Creeper – ‘The Callous Heart’

By Rob Barbour

When Creeper first clawed their way out of the Southampton underground like a pallid sonic zombie, we drew comparisons between the band’s moody brand of punk rock and bands with a similarly gothic aesthetic like Interpol and Alkaline Trio before asserting that the band made us want to “jump around like a nutter while simultaneously feeling ‘all the feels'”. The ‘Creeper’ EP was a purple-and-black sledgehammer straight to the face and one of our favourite releases of 2014.

Also jumping around like nutters, it transpires, were the A&R folk at Roadrunner Records who earlier this year snapped up these self-professed purveyors of “South Coast Misery” and so, 15 months later, we find ourselves listening to the band’s major label début. They might have made serious bank with behemoths like Slipknot and (whisper it) Nickelback, but Roadrunner have a solid pedigree as a label on which heavy/alternative acts can thrive without compromising their artistic vision. If ‘Creeper’ was the sound of an undead monster pushing up the soil then ‘The Callous Heart’ is that monster finding its decomposing feet and ambling purposefully towards the barn in which our heroes are taking shelter.

While the songs on that first EP were undeniably accomplished, its follow up has a much clearer sense of identity. The buzzsaw guitars have been dialled back, allowing space for both a more prominent growling, dirty bass tone (particularly on opener ‘Black Cloud’) and for more melodic interplay between them. There’s a gloriously throwback feel to the whole enterprise, with the double-time choruses invoking classic 90s punk labels like Fat Wreck and Nitro as much as the jangling guitars do the moody atmospherics of 1980s goth-indie.

Will Gould’s voice is on top form throughout (complete with the questionable enunciation which gave us last year’s “V.C-ORRRR”), swinging between edge-of-register punk and lounge croon at the flick of a jet black fringe. Singles ‘Lie Awake’ and ‘The Honeymoon Suite’ are the standout tracks, but that speaks more to the quality of those songs than it does to any lack thereof elsewhere. Closer ‘Henley’s Ghost’ is something of an outlier; a piano-led ballad which sails a little too close to Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Day’ for comfort before building to a knowing, almost Merseybeat-style vocal climax. We were cynical at first but it’s a song that makes more sense with repeated listens, though it remains to be seen how well it works outside of the context of the EP.

‘The Callous Heart’ may lack some of the frantic energy of its self-titled predecessor but in its place comes an assured, retro swagger. If the band continue to build on this promise, the album is going to be something very special indeed.

ROB BARBOUR

Three more album reviews for you

Graphic Nature - ‘Who Are You When No One Is Watching?’

Northbound - 'Juniper'

LIVE: Download Festival 2024 - Sunday