Spencer's ten life-changing records
You might think that it’d be easy to pigeonhole the musical tastes of Spencer Charnas.
Given that Spencer fronts horror metalcore foursome Ice Nine Kills, you'd be unsurprised to find plenty of metal and shock rock amongst the ten records that changed his life.
We certainly didn’t expect to see soundtracks from West End musicals, pop punk classics and ska mixed in with the rock and metal heavyweights. But that’s just what we found when we asked Spencer to pick out his ten world-shaping albums.
Les Miserables - 10th Anniversary Concert (Original London Cast) (1986)
I was maybe 10 or 11 years old when my parents took me to see a production of Les Mis in Toronto.
At that point in my life I was pretty closed-minded to anything that wasn’t hard, fast and loud. I was 100% dragged along to what I expected to be a real bore fest of a night. Little did I know, that musical would change the way I thought about music and opened me up to what I still consider to be some of the most profoundly moving melodies and lyrics I’ve ever heard.
I can put on On My Own, One Day More, and I Dreamed A Dream and still get the same chills and goosebumps as the first night I heard those brilliant compositions. The influence of Claude-Michel Schonberg’s writing can be heard clearly on INK songs like Nature Of The Beast, Me, Myself & Hyde, and Tess-timony.
Nirvana - Nevermind (1991)
This is the record and band that started it all for me. Seeing the video for Smells Like Teen Spirit when I was 8 years old made me march into my parents room and say, ‘Mom and Dad, I wanna learn how to play the guitar!’
For the next several years I practiced my chops every day, bought as many flannels as I could find at thrift stores, bleached my hair, grew it long and cut rips in my jeans. I wanted so badly to be as cool as Kurt, but really, who could be? This band was my gateway into so many other great 90s Seattle inspired bands like Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice In Chains, Silverchair and many more.
The first song I ever played live with a band was a Nirvana song at a 4th grade talent show and from that moment on I knew I was destined for a permanent rock & roll existence.
As I Lay Dying - Shadows Are Security (2005)
This was the first record that I got into that clearly had more screaming than singing.
There was a level of tightness to the drums, sophistication to the riffs and viciousness to the vocals that was unrivalled on any other metalcore record at the time. It was these elements that propelled the band to one of the top spots in my heavy music listening rotation and inspired me to take it up a notch on the heavy elements of my own music.
Blink-182 - Dude Ranch (1997)
Blink was probably one of the first pop punk bands I became absolutely obsessed with.
12-year-old me heard the opening riff of Dammit on the radio and it completely inspired me to seek out all those other punk bands that existed in the Epitaph era So-Cal movement like NOFX, Millencollin, No Use For A Name, Less Than Jake, The Ataris, Reel Big Fish and so many more. Yes, Blink were gaining some traction on the radio at this point but they were still cool enough to have that sort of angsty underground vibe.
This would all change when Enema Of The State was released a few years later. Their mainstream success sort of turned me off of them for awhile. Seeing jocks start to sing Blink songs in the cafeteria just didn’t put a good taste in my mouth. It was as if my little band that I had held so dear to me had started to appeal to people I didn’t view as worthy to listen to them.
I eventually got over that entire ‘sell-out’ funk that I was put in and ended up celebrating pretty much all their records as important pieces in the genre. I learned a ton about hooks, harmonies, and humour from these boys and I am still very much influenced by them to this day.
Finch - Say Hello To Sunshine (2005)
Yes, What It Is To Burn is the Finch record that most fans hold closest to their hearts, but for me, it was 2005’s astronomically-underrated follow up, Say Hello To Sunshine.
This is the album that took the band from great to important. Grossly ahead of its time, the album was embedded with odd time signatures, fast tempos, unusual screamed vocal patterns, completely unpredictable drumming and a haunting atmosphere that seemed to be Danny Elfman inspired.
I remember specifically telling the band in person that this was one of my favourite records of all time. Their response was, ‘Really? We don’t get that a lot…’ That hurts me.
Goldfinger - Goldfinger (1996)
Sometimes you don’t choose a band and style, it just chooses you. Once in a while a seemingly simple piece of music can hijack your mind, pinpoint exactly what you’re going through as a teenager and make you feel like that band’s music was created specifically for you.
For me, Goldfinger’s self titled album did just that. I can place my exact whereabouts the first time I heard that incredibly captivating piccolo snare intro of Here In Your Bedroom when I was at Summer camp in 1997. There was an energy and tightness to that recording that one upped any of my favourite punk bands at the time.
Seeing the band live only cemented them as one of my favourite punk groups and that show specifically inspired me to start writing my own music. I even have the date of that concert tattooed behind my ear.
Brand New - Your Favourite Weapon (2001)
In the late autumn of 2001 I was attending a very small Starting Line/Further Seems Forever show in a function room at Mass Art college in Boston.
The Starting Line is who I was most excited to see but they ended up cancelling their appearance to finish up work on what would turn out to be Say It Like You Mean It. Little did I know, the unknown band from Long Island that opened the show would end up becoming one of my favourite bands of all time. Brand New took the stage that night to a crowd of maybe 25 people and completely floored me with their insanely infectious hooks and devilishly clever lyrics.
After the performance I went to their merchandise table and picked up what would become one of my go to records for the next 15 years, Your Favourite Weapon. As a songwriter it really showed me the power of word play and that catchy riffs may come and go, but good lyrics are what makes fans stick around for years.
Senses Fail - Let It Enfold You (2004)
There are certain records that can transport you back in time to the exact era of your life where you first fell in love with it.
For me, Senses Fail’s Let In Enfold You takes me back to the mid 2000s fall nights of driving around with my friends, smoking cigarettes and dreaming of making our band the next Senses Fail, Boys Night Out, Finch or A Static Lullaby. Their first EP From The Depths Of Dreams is what made me fall in love with them, but LIEY made them my idols. Their look, their ‘don’t give a fuck’ attitude, their album artwork, their dark melodies and guitar textures, their videos and everything that the band embodied is exactly what I wanted my band to be.
Yes, every song sounded very similar, and yes, some of the lyrical content and screamed vocals were questionable. But it was those very imperfections and awkward performances that made it special to me. This record taught me a lot about how to construct a stand out chorus and how a great bridge can take a song from good to chill inducing.
Midtown - Living Well Is The Best Revenge (2002)
I was already a fan of Midtown when Living Well Is The Best Revenge was released in the spring of 2002, but in my eyes, this was the record that crowned them as pop punk royalty.
Everything from the huge production of Mark Trombino, to the perfectly executed vocal performances of all three singers, to some of the catchiest melodies I’ve ever heard, this record should have made them bigger than Fall Out Boy.
Unfortunately, label problems, under promotion and other exterior factors kept this record from achieving the commercial success it so deserved. I stand behind the statement that the song Like A Movie has the best bridge of all time, regardless of genre.
He Is Legend - I Am Hollywood (2004)
Everything about this band and this album was daring, risky and cool as hell. They had incredibly vicious heavy elements mixed with subdued almost stoner rock vocals with a Seattle 90s tinge.
The frontman looked like he would fit in more at a Doors show in the 1970s than fronting a heavy band, but for some reason that incongruent look made the band that much more interesting. With lyrical content ranging from literary references to almost Cobain-esque abstract metaphors, they stood out among a pack of groups that all seemed to be doing the same thing.
It was this album’s audacious style that reminded me that rock & roll is not supposed to be safe and encouraged me to think outside the box regarding my own compositions.