You can pin a lot of influences on Dallas death metal band Creeping Death, and most of them wouldn’t be far off the mark. Like a lot of modern death metal bands who came up through hardcore, you hear a lot of Bolt Thrower’s pointed riffing and slamming breakdowns. Some of those breakdowns hit with a force where one might think they were directly plucked from Suffocation. Their new EP, The Edge of Existence, out now through MNRK Heavy, gives even more points of comparison: some of the groovy riffs take on a more Obituary character, and the lead guitar work straddles the line between mid-period Death and early Gorguts, jumping outside the lines a bit. A track like “Humanity Transcends” has a cosmic eye that hasn’t been seen in their work before. It’s still quite lean and mean – Creeping Death play with a vigor that puts them above most of their contemporaries.
As to where that vigor comes from? Creeping Death’s biggest influence by far is Texas itself. They are among the few and proud who witnessed Iron Age gain mythical stature and Power Trip sharpen their steel to become one of metal’s rising phenoms. Most importantly, it made them want to be a part of Texas’ ever vibrant heavy underground. Faithful Blast Rites readers know that I have a strong bias towards Texas bands – they just go harder than everyone else, which of course swells my home state pride, and Creeping Death certainly live up to that principle. When I first heard “Revenge,” the lead-off track from their 2018 EP Specter of Death, I heard the Bolt Thrower and hardcore mashup that others did, but the Texas intensity charged through above all. Power Trip saw something in their hometown brethren – another band who could swing metalheads and hardcore kids into the pit at the touch of a breakdown – and they toured together in late 2019 with High on Fire. They were close even before that – vocalist Reese Alavi and the late Riley Gale were neighbors at one point, and Gale was a vocal supporter early on. Texas knows what’s up with Texas and won’t shut up about it. And it shouldn’t be quiet.
Read our chat with guitarist and founding member Trey Pemberton below.
SPIN: The new EP sees y’all branching out a little bit. What were y’all setting out to do with this new one?
Trey Pemberton: When everything shut down, we didn’t have new music written at all. We were like we don’t know what’s gonna happen for however long, so let’s go back to the “beat lab” per se and try to write some new tunes. That’s what this session was born out of. We basically wrote enough for an LP, we’re gonna be recording an LP soon. The EP was a little snippet of that writing session. I would say, that writing session, since we had, I wouldn’t say time, but we didn’t know when anything was gonna happen, so we were like we’ll just play with some stuff. I experimented with guitar pedals for the first time, things like that. We were thinking about different song structures. For the first time, our new guitar player A.J. [Ross], he was writing with us as well. All of those things combined helped move the sound in a little bit of a different direction.
I hear a little more dissonance in some of the guitar, especially with the solos. What made you wanna push your playing that way?
A.J., he shreds, so me being a drummer first and getting more acclimated at guitar as the years go on, he’s been teaching me. He helped a lot. Eric [Mejia], our bass player, he does a lot of that too. Bouncing stuff off of them sorta helped me with that. I know A.J. likes Death a lot, there’s a little more Death influence. Obviously we can’t shred like that, but we try to get as close as we can. We also tried to take more influence from bands like Iron Age, more in the sense of thinking about songwriting and structure of riffs and solos and the way they go in and out.
When did you start drumming, and how does it shape what you do now?
I started playing drums when I was twelve. My mom taught me how to play drums. She’s a giant Rush fan, so obviously she’s a drummer, so she was like “you’re gonna do drums.” I did band as a kid, I did percussion and then I did some line [marching band] my freshman year of high school. Then I quit because in Texas, football is king, so I was gonna be a football player. Music was always a constant and I was always jamming, I was always playing drums. I played drums in a few hardcore bands, and yeah, that was really my main thing. I started to play guitar seriously in 2012, I got it for Christmas my senior year of high school in 2011, and I just didn’t touch it— typical teenage dick. I didn’t really touch it until I got to college. I was listening to more death metal at the time, and I was trying to emulate what I was listening to with the skills I had. That’s how the band’s first riffs were born. I think playing drums really helped me learn really quickly because rhythmically my right hand – that was easy, I hold my pick the same way I hold my drumstick anyway. That was natural. Rhythm is the base for everything – I would tell kids even now you should learn drums first, learn drums or piano first, and everything else will come so much smoother.
What was your experience in drumline like?
Since I was a freshman, I wasn’t on the marching part [of the band]. I was one of the alternates, but I was in the pit, which is all the percussion in the front. It’s intensive, man, even for schools who aren’t known for their band, they still take it seriously. I remember having to travel many times for competitions and random weekends – I’ve still got school on Monday, we’re driving back when on Sunday? A lot of people don’t know how intense high school band can get. That’s why I ended up quitting – I love music the most, but I didn’t love that sort of organized music.
Fun fact, I was actually instructed with teaching the entire band how to do the Soulja Boy [dance] – this is how long ago I was in high school! During the percussion break, they thought it would be funny if the whole band starting doing the Soulja Boy [dance]. I ended up teaching the whole band the step one day, and it went as horrifying as you could think. It was painful trying to do that.
