Charnas realizes that not every band is willing (nor able) to make a “sequel” to one of their most popular albums. But while some may view it — along with the nonstop horror movies and Halloween theme of the band — as a forced gimmick, the vocalist sees it as another point that separates Ice Nine Kills from the other metalcore acts out there. Hell, at this point it’s almost something they had to do.
“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 says. “True to horror franchise tradition, there’s always a sequel.”