Salem – ‘Salem’

By Tom Walsh

When creating concept albums, you could be forgiven for thinking that artists can often feel all-consumed by their ideas, and sometimes need the option of that big ‘ejector seat’ button which allows them to break out for a while. For example, at the boiling point of the ‘Danger Days…’ recording phase, My Chemical Romance appeared from the desert, revelaing their lives as the fabulous Killjoys to thrash out a rock and roll cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Desolation Row’. It was a beautiful tonic to end the exhausting Black Parade-era, and allowed them to return to their original sound.

Much has been said of the emotional toll that went into Creeper’s sophomore record, ‘Death, Sex & the Infinite Void’. The details of guitarist Ian Miles’ psychotic breakdown are well documented, while singer Will Gould dealt with the tragic loss of a family member. Combine that with an ongoing pandemic which has prevented the usual promotion and touring cycles, and it’s already been a hell of a tough year for Creeper.

It’s why Gould’s side project, Salem, feels like an artist cutting loose. Much like the leather jackets and mohawks of MCR’s ‘Desolation Row’ video, Salem takes many of its cues and style from the Creeper of yesteryear, with tropes reminiscent of when the Southampton sextet would pack sweaty basements, long before the day of cult-like worship.

Salem is full of the double-time drums, the driving downstroke guitar riffs, and Gould’s frantic, fluttering vocal style. Teaming up with friend Matt Reynolds, Salem channels the influences of their youth. Opener ‘Fall Out of Love’ has all the Matt Skiba-isms of early-2000s Alkaline Trio, combined with Gould’s signature howls.

Lead single ‘Destroy Me’ is right out of the early Creeper playbook and fans of the band’s EPs will be salivating over the huge choruses, soaring vocals, and, of course, the heartbreaking lyrics with references to the occult. There are hints of Jawbreaker in the swaying ‘Throat’, while ‘Doomed (For Each Other)’ feels like an ode to the pop punk sounds that we all like to kick back with when those sunny days disappear.

If Creeper is the four-course Michelin star meal, Salem is the six mojitos you smash in the late-night bar afterwards. A rampant, headbanging EP that sounds as much fun as it must’ve been to record. At times, a change of direction is exactly what a band needs and Salem can only invigorate the next chapter in an exciting career.

TOM WALSH

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