METALMANCE RETROSPECTIVE: Cancer Bats

My thoughts on their spectacular back catalogue.

CANCER BATS  are one of those reliable bands in heavy music. Spouting the grooviest hardcore punk of this century, the band have been shouting and raging for over a decade now. With a fiercely loyal fanbase the ‘BATS have always been close to their supporters and this always adds to their element of fun at their live shows. And what gigs they are! They’re the band I’ve seen the most and it’s always an incredible experience. Five times I’ve seen them and I’m hoping to make that six when I see them at Chinnerys in Southend next month. They crossover many styles and audiences, having oodles of appeal in different scenes. They recently released their sixth album The Spark That Moves as a surprise and it’s stirred all sorts of nostalgia in me. To celebrate the band making a triumphant return I have compiled a retrospective on their back catalogue and included my thoughts and favourite tracks of each album.

Birthing The Giant – 2006

Birthing The Giant

I feel like I’ve grown up listening to CANCER BATS the past 12 years. I first heard of them when Rock Sound magazine featured Golden Tanks on one of their cover mount CDs. I remember listening to this track over and over again in my GCSE Art mock exam, and loving the grooves and energy so much. I then heard French Immersion on a Hassle Records sampler and I knew I just HAD to buy Birthing The Giant the next time I made a trip to my nearest HMV. They instantly became my new favourite band. Despite the fact I cold never imitate Liam Cormier’s yaps I would always shout along and bang my head. I found them so heavy, yet extremely catchy and Scott Middleton’s riffs were so addictive I was completely besotted. I mean, 100 Grand Canyon anyone? You never know whether to dance or to mosh and that’s the beauty of their music.

Favourite track: Pneumonia Hawk. To be honest it could easily be one of the others I’ve just mentioned but this song has a special place in my heart. Still one of the most crushing songs live, CANCER BATS always reduce venues to rubble with this song. Throw in guest vocals from George Pettit from ALEXISONFIRE and you’re onto a winner.

Hail Destroyer – 2008

Hail Destroyer

CANCER BATS recently played four shows at The Underworld, Camden to celebrate the tenth anniversary of this absolute masterpiece. Every song is a gem in its own right with fan favourites being the devastating Sorceress and the fast-paced Pray For Darkness, both absolutely slay live and nothing compares to the poison Cormier spits during the former. The reissue a year later features their incredible covers of TEGAN AND SARA’s So Jealous and THE FAINT’s Agenda Suicide. Both of which are still some of my favourite covers to date.

I think the reason why young people related (and still relate) to Hail Destroyer is the fact it’s a collection of anthems that provide optimism and solidarity. At their live shows they make everyone feel like one big family and that sticks with fans forever. The raucous energy in the recordings are reflected in their live shows which results in utter chaos. I saw CANCER BATS three times while they toured this album and I almost suffocated at one, and blacked out at another. Utter madness.

Favourite track: Harem of Scorpions. One of THE most underrated CANCER BATS songs and one which I’ve never seen them play live. It has a powerful message which resonates with me and a lyric from this is one of my favourites of all time;

“And the greatest thing you’ve ever done, is made yourself truly happy. Not doing it for anyone, it’s your life to live as you choose.”

Couple this with incredible riffs and a guest appearance from RISE AGAINST’s Tim McIlrath and it’s an unstoppable track.

Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones – 2010

Bears Mayors Scraps and Bones

Named after the members’ nicknames, I always felt with this album Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones, CANCER BATS started to go in a sludgier direction. It’s not quite as fast and aggressive as Hail Destroyer which disappointed me initially, but listening to this album now I think I’ve totally taken it for granted. Still heavy as hell and catchier as ever, you’ve got the classics We Are The Undead, Fake Gold, Black Metal Bicycle and Snake Mountain to tickle your fancy. Groovy riffage runs throughout and of course the cherry on the cake is their cover of BEASTIE BOYS’ Sabotage. This cover further propelled them into the mainstream and rightly so, it’s a fantastic cover but I still get annoyed when people say it’s their favourite CANCER BATS song. I think the band have a whole wealth of material that surpasses this, but it is a great example of what CANCER BATS are all about; groovy, punky-hardcore that’s hella addictive and easy to enjoy.

