Creeper's fans thought they might never get a second album. In late 2018, after the 2017 release of their much-celebrated debut, Eternity, In Your Arms, the band called an end to the era by breaking up onstage at Camden’s KOKO.
Many believed them to be truly gone. In reality, they had taken a year off to write, reinvent their sound, and recover from personal setbacks. In 2019, they reappeared onstage, exactly a year after they disappeared.
Sex, Death & The Infinite Void is the product of that tumultuous year away, but the difficulties the band experienced are barely evident in the record. Spanning 13 tracks, it’s a playful piece of escapism more akin to a rock opera than a rock album, exploring the apocalyptic, extraterrestrial love story of Roe and Annabelle, set in small town USA.
Opening with a stirring spoken-word monologue from The Sisters Of Mercy’s Patricia Morrison, Hallelujah! sets the scene. At a time when we often receive and consume albums in small parts, Sex, Death & The Infinite Void defies modern listening habits by making that impossible. Halleluljah! leads into Be My End, a huge, fun pop punk love song that has Creeper destined for alternative radio success. Its video – the band’s first animated one – sets up the story, introducing the characters and the location of Calvary Falls. It’s nothing short of anthemic, and it’s a shame we won’t be screaming it at any festivals anytime soon.
Sex, Death & The Infinite Void is built from many influences and references, most frequently, the catholicism that Gould was briefly raised on. Annabelle, a “satanic underworld anthem”, is where those influences are felt most strongly. With cries of 'God can’t save us', it’s a rebuttal to the Westboro Baptist Church, but it’s also a very real, very fun bop. Its prescient references to the end of the world and catchy spoken-word narration mean it could plausibly sit on the score of a West End musical.
Born Cold, the album’s first single and our introduction to the new era, opens like a straightforward punk song before unexpectedly growing into a huge chorus and slow-build breakdown that evokes the more evolved bands of the mid-00s. On love song Cyanide, Gould dips a toe into Alex Turner-esque indie-inspired vocals while unabashedly channeling David Bowie influences.
Every track on Sex..., despite its overarching storyline, manages to sound completely distinct: Paradise feels plucked from a Robert Rodriguez movie soundtrack, its Western twangs creating an unmistakably American soundscape, while on Poisoned Heart, Gould plays with a deeper vocal range for a melodic, 80s-style track.
Creeper liberally mix British and American influences: Thorns Of Love opens with the 'ahh ahh ahhs' of Bowie’s Let’s Dance, features another narration from Morrison, and plays with Beach Boys-style doo-wop and Queen-esque guitars in turn. Four Years Ago, a country-folk duet from Gould and keyboardist Hannah Greenwood, sees Gould channelling Robert Smith. Black Moon is an apocalyptic sign-off full of religious references, nods to Danny Elfman’s Edward Scissorhands soundtrack and a battle-cry of 'I’m ready to let your love kill me'.
The album could end right there, but it doesn’t. Final track All My Friends is a deeply personal piano ballad about Ian Miles’ breakdown and following hospitalisation. It’s the only place that the tragedy plaguing the band in the missing year is actually evident; it feels out of place but a necessary examination of the real feelings that brought them here. With just keys, strings and Gould’s emotional vocals, it strips back the complexities and theatrics of the record. Exploring the guilt that we put on ourselves when our friends are struggling, with the simple yet emotive refrain of 'all my friends hurt', it’s perhaps the most powerful song on the album.
If that all sounds confusing, it’s less so in practice: somehow, Creeper organise this chaos into music. Things that shouldn’t work on paper somehow do. They've managed to craft their unique, diverse interests into a huge, listenable record that offers more the deeper you’re willing to go.
Sex, Death & the Infinite Void is an exercise in escapism and experimentation. The diverse, distinct tracks see Creeper liberated from the constraints of genre, showcasing their immense, diverse talent and creating a new world that holds our attention at a time when that’s a difficult thing to pull off.
The thing that most unites the songs, more so than the storyline or religious themes, is an incredible passion and curiosity. Not content with resting on their laurels, the band dug deep into their histories and influences to create something so completely brand new from familiar parts that it’s impossible to look away, even for one song.
Sex, Death & The Infinite Void is available on July 31 via Roadrunner Records