At the end of CREEPER’s sold-out headline show at the Roundhouse, vocalist William Von Ghould stepped out to thank the audience when a mysterious figure leapt from the shadows and decapitated him in front of 3300 people. The lights went down and the big screen cut to a haunted house, where the band’s reluctant social media host, the vampire familiar Darcia, deadpanned, “It’s time for a new era… and I couldn’t be more excited.”
Every era in CREEPER’s strange tale closes in similarly flamboyant fashion: see also their apparent Bowie-style on-stage break-up at the end of the campaign for their debut album ‘Eternity, In Your Arms’, which left some fans in floods of tears. But in CREEPER’s ever eerie world, death is just a stepping stone towards a joyous rebirth. And now one of the most unlikely success stories in British music rises from the ashes once more with their new album ‘SANGUIVORE’.
Taking a darker turn from their Top 5 record ‘Sex, Death & The Infinite Void’, ‘SANGUIVORE’ is a thrillingly theatrical new story that the band’s ever-growing army of devotees will devour themselves within. Riffing upon fearsome throwback vampire flicks such ‘Near Dark’, ‘The Lost Boys’ and ‘Interview With The Vampire’, its narrative focuses upon Mercy, a deceptively innocent yet savagely violent vampire, 19-years-old in conventional terms yet with a soul dating back some thousand years, and her relationship with Spook, an older man who falls under her control but doesn’t quite lose sight of their previous humanity.
Somehow the music is wilder than the narrative. Opening with the sprawling Jim Steinman goth-opera epic ‘Further Than Forever’, CREEPER power through the swaggering, darkwave sleaze of ‘Cry To Heaven’, the supercharged horror-punk of ‘Sacred Blasphemy’ and ‘The Ballad of Spooky & Mercy’, which could easily be snuck into the tracklist of Nick Cave’s ‘Murder Ballads’ without anyone batting an eyelid. And that’s just within the album’s first half. By the time it closes with the evil croon of ‘More Than Death’, you’ll have heard elements of pagan-folk, late ‘70s punk and the kind of gloomy synth textures you might expect from prime Gary Numan. It’s all larger-than-life, darker-than-death, and the best album CREEPER have ever recorded.
“It seems that the world’s getting excessively darker by the moment out there,” says Von Ghould, a man with a boyishly infectious enthusiasm for everything that he does, “and I think we need escapism and fantasy and fun more than we ever have.”
The ‘SANGUIVORE’ concept and characters have lurked in the crevices of the band’s mind for some time. When it was time to turn those ideas into a full album, two elements were key to unlocking its potential. CREEPER’s co-founder and guitarist Ian Miles had suffered from severe mental health issues as work got underway on ‘Sex, Death…’ which naturally limited his input. But this time he was not only there from the very beginning, but a lack of a full-time second guitarist effectively doubled his workload. And he really stepped up, his creativity simmering throughout the record, from melodic classic rock solos to crunching metallic riffs, the latter of which forced Von Ghould to shape his vocal melodies in a very different style from before.
Another vital element was the input of producer Tom Dalgety (Ghost, Royal Blood, The Cult) who embraced and encouraged the band’s “What would Jim Steinman do?” ethos during sessions at his studio, a converted church – a home-from-home for a record with some blissfully blasphemous edges. Other sessions took them to the fabled Rockfield Studios, where the band were invigorated by the deep history of essential British music that resonated throughout the building.
And of course, there’s the rest of the band. Von Ghould credits fellow founder member and bassist Sean Scott with bringing more ideas to the table than ever before; Hannah Greenwood’s keys and synths have become more significant and imaginative, while her vocals suggest that in an alternate universe, she could be a West End star or an ‘80s power balladeer; and drummer Jake Fogarty has “transformed the band entirely… his playing is just immaculate.”
Dive deeper into the record and you’ll uncover more details, off-kilter references and lashings of devilish humour throughout. Von Ghould takes up the story behind the inspiration of an ear-catching lyric from ‘Chapel Gates’. “Ian came in and said, ‘Did you know that Mary Shelley lost her virginity on her mother’s gravestone?’ Me and Tom thought it couldn’t be true, but it was. So, I was like, I’ve got to throw that in somewhere: getting laid but not to rest.” Elsewhere, ‘More Than Death’ drops in a reference to the infamous paranormal investigator Lorraine Warren, and in ‘Further Than Forever’ Von Ghould declares, “I’m Jesus in a strip club giving head.” A lyric which may well feature on future merch designs…
That humour is a reminder that however committed their performances are, they’re always a little tongue-in-cheek – something they’ve lent into more following a tour as guests to Alice Cooper. More importantly they’re like little Easter eggs for those fans who thoroughly immerse themselves in the record. Spend a little time with Von Ghould and you begin to suspect that if he wasn’t in CREEPER, he’d be travelling the length of the country to see them play. This is a band who are entirely on the same wavelength as their fans, which is a big part of their unusually powerful connection: CREEPER fans don’t just like the band, they’re utterly committed to them.
“There are real moments of communion that happen at the end of our shows that are really magical,” smiles Von Ghould, referencing a community which had also led to friendships both virtual and IRL. “We’re so lucky that we have that connection. We tend to attract the same sort of people that we are, and I see a lot of ourselves in these kids. Sometimes I meet people at bars and we end up drinking together and just talking about our favourite records. We’re just the same people. It’s cool to be a nerd about things you like.”
Strip back the layers of fantasy and you’ll find that CREEPER’s ambitious narratives are rooted in a similarly authentic place. Or as Von Ghould summarises, “underneath all the showmanship and the bravado of it all, there’s something quite true there.” ‘More Than Death’, for example, is the denouement of Mercy and Spook’s tale, but comes from the frontman’s own relationship. Friendship is also a recurring motif on the album, the beating heart behind the band, and especially the connection between Von Ghould and Miles. “It’s a very special relationship we’ve had. We’ve been touring since we were teenagers and now, we’re three albums in and we’re still doing it. If you told us when we first met that we were going to have any sort of success, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
That’s the unwritten philosophy of CREEPER. Embrace everything you want to do, no matter how outlandish, excessive or ambitious, and see where the journey takes you. And it’s a journey some twenty years in the making as the grandiose scale and ripping rock opera of ‘SANGUIVORE’ transports Von Ghould back to his childhood bedroom, listening to ‘Bat Out of Hell’ on repeat.
“It’s such a phenomenal record and it changed my life when I heard it,” he recalls. “I was like, ‘Why isn’t there a band I can go and see that’s doing that these days?’ Because Meat Loaf at that point wasn’t in good health. I never imagined in a million years that one day the person doing that would be me. We continue to be the weirdest unlikely story of a small little band in the UK making these huge albums. As long as that carries on, I’m kind of happy.”