Review: Ice Nine Kills – O2 Academy, Glasgow

Only six months are gone in 2023, and Ice Nine Kills have already had their most successful year to date. Appearing as guests on selected dates of Metallica’s M72 World Tour, the horror metal outfit from New England have watched their stock skyrocket and with them also out on the road in 2024 with the biggest metal band in the world, it can only get better. An appearance on the main stage at Download Festival comes towards the end of a run of UK headlining dates (including a two-night stand in London), and each of the six shows are sold out. Jam-packed. Not a ticket to be had. Sold-out. What a year it has been for the best-dressed band in metal, and they still have eight more stadiums to play in 2023 with ‘Tallica. As far as years go, 2023 has been pretty damn decent to Spencer Charnas and the rest of the INK guys.

Tonight, the venue is jumping. Hours before the doors open it seems like every ticket holder has got there early to get as close to the front as possible. The queue stretches around the block as far as the eye can see, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if both ends meet. It’s 20 degrees-plus outside, and with most of the crowd in regulation black there is a danger of overheating, so full marks to the venue staff who are walking the length of the queue handing out cups of water. In a culture of venue staff being criticised on social media for the slightest thing (usually something out of their hands), the O2 staff tonight deserve a mention for going above and beyond the call of duty. And this continues once the mammoth queue is safely inside and crowd surfing like their life depends on it.

At the face value of £18.50 a ticket for a four-band line-up, this tour is incredible value for money. Not even five quid a band if you excuse the booking fee shenanigans. Sadly though, four bands mean opening act Defying Decay take to the stage ten minutes after doors open, and with perhaps 75% of the crowd still outside.

Thailand’s Defying Decay are a revelation. Playing a brand of music that darts between alt-metal and metalcore – clean and screamo vocals – the seven-piece outfit put on a show where the energy levels are at times dizzying. Led by vocalist Jay Euarchukiati, the band hit the stage like a tornado and launch into the current single ‘System of Sinners’. A constant blur of movement, the outer players refuse to stand still and spend most of the set bouncing like Tigger on speed. Even though Jennie Natanich Bunsila is stuck alongside her pair of keyboards and synths, she wants in on the action and plays in the middle with a keyboard on either side of her rather than being stuck in the same spot. With only thirty minutes or so to make an impression they are on the front foot from the off, and as the room gradually fills up, the applause and reaction from the crowd begins to grow. ‘The Law 112: Secrecy and Renegades’ is a banger in anyone’s setlist and hits the sweet spot over and over. Casually throwing in a full-throttle cover of MCR’s ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’, Defying Decay pack a hell of a lot into such a short set. The overriding memory though is of how happy they all looked to be onstage together and playing music. With metal sometimes being too serious and humourless, it’s great to see a band smiling so much and clearly having a blast.

The second band-up, Lansdowne are also having a blast, especially on ‘Savage’ when bassist Mike LaRoche is winding up drummer Glenn Mungo by constantly spinning his cymbals at every opportunity (the entire “did you touch my drums” part of the Step Brothers movie springs to mind). After a few years off to concentrate on family matters, the Boston-based road warriors recently returned with banging new album ‘Medicine’ on the respected German label AFM Records, and are eager to make up for lost time. Part Nu Metal, part modern-day Papa Roach, and to an extent Shinedown and Five Finger Death Punch (the track ‘Medicine’ itself has equal parts of all of the above), Lansdowne produce earworms with ease. The core Lansdowne sound has developed and expanded over the years into more of a modern American metal sound; the 2010’s decade pair of ‘Watch Me Burn’ and ‘One Shot’ are Nickelback/Theory of A Deadman-like anthems very much of that time, whereas ‘Halo’ and ‘Falling Down’ pack a fresher, varied sound.  Vocalist Jon Ricci has a commanding stage presence – and not just of his physical stature – and there are times when, visually, Lansdowne spark comparisons of Sevendust. The star of the show has to be Glenn Mungo, who (thanks to the generous lighting afforded to the first two acts) is highly visible as he batters his kit into submission and brings it back to life only to deliver the kill shot. Whatever he is getting paid, it’s not enough.

Once Lansdowne’s gear is stripped from the stage, the evening takes on a darker, more sinister theme with the arrival of main tour support SKYND. The brighter-than-bright front lights used for both opening acts are left redundant with instead the stage being awash in dark blues, reds, and greens. Consisting of vocalist SKYND, producer/multi-instrumentalist FATHER, and a touring drummer, SKYND hail from The Dark Place – both literally and lyrically. The true-crime-inspired songs are classed as “chapters” and each are introduced with a short news broadcast voiceover detailing the true crime that inspired the chapter. It is quite hard to make out the voiceover though as the crowd are making themselves heard and SKYND are on the end of a reception normally reserved for the headliners. The SKYND fanbase – known as the SKYNDICATE – are indeed in the house, and making their presence felt.

