Artist: Cancer Bats
Album: Dead Set On Living
Label: Hassle Records/Metal Blade Records
I remember reading somewhere before that you couldn’t be into metal and not like Judas Priest. That remains relevant, but among the latter day contingent, I firmly believe that you can’t claim to be a fan of heavy music and not like Cancer Bats. That’s just not how it works. The Canadian metal/punk/hardcore mob have proven themselves to be one of the most consistently brilliant bands of recent years, with three absurdly good albums and a roving, seemingly ceaseless touring schedule under their belt. Just now as I write this, they’re embarking on the ‘Pentagram’ tour of London, whereby they will play six shows in one day across different locations in the English capital. If this doesn’t sound like the type of band in whom you should put your absolute faith, then I’m sorry, but we can’t be friends.
The characteristically titled Dead Set On Living – which may or may not reference a quote from War of the Worlds and which reflects their stated commitment to PMA – is a stirringly brilliant addition to their catalogue. It features rambunctious, powerful tracks that ooze all the consummate skill and precision for which the band has become known. But what’s perhaps the most striking thing about Dead Set On Living is that, while it showcases the genre-splicing mastery for which the band have rightly been feted, it also indicates a willingness to explore the boundaries of those genres and push their limitations. “New World Alliance” for instance is a breathtaking track, much more ambitious than anything the band have written thus far, and hints at a mouth-watering potential for bigger, bolder, grandiose material.
“Road Sick” and “Rally the Wicked” have both been featured on youtube, so fans will know that the Bats’ trademark balls-out style has been preserved. Yet, these songs aren’t particularly representative of the rest of the album. The rest of it’s even better, as they’ve understandably kept the real gems hidden for the CD. “Rats” is a monstrous opener, up there with “Hail Destroyer” and “Sleep This Away” from their last two records. Smooth, raucous, and painfully cool, it’s infectious despite the slower tempo as the band infuses it with destructive power. “Bricks and Mortar” ups the ante slightly, structuring the song around one stellar lyric delivered in characteristically laconic style by Liam Cormier. It is slicker and more dynamic than the opener, without being overbearing – blowing you away in a nice, measured way. The aforementioned “Breathe Armageddon” is killer; one of the album’s best. It’s cheekier and challenging, but it comes enlightened with a southern slick and an infectious bass line to which babies will likely be conceived. It is on tracks such as this that the Bats are truly at their best – harnessing all their wealth of influences and mixing them up with an insanely ballsy song-writing confidence. The result is luscious, a metal song at once dramatic and seductive that captures all their appeal in one.
The second half of the album takes a brasher, darker turn. “Dead Set On Living” is sinister and marauding, waiting until at least halfway through to unfurl a visceral brace of a chorus. The whispered vocals that open “The Void” are a gorgeous touch and lend this track the same portentous air, before it morphs into something more conventional. “Drunken Physics” will lift the roof off a live venue (or six, for the day that’s in it), while also allowing Scott Middleton’s guitar to take centre stage with a hitherto untapped elegance. “Bastards” laces its vocals with Jaye Schwarzer’s gnarly rasp to delightful effect, but really, you ain’t heard nothing until “New World Alliance” bursts in. Making no secret of its grander ambitions, it springs into life underpinned by a formidable bass line and pounds along steadily before erupting in a rolling, breathtaking sprawl that consumes all in its path. The guitar work is exquisite but it is in the effects that the song really excels – it takes on an epic, almost cinematic darkness that’s atmospheric and unsettling and exceeds about everything the Bats have written up until now. A dystopian and bewitching song, it seals a tremendous album and teases at the brilliance of what’s yet to come.
For a band that has already attained legendary status amongst any true metal fan, Cancer Bats certainly aren’t ones to rest on their laurels. Dead Set On Living is magnificently good, illustrating that it’s one thing to bring the game to your competition, but another to blow them out of the water entirely.
Review written by Grace Duffy