For all intensive purposes, Ice Nine Kills were a bit late to the melodic metalcore party. The likes of Killswitch Engage, All That Remains and As I Lay Dying had helped flesh out this branch of the new wave of American metal, and Warped Tour had already begun running the more accessible attributes of the style deeper into the ground by the time 2014’s “The Predator Becomes the Prey” dropped. Indeed, thinking about this album in 2016 without thinking about how many times Jared Dines has parodied this style.
The metal community was experiencing major shifts towards post-metal through Deafheaven, and the “djent” movement had already exploded. The real question pertaining to INK’s album is whether it had any lasting impact. While one could certainly say they bring nothing overtly original, the band legitimizes their sound through tasteful sensibilities and intense sincerity, demanding the listener’s respect long after the heyday of their niche.
“TPBTP” saw a noticeably dark turn for Ice Nine Kills. Traces of pop-punk and emo paled in favor of more violent textures. “The Power in Belief” comes out swinging with riffs alluding to Swedish roots, along with vocals layering guttural and mid-range screams. A melodic chorus breaks through the racket before the track breaks 30 seconds. This has been customary in the metalcore for over a decade, but INK’s execution of the style still stands as a great reminder of the genre’s worth after its initial explosion of popularity.
In an era where 7-string guitars are for posers, the old-school melodic metalcore sound can seem horribly dated when compared to current trends in metal. Any brutality in “TPBTP” worth mention in a modern context comes from something deeper than how low they tune or how pitch shifted their vocals are. As can be observed in “Connect the Cuts,” INK evokes believable rage from their stylistic confines. Creepy soundscapes over chug-fests are certainly tried-and-true scenecore staples, as is the vocalist yelling expletives for no reason. Any fan of brutal metal in any capacity can throw down to the concluding grindhouse breakdown. It’s simply too infectious to deny.
Like many band’s in this style, INK often compartmentalize the facets of their style. Beyond the good-cop-bad-cop vocal delivery, “What I Never Learned in Study Hall” and “My life in Two” leaves pit-starting frenzy at the door in favor of overtly poppy arrangements. This approach to songwriting is not necessarily a bad one, but the amount of band’s who have used it before and after the release of this album borders on absurd. Luckily, the subtleties “TPBTP” give it a lastingly respectable identity.
The riffage and solowork in “Let’s Bury the Hatchet…In Your Head” and “The Coffin Is Moving” provide a subdued virtuosity that rarely appears in subsequent waves of bands. These guys don’t try to dazzle listeners with how many notes they play, ultimately bowing to the needs of the song rather than their own self-indulgence. In the same way, the drums on the record push and pull as needed compositionally. Every fill feels like it belongs there, and each fluctuation in tempo and feel brings urgency, depth, and diversity to otherwise one dimensional bangers. This usually translates to technicality in abrasive passages, and soaring melody in more accessible ones.
Even with all of this going for it, there are still aspects of the metalcore sound of “TPBTP” that have not aged very well. “The Product of Hate” features electronic percussion that will only sound more cheesey over time, while “Jonathan” uses the triplet-based lick’s of old-school metalcore and and over synth pads so glossy it almost hinders the more robust instruments. However, the production on this album is impeccable, providing enough grit while giving clarity to every instrument at play. The least natural parts do not cause problems in the grander scheme when taking INK’s undeniable dexterity and attention to detail.
At the end of the day, albums like this always tend to come under scrutiny after its initial release because the musical climate has changed. Even though Ice Nine Kills’ choice of style on “The Predator Becomes the Prey” might not be on the vanguard of modern metal, it still shines through the shroud of time as a quality album of melodic metalcore goodness.
By: Maxwell Heilman