Favourite track: Scared To Death. I think this is three minutes of perfection. So much happens in this song yet it sounds a tad more reserved than shoutier efforts. The way it all tumbles out from the get-go instantly captures your attention. I absolutely adore the pure metal riff after Cormier says “Ask me now I’d say I do”. JUST SO METAL. And let’s not forget we all tried to copy Cormier’s “uh uh – uuhh” but never sounded as cool. CANCER BATS always manage to write one-line anthems and this song has one too;

“I wanna kill everything I fear”.

I always feared CANCER BATS would crumble under the pressure of the success of Hail Destroyer but I needn’t have worried.

Dead Set On Living – 2012

Dead Set On Living

I don’t know how many times I skipped back to the intro of this album but R.A.T.S still sounds bloody HUGE. Probably one of the biggest sounds CANCER BATS have ever made, yet I feel this is the album which always gets overlooked. I think one reason for this, and this is only my personal opinion, is that the band sound a bit detached from their fanbase on this record. It’s a bit more of a straight-up metallic hardcore output but it’s got a few more doomy influences, such as the song The Void. You got some classic Middleton riffs on Drunken Physics and Rally The Wicked, but I find the album is missing an ‘anthem’. New World Alliance or R.A.T.S could arguably be treated as such but they’re not as in your face as previous efforts. All in all, this is till a very interesting and well written record, listening back to it now I feel like I’m listening to it for the first time.

Favourite track: Old Blood, because once again Middleton becomes extremely close to stealing the show with his riffing. I think the feel of this song harks back to their early days, with a little more balls. The gang vocals give it a cool hardcore feel and the energy is infectious.

Searching For Zero – 2015

Searching For Zero

This is probably the album I’ve connected with the least. That’s not exactly a criticism but I thought CANCER BATS had lost some of their oomph with Searching For Zero. I always thought this album was more doom metal than hardcore and the old school mix effect made it hard for me to digest. Songs like All Hail and Beezlebub still had a groovy riff and that CANCER BATS charm but tracks like Dusted and Cursed With A Conscious were always lost on me. It was interesting to see when they toured this album, the audience was no longer punk rock kids, but the band’s old school fans who had grown up into fully fledged adults. The gigs were still crazy but not as [cancer]batshit crazy like I was used to. I was always worried this album spelled the end of CANCER BATS but luckily, I was wrong…

Favourite track: True Zero. This song didn’t really ‘click’ with me until I saw them play it live. I’m not a massive fan of the verse and the overuse of reverb but it’s stupidly catchy and Cormier’s grit during the chorus is absolutely captivating. There are still glimpses of old CANCER BATS in this song and that’s what I always clung on to.

The Spark That Moves – 2018

Precision 12 Inch Jacket Template

When CANCER BATS surprised the world with the release of The Spark That Moves, I was a little apprehensive to give it a listen after the disappointment of Searching For Zero. I needn’t have been concerned because The Spark That Moves is clearly the best thing CANCER BATS have done since Hail Destroyer, and I’m not alone in this belief. The Canadian group have returned to their old roots and kicked all doubt out the window. Each track also has a unique music video to accompany the album which makes this record an audio and visual treat for all music fans. The energy and pace reflects that of their earlier albums with tracks like Brightest DaysRattlesnake and Can’t Sleep sounding like they wouldn’t be out of place on Birthing The Giant and Hail Destroyer. From the opening riff of Gatekeeper, you are hooked. This album is also the first record for a while CANCER BATS have got guest vocalists involved such as Jenna Priestner of MOBINA GALORE on Rattlesnake (the first female vocals on a CANCER BATS record?) and the amazing Chris Hannah from PROPAGANDI on the last track, Winterpeg which is just a fabulous finale. An all round fun album that has brought CANCER BATS to the forefront of hardcore punk again.

Favourite track: Bed Of Nails. I absolutely adore how this track begins, from the vocals to the groovy riff. This song actually ends up featuring some of Cormier’s ‘melodic’ vocals which emphasises the heavier lyric of “Before I die I’ll live forever”. CANCER BATS sound like they have got their mojo back and the anthems are back in full force.