Creeping Death singer Reese Alavi was attending first grade at a Dallas, Texas, Catholic school when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred. Though the first-generation Iranian-American self-describes as "white-passing," the ensuing national panic and rise in anti-Muslim attitudes led Alavi to become a target for classmates' unbridled, nascent bigotry.
"It was like, 'Holy shit, these first-graders are calling me a terrorist," the vocalist recalls of being exposed to racism at such an early age. "I just shit-talked them back. I didn't really know how to handle it — I was in first grade! They didn't even know what a terrorist was. They were just saying it because their fucking parents were saying it. It was kind of weird, [but] my parents gave me some solid tools to deal with that shit: 'If they think like that, then there's no value in winning them over.'"
It wasn't until years later, in 2015, that Alavi would form Creeping Death with guitarist Trey Pemberton, bassist Eric Mejia and drummer Lincoln Mullins in the nearby college town of Denton. (The group have all since migrated back within the boundaries of Dallas-Fort Worth.) Though the act is Alavi's first formal band, the vocalist is definitely making up for lost time. After establishing themselves as one of Texas' hottest and heaviest prospects, Creeping Death are now winning over various corners of the underground with their merciless death metal.
Thankfully by the time Alavi — who identifies as non-binary gender fluid and whose pronoun is "they" — became a teen, they found a "chill" community among skateboarders, punks and musicians. At Eisenbergs, an indoor skate park with a concert stage in nearby Plano, they learned to love the sounds of metalcore while busting out tricks on the street course.
It was experiencing a "terrifying" Power Trip set at Dallas' Queen City Tattoos, however, that made Alavi a hardcore devotee at the age of 13. "It was 150 people crammed into a tattoo parlor. Power Trip's playing. I'm getting hit in the face with a chain. It was fucking gnarly," they recall with a laugh. But even before Alavi became a fan of the band, they were friendly with Power Trip frontman Riley Gale's family, and the two metal vocalists are currently neighbors and confidants.
"Riley lives down the street from me, we chill all the time. He'll come over on Sundays and we'll make dinner," says Alavi. "I was [also] friends with Riley's little brother when I was getting into [metal and hardcore]. I would show up at their house and hang out."
When Revolver connects with Alavi, the band has just made it back into the U.S. following a few Canadian shows, and the singer is proud to note how they made converts of a bunch of grizzled metal lifers in Montreal. It's easy to see why — there's a fury to the buzzsaw trilling and battle cries of 2018's Specter of War EP that appeals to fans of early genre desecrators like Grave, Bolt Thrower and even Morbid Visions–era Sepultura; the five-song bludgeoning was given an extra boost this year after being re-released via Entertainment One.
Now, Creeping Death are set to unveil their first proper release for the record label, Wretched Illusions, this fall. The quartet's debut full-length doubles-down on the intensity, delivering 10 tracks that coalesce high-velocity attacks with Lone Star State–styled smackdowns akin to Power Trip.
Though Alavi often hung around the Gale household with Power Trip's budding metal vocalist, their own family is just as musically prolific. Alavi's father was in the Iranian army before moving to the U.S., though his service was spent playing guitar at the military base's country club; in the Seventies, he'd record a few albums of Persian guitar music. While some of these records are still kept in the family home, the younger Alavi's formative favorites were Slipknot, Hatebreed and Dinosaur Jr.; entering Dallas' DIY music scene led to several "mosh-to-survive moments" while seeing local crews like Human Error and End Times.
As it turns out, Alavi isn't the only one in the family that loves hardcore, though they only found this out one day in high school after a previously unknown half-brother reached out unexpectedly over social media. Alavi explains: "I was just sitting in class, and he messaged me and was like, 'This is probably weird, but I'm your brother' … I was like, 'What the fuck?' I clicked on his Facebook profile picture and, holy shit, [he] looks like me!"
Based in Austin, Addrian Jafaritabar is a few years older than Alavi, and they share the same father. Alavi is quick to admit that their first lunch together was awkward, but talking about hardcore broke the tension. In addition to now spending holidays together, the siblings are starting to share stages as well — this past summer, Jafaritabar's grind-flavored Saintpeeler, in which he plays bass, opened for Creeping Death at a festival in Austin.
While Alavi has been making connections across North America through the metal and hardcore communities, they've also found another family via Runescape, an online multiplayer fantasy game with a rabid following that they'd first experimented with in their early teens. To this day, Alavi coordinates kingdom-and-cave-destroying missions alongside other RPG fans, racking up experience points, magic spells, armor upgrades and new combat mechanics throughout each quest.
Alavi estimates that they play Runescape an average of two hours a day, but the online action has seeped into their off-screen consciousness, as well, even taking up residence in Creeping Death's developing songbook. The frontperson confirms that the material on both Specter of War and Wretched Illusions revolves around the violent virtual battlegrounds of Runescape. Take the new album's "Ripping Through Flesh," where a meat-rending mosh groove supports Alavi's guttural lyrical descriptions of a "cold and bloody mission" with "12 warriors by my side pledged to fight to the grave." As the song ramps up into a hellish fireball of thrash riffage, Alavi further details a savage, axe-swinging attack that results in copious decapitations.
"I find it funny and interesting to write about having a war on Runescape and personifying it as some actual shit," Alavi says, before revealing the creatures that grace the cover of Wretched Illusions allude to Runescape's horde of in-game demons. But not every track on the full-length is explicitly plunged into the RPG's fantastical fare. "Captivity," for instance, concentrates on the suicidal mind-spiral of a prisoner of war trapped inside an "odious cage," while "Corroded From Within" is a doom-laden dirge calling out the deceptive nature of the "political elite" that suppress the populace.
When asked if their father's time in the military led to any real-life thoughts on combat, the singer is quick to point out that the elder Alavi never fought on the frontlines: "Most of the material I write about war is strictly fantasy. Medieval shit." Alavi will, however, concede that the existential paranoia that drives turbo-speed freak-out "Peeled From Reality" is based on everyday stress, and was first bellowed as a way to cope with that anxiety. ("I was like, 'I'm going to write a song about peeling my skin off!' And it worked.")
Alavi is admittedly more excited than anxious these days. You can chalk that up to the growing hype surrounding Creeping Death. After spending time on the road with other aggressive up-and-comers like Fuming Mouth, Creeping Death are capping an impressive 2019 with the release of Wretched Illusions and a coveted opening slot on a package tour with new labelmates High on Fire and hometown heroes Power Trip — the latter benchmark representing a full-circle moment of sorts for the singer.
Over a decade ago, Alavi was stricken with terror and intrigue the first time they saw Power Trip live; now, Creeping Death will be joining up with Gale and Co. to convey the same kind of danger to much larger audiences. Alavi, in particular, cuts an imposing figure from center stage, sporting a rawhide gauntlet covered in layers of audience-gouging spikes. And while the music hits hard from start to finish, the singer notes that their stage attire's staying power is somewhat limited. Limp, even. "The leather is kind of soft, so four songs in it looks like the nails need a Viagra," they say with a laugh.
Alavi reports that a sturdier, deadlier piece of armor is on the way. Just like while playing Runescape, the vocalist knows the value of leveling-up one's gear.