A SKYND show is more of a performance than what you might consider an actual gig in the traditional sense. If SKYND herself was to break character and ask the audience how they were doing, or ask them to “…make some fucking noise!” then it would ruin the moment. With a subject matter so dark, SKYND prefers to let the music do the talking and it’s not until after the fifth song (‘Jim Jones’) that she speaks, and only to softly utter “Thank you”. With a mightily impressive vocal range that at times is both powerful and fragile, SKYND is mesmerising to encounter. Bjork or Lady Gaga dipping their toes into more of an industrial metal sound is a good place to start, but in all honesty, the industrial edge is only a small fraction of the sound filling the huge, sweltering room. The lullaby-like ending of opening chapter ‘Richard Ramirez’ (each chapter is named after the perpetrator of the crime) has SKYND moving in a puppet/marionette way and with her long ponytail flailing in the darkness it makes for a striking image. ‘Michelle Carter’ is a standout moment, especially the “I love you…now DIE” segments which has the emphasis on the word “DIE”, FATHER is dropping buzzsaw riffs by the bucketload and the little bow from SKYND to the crowd as the lights fade out at the end of the chapter is really effective. The only chapter to not be named after the criminal is ‘Columbine’, where SKYND doesn’t give the killers any publicity, instead lending a voice to those killed in the horrific shooting. Another standout moment in the setlist, with the cheerleader/high school marching band “ra-ta-ta-ta-ta” spoken sections hitting hard as they are delivered like bullets being fired from a gun. An incredible performance and one where the memory of SKYND herself kneeling at the lip of the stage crying “I can’t stop” during the last stages of ‘Edmund Kemper’ will linger on for quite some time.

Whereas SKYND write about true crime and real-life monsters, headliners Ice Nine Kills go with fictional monsters created by the silver screen. Although, it could be argued that Patrick Bateman, the villainous protagonist of American Psycho-inspired ‘Hip to Be Squared’, is more real-life than anyone would care to admit. Spencer Charnas does a stellar job bringing Bateman to life – as he does with each character he portrays throughout the 70-minute set – and he has a maniacal glint in his eye as he swings his axe with demented glee.

The noise that greets each song, and each character is deafening. Genuinely, tonight’s crowd are the loudest that this reviewer has witnessed in a venue which can often be quite stale and impersonal. Not tonight though. The crowd are really up for it (the sight of a stagehand bringing Charnas’s props onto the stage way before the lights drop gets a huge round of applause) and the amount of crowd surfers is staggering. The barrage of surfers going over is non-stop and again, full marks to the O2 security staff for looking after them all; each surfer is treated with respect and is offered some water as they exit the pit as well as a thumbs up from the last security guard before they head back into the darkness. Even when the same punter comes over for what seems like the 100th time, they are still treated with respect, and if you were ever in a venue in the old days with a “three strikes and out” rule, then it makes for a great sight with so many beaming faces.

Much like SKYND, Charnas stays in character most of the set and doesn’t go in for chit-chat, instead, speaking through his lyrics and performance. Horror fans raise their voices as characters come and go (including Leatherface, and both Pennywise and Georgie from IT – you’ll float too, Georgie – on a stunning version of ‘IT Is The End’ that highlights the incredible vocal range of Charnas) and there are a handful of the crowd dressed in horror-related garb – kudos to the couple near the front dressed in prom night attire; one in full ballgown and tiara, covered in blood ala Carrie, and one suited and booted like Charnas, again, covered in blood. A suit, shirt, and tie? In this heat? Give that man some water, and maybe a setlist, and a drumstick or two. Not the most bizarre sight though, that is reserved for the guy who emerges from a circle pit holding a stray shoe and makes his way through the masses to hand said shoe to a security guard like he is delivering the Holy Grail.

Highlights are numerous: Charnas acting as ringmaster on ‘Wurst Vacation’; his splatter-proof reenactment of that scene from American Psycho; the crowd bouncing on ‘Ex Mortis’; the stage bathed in green for the Exorcist-themed ‘Communion of The Cursed’; Patrick Galante putting in one almighty shift on an incredible version of ‘The American Nightmare’…and not one but two Leathernecks on a furious version of ‘SAVAGES’. The only minor grumble would be that when so much thought and effort has been put into bringing these characters to life, then it is a shame that the show is lit so darkly. The front lights that were put to great use during the first two bands are non-existent for Ice Nine Kills and the smoke (while highly atmospheric) is at times so thick that it means what is playing out onstage is sometimes hard to see. A minor grumble. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears go into this show, and ultimately it is a show meant for glorious 4K Ultra Hi-Definition…and a few front lights would make all the difference. Still, a show that has the potential to run for years. Great fun.

All remaining Ice Nine Kills dates can be found here.

Review – Dave

All images – Dave Jamieson


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