Will Gould seems to be on a crusade to single handedly revive the horror punk genre. Alongside his comrades in Creeper, he spins theatrical yarns of deeply layered tracks that have a whole generation experiencing ‘The Black Parade’ levels of mania – and now, with his side project Salem, he puts those elements into fifth gear.
Their self-titled debut felt like Gould clearing his head from the intense process that brought Creeper’s ‘Sex, Death and the Infinite Void’ to the world, a perfect outlet to create fun bursts of effortlessly distilled punk fundamentals. Collaborating with Matt Reynolds on their second release, ‘Salem II’ adds a layer of grandiose to this punk sound.
The hallmarks of Gould’s work are all on show through ‘Salem II’ – tales of tragic unrequited love, regular references to vampires, Satan and all the good stuff from the occult, an almost operatic vocal range, and signature howls. Musically, this sophomore EP dips from a diverse cast of influences with notes of Misfits, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Joy Division.
Lead single ‘Draculads’ crams all of those influences into two minutes of breathless rock ‘n’ roll. It acts almost like a calling card for Salem’s sound, bursting in with driving chords and double time drumbeats as Gould, in his words, tells the story of “two lovers in a bar fight”. The chaos quickly melts into lounge music, before kicking back in for an abrupt ending.
Therein lies Salem’s sound – it’s here to enrapture you for 15 minutes or so before disappearing into the ether. ‘William, It Was Really Something’, a riff on the famous Smiths’ line, is frantic and barrels of fun with those familiar lyrics painting pictures more accustomed to film noir scripts. ‘Heaven Help Me’ is another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it punk track reminiscent of early Alkaline Trio, while ‘Sweet Tooth’ is as close to an anthem as you’re going to get from Salem.
Gould and Reynolds are making horror punk cool again, and in Salem they have something that’s just damn fun to feel a part of. ‘Salem II’ is a lovely slice of escapism, and one that needs to be played over and over again.