Campy romanticism ain’t trending in 2023. Life’s too packed with pressing trivialities, polarizations, conflicts, impending crises. Is the planet going to explode? Will the global economy soon look like a 50,000-piece puzzle strewn across a filthy bathroom floor? Is God actually dead this time (contrary to last time when he was taking a sabbatical)? Who has time for underworld fairytales? And yet, the popcraft on UK-based Creeper’s second album, 2020’s Sex, Death & the Infinite Void, was exhilarating, cathartic, magically distractive, like spending the day at a stylish amusement park, riding those carts through Lestat’s Hell, The Demon’s Den, and Psychedelic Purgatory.
There’s a choice to be made when encountering an album such as Sex. Yes, the themes are predictably epic: doomed love, the forsaken/dominant cis-male and angelic/submissive cis-ish female on the run from the cops, the government, God, the universe at large. A b-take on and mash-up of Faust, Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, etc., not to mention a long list of cheesy and not-so cheesy horror films and Halloween playlists. The sequence unabashedly reworked and reelevated various clichés, alchemizing them into something mischievously modish. There were flashes of reinterpretive brilliance beyond/beneath the stereotypes and antiquated tropes.
If Sex brimmed with tongue-in-cheek plots, satirically anthemic melodies, and the mock-Broadway vocals of Will Gould and Hannah Greenwood, Creeper’s new album Sanguivore, while largely employing a similar aesthetic, is perhaps more seriously intended, less playfully bathetic, and a bit less meta in its stance, even as it unspools a similar storyline featuring vampires Spook and Mercy and a ghoulish coterie called the Ghost Brigade. The stage is set; the monster hooks cascade like an overturned cauldron.
Opener “Further Than Forever” is a nine-minute romp through delectable riffs and echoey refrains. Gould sounds like a cross between Alice Cooper, a funereal Meatloaf, and Ghost’s Tobias Forge, playing MC as he introduces us to the cast. Suffering is boss here, and whatever unfolds is a reaction to it, the future stretching like a serrated void. Immortality isn’t for sissies. Midway Gould pivots into a somewhat formulaic spoken-word part, introducing us to Mercy, who transforms the singer into an immortal. “Cry to Heaven” follows, launching with an irresistible riff that eulogizes the 80s. “I’ve got a bloodlust baby / she wears a human disguise”, Gould sings, going on to hagiographically portray the ancient vampiress. A guitar solo soars above a crunchy roil.
“The dark days are coming for us all”, Gould declares on “The Ballad of Spook and Mercy”, as he spits Mercy’s gothy bio, including a limerick-like description of her first rampage as a blood-drinker (“from the shadows she saw her first victim / a newlywed in a Corvette / Mercy slaughtered the bride and put a knife in her side / and sucked all the life from her neck”). The groom dies a similar death. Vincent Price and John Carpenter guffaw in the background. The track illustrates how Sanguivore works best when the band readopt Sex’s approach, straddling a line between drama and parody. On the other hand, things get dicey when the band, and particularly Gould, stop laughing at themselves, even if very, very quietly.
That is, schmaltz without self-awareness is pretense (the punky “Chapel Gates”). Melodrama without intent occurs as unawareness (“Lovers Led Astray”). And schlock without humility is, well, schlock. That said, “Teenage Sacrifice” boils over with exciting guitars and riveting vocals. One can see the teenagers lined up, waiting to be fanged by the regents of the night. “Black Heaven”, too, chugs along with busy drums and a ringing guitar part. “Die for me,” Gould snarls, assuming a sinister baritone. “You grow so tired of all the violence”, he adds on closer “More Than Death”, capturing the plight of the blood-dependent vampire. The angels sing above, the demons below, the choreography is majestic. He expresses his eternal love to his dom-queen, Mercy, as, seemingly, he yields to oblivion. Depending on the crowd, there might be a standing ovation.
Immortality is an archetypal fantasy. Procrastinate learning that second language but still get around to it, next century perhaps. Slip through timelines, absorb the zeitgeists that come and go, prowl with anonymity in the heart of elapsing time … that might be difficult in the digital age. Wait a second. Why does that guy look the same in 2023 as he did in 1999? Lack of constraints, supernatural powers, suspension of death (egoic and physical). Remember, however, what Petronius’s Sibyl, also fated to live forever, said when asked what she wanted: I want to die. You don’t resonate with that now but stick around for 1000 years and see how you feel then.
Sanguivore might not be as precisely balanced and pop-pitched as Sex, but there’s craft and talent here, and the album is punctuated with sublime and sublimely entertaining moments. A listener might have some fun, too. Granted, that’s out of vogue, but no one has to know.