Album Review: Cancer Bats - "Dead Set on Living"
The time-tested axiom holds that a person, by proxy a leopard, cannot change his or her spots. The jaws of this seemingly ironclad tenet have firmly clenched themselves around the world of music, backed up by a fervent fan base who reliably and predictably ridicules a band that attempts to do so.
Except for Cancer Bats, the latest Canadian band to hop onto the burgeoning bandwagon of artists from the Great White North who have invaded the American metal scene in the past four years. Coming into this new effort "Dead Set on Living," Cancer Bats had cemented their reputation as another crossover hardcore band in a crowded genre of hardcore bands. Yet now, the band has made it their mission to compose a compendium of pieces which purportedly steer away from the basic mores of hardcore in favor of an expansion into broader, more inclusive territory.
To that end, vocalist Liam Cormier had stated prior to this album's recording that he and the band had a sincere desire to record a more emotionally uplifting effort, preaching the virtues of steadfast perseverance and the reward of conquering adversity. In this way, the album bears an awful lot of resemblance (and a more than passing musical resemblance) to the Showdown's excellent effort "Blood in the Gears." Musically, Cormier longed to assimilate an even wider range of elements into his band's usual mix of sludge, punk and metalcore. The guest appearance of An Horse's Kate Cooper on "Dead Set on Living" is testament to Cancer Bats' desire to grow beyond their bounds.
Speaking in plain, general terms, "Dead Set on Living" is an album that musically blends the best elements of Marilyn Manson (back when that meant something,) and Metallica's iconic black album. (Sidebar: if it seems like I reference that album a lot when talking in terms of influence, it's because, let's face it, that album influenced a crapload of metal that has come since.) There are many other evident aspects, from the thick, sludgy, slurred guitar tone straight out of Kim Thayill's work on Soundgarden's "New Damage," to the plain-faced monotone intonation of the choruses reminiscent of Josh Homme in Queens of the Stone Age. All of those permutations though, are springboarded off the basic, solid construction of metal that we spoke about at the start of this paragraph.
Expanding on that idea, the album's single "Road Sick" is essentially a Ramones classic on steroids, magnified through the looking glass of what we alluded to above. It may take two passes to hear the influence, but it is there, in all its toe-tapping glory. As a vocalist, this is a better showcase for Cormier, who is superior when he mixes his screaming and chanting, as it lets him emphasize the portions that are more impacting.
These kind of subtle musical homages are peppered throughout the record, from "Breathe Armageddon's" distant relation to Megadeth's fan favorite "Peace Sells," to "Old Blood" making like a modern reincarnation of obscure Powerman 5000 single "Car Crash." "Old Blood" comes with the additional twist of featuring a guitar tone that is a near carbon copy of George Thorogood's, lending the piece a southern rock, classic feel that makes the song more dynamic overall, and adds to the album's variety.
The replications of effective movements from days gone by are not limited to literal transcriptions of ideals, though. Just as often, Cancer Bats uses the ideal of a type of music and infuses it into something that is uniquely their own. "The Void" sounds like a song with "Void" in the title should, though that is not to say that it sounds like Black Sabbath's "Into the Void." Rather, it is a song that encapsulates the finest elements of stoner metal and sludge rock in the late '70s and uses them to craft a memorable piece that is heavy with an appropriately minimalist doom riff.
Similarly, "Drunken Physics" brings back to life the kind of wonderfully rebellious cheese that so thoroughly populated rock and heavy metal in the mid '80s. There are big, in your face gang choruses that lend just a glimmer of humor to the proceedings.
For those looking for something completely and totally original, listen to "R.A.T.S," the album starter that hammers on in its chorus, and continually yanks on the chain to make sure that the song's wanderings circle back to the central, punishing theme. It is a song that refuses to let you forget what it is and what band you're listening to.
Overall, "Dead Set on Living" is an album that is securely fixated on groove and infectious riffs rather than blunt force musical trauma and post-production sleight of hand. It's an effort of big choruses and big ambition, desiring wholeheartedly to be equal to the sum of its inspirations and superior to the band's past efforts. From those standpoints, Cancer Bats have produced not only an exercise in music study and discipline, but a record they can effortlessly stand on and declare their best.