I’m glad for the foundation it gave to me musically – I don’t know shit about guitar chords, I couldn’t tell you “this is a C chord,” but I genuinely know music theory and I can read a piano and there’s just things I learned about rhythm from band that helps me so much.
Last year sucked for a lot of reasons, but the worst of it was losing Riley Gale and Wade Allison, and one of the shittiest things about it was we couldn’t have a raging memorial gig. How did the fact that not being able to play to honor them affect you?
Just seeing the whole scene in Texas react, it really bummed me out that we couldn’t have this cathartic release together right away. Every show I’ve been to back in Texas [since the summer] has been absolutely insane. It’s so sick that this scene that these people helped cultivate is thriving so much. It bums me out still thinking about it, but it’s very bittersweet to see this thing they helped build, and see it on this trajectory, I feel like that’s something that’s gonna last forever. Doing interviews all day, people don’t understand, not being from Texas, putting on for the home team and putting on for your homies. Helping out other bands, not pulling up the ladder behind you – that was something those dudes instilled in the scene.
Yeah, being a part of the Texas scene, you gotta rep Texas bands hard as fuck. I know I’m constantly telling everyone about you guys, Iron Age, Skeleton, Power Trip, Skourge – y’all gotta listen to this shit!
They understood that what is good for one band is good for the scene was a whole. One band is getting eyes on them, you can list the people around you. A rising tide raises all ships, that’s how I feel with music. It doesn’t need to be this cutthroat competition. This person is getting shine – that’s sick! I’m going to put on for this person as well. When you are that person, when it’s your turn, I want to reciprocate, I wanna pull all my homies up with me.
When did you first meet Riley?
He was one of the first people I met going to hardcore shows in Dallas. I was definitely a shy metalcore kid, I had my group of friends I went to shows with – about three or four kids, sort of kept to them only. It was actually Marcus [Johnson, former Power Trip drummer] – Marcus came up to me first on some, obviously – black men in a space with not as many black men, you’re gonna acknowledge each other. We talked, Riley was his good friend, I talked to Riley. He was one of the first people – that group of people, the Power Trip dudes, they were the first group of people outside my friend group to make me feel comfortable going to shows. He was always a big supporter of whatever band I was doing, once he saw I was participating in the scene and playing in my shitty hardcore band back in 2013 or whatever. He would shout us out at shows and asked me about how it’s going, stuff like that. We got closer as the years got on. He was basically my singer’s neighbor, they hung out all the time on some “hey what are you doing” type shit. Like, “Ok I’m gonna come over and watch this anime DVD for four hours.” It just blossomed into this relationship where we close with not just him but the whole band. I’m in a fantasy football league with [Power Trip guitarists] Nick [Stewart] and Blake [Ibanez] right now, I just beat Blake this week, actually. They became our good friends, pretty quickly. Riley was the first person close to me that I lost, the closet person to me that I’ve lost.
From talking with Riley and talking with people about Riley over the years, one thing that’s true is that he just had a lot to give.
From the time I put out the first Creeping Death demo, they were all extremely supportive. From jump street, they were putting us on shows, stuff like that. They’ve always been in our corner from the beginning.
As far as Texas bands go, who are you rocking with right now?
Frozen Soul, in my opinion, are leading the charge. As far as smaller bands, Kombat are killing it. Tribal Gaze are from East Texas, they’re killing it. They released an EP in 2020 and it goes so hard, it’s not something you think would come out of Tyler, Texas. And they’re young kids too, and it’s so sick to see young kids doing some shit and actually great music. Obviously Skourge too, and I love Skeleton. There’s a band called Fleshrot from West Texas as well that’s killing it out there. And I know it’s not really death metal, but Judiciary, I know they’re gonna come out with a new record soon. You got a stretch of stuff from hardcore to punk to death metal to everything, and the people here aren’t afraid to play with each other. We’ve played many a punk show, and I think that’s fucking badass.
More jams from when you’ve worn out your copy of October Rust:
Serpent Rider – “The Wretch” & Ezra Brooks – “When the Future Falls” (from Visions of Esoteric Splendor, out Friday on No Remorse)
Fantasy horror goes up against extraterrestrial invasion in this power metal split battle. Who wins? As much as I wanna give the edge to Ezra Brooks for their outrageous shredding and badass name, the victor is you, the connoisseur of true steel.
The Silver – Ward of Roses (Gilead Media)
A more aggro Tribulation might seem like a bad experiment, but this new Philadelphia band, featuring members of prog-death masters Horrendous and doom crushers Crypt Sermon, manages to shake up goth metal without losing the sensuous mystique.
Pharmacist – Carnal Pollution (Self-released)
Some of the best Carcass worship comes from Pharmacist, a duo led by a Ukrainian living in Japan. They’ve only been around since last year and they’re insanely prolific, with their latest Carnal Pollution being their sixth release in 2021 alone! Who knew one dude could switch between Jeff Walker’s rasp and Bill Steer’s growls so effortlessly? Symphonies for the still sick.
Outre-Tombe – Abysse mortifère (out 10/31 on Temple of Mystery)
Quebec City’s premier Francophone death metallers return for their third excursion into the graves of the late 80s, meeting Autopsy’s claustrophobic filth with Leprosy-era Death’s battery. Humain rôti, anyone?