Toronto-based hardcore quartet Cancer Bats tend to defy easy description, as their sound is often a blood-spilling assault of renegade punk, thrash & doom metal, and even grimy southern rock, with the occasional touch of Sabbath-influenced stoner sludge for good measure. Nearly all of those elements were tossed into the musical meat grinder that was 2010's Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones – a dark and disturbing record I'm still staggering from – but it seems the band has added more refinements, variation and a sense of order to their sound for the fourth full-length release Dead Set On Living, which just dropped this week. So I geared up and tackled it head-on, hoping I'd survive the assault with less cranial trauma. Read on for a track-by-track rundown on this smorgasbord of Canadian carnage...
While the band's punk elements are more front-and-center this time around, this is actually one of their more diverse records. Instead of sending the hardcore crashing headlong into multiple metal genres, the Bats have mostly isolated their punk-driven tracks from those dominated by sludge and stoner metal – in other words, they've basically disassembled the elements of Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones and assigned them to different songs. That's not to say that this album is any less maniacal than its predecessor (far from it, in fact; some of these cuts nearly gave me a concussion), but it does have more of a roller-coaster dynamic, which definitely works in its favor.
The energy level begins at its peak with a wall of feedback that breaks to release the thick, swampy riffage of "R.A.T.S," while frontman Liam Cormier unleashes his sharp mid-range scream with focused hate, railing against the human vermin who have wronged him. "Bricks and Mortar" picks up the same key, but adopts a down-tuned but speedy rhythm riff by Scott Middleton, ably assisted by the sinister crawling bass of Jaye Schwarzer, and lots of roadhouse raunch. The messy alt-punk of "Road Sick" belies the travel-weary frustration and longing in the lyrics, which kind of kills the mood, but the ominous southern-fried rocker "Breathe Armageddon" brings the energy right back. The title track opens with Mike Peters' warlike drums, which stay on a steady, unwavering track through verse and chorus alike, and features coarse melodic vocals and an eerie low-end that enters the same stoner territory ruled by bands like High On Fire (who, oddly enough, came out with a new record this month too... check out our review).
"The Void" begins in a doomy sludge vortex, complete with slowly stomping rhythm, deep power chords and screaming feedback, then slides back into a mean and messy sequence of ultra-heavy riffs. "Old Blood" (which you can check out via the clip at the end of this review) brings back the hardcore fury, with vocals and guitars fighting to out-screech each other, building to a fist-pumping conclusion. "Drunken Physics" is a high-tempo metalcore beast with a dark bass heart and a wild range of spoken, sung and shouted vocals, coming together to become one of the standout tracks on this record. "Bastards" features a guest vocal from DevilDriver frontman Dez Fafara, and the band rises to the occasion with solid mid-tempo thrash rhythms and a deep Pantera-like groove, before busting into grand, soaring chords at the breakdown. "Rally the Wicked" is another super-heavy beater in the hardcore tradition, with a supremely raw punk delivery from Cormier. "New World Alliance" closes out the record on a dark and brooding note, with massive chords creeping along like a shadowy beast while multi-tracked vocals sound a call to battle.
While it's definitely not for the faint of heart, Dead Set On Living is a diverse and dynamic record that is best experienced in its entirety, to savor the ebb and flow of the songs' energy. While Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones crammed everything but the kitchen sink into each and every cut, this time around it feels like the grinding, doomy sludge tracks counter-balance the explosive metalcore in much the same way a well-paced horror film balances elements of shock and suspense. It's a more delicate balancing act than you might think, especially for a band known for its fury... but these cats manage to pull it off.
Wanna see how they do it? Check out the video for "Old Blood" below...