Some bands are just impossible to pigeonhole. Like how often do you say that something as aggressive and technically complex as metal sounds an awful lot like hardcore because, on a subject level, the songs are also as personal and self-reflexive as Black Flag was? And who would expect that a metal band might cover a hip hop institution like the Beastie Boys? The twain just don’t meet in wither case – so what is it?
The answer exists in just two words: Cancer Bats. The Bats started out simply enough; when they formed in 2004, they were a metal band by accident more than design. Singer Liam Cormier’s voice was too atonal and caustic for anyone to mistake it for melodic hardcore (although apparently that’s at least partially what they were shooting for) and the guitars were also just too technically accomplished to be mistaken for hardcore; simply said, they were a metal band and the band’s first two albums (Birthing The Giant and Hail Destroyer) showcased that fact.
With their third album though, the rules have changed almost completely. On Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones, things have gotten a little more complicated as the Cancer Bats get ever-closer to achieving what they wanted in the first place.
Listeners can sense the change as soon as “Sleep This Away” kicks over to lead off Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones. While still obviously very metallic (Scott Middleton’s guitar assault threatens to loose the bowels of the unsuspecting), the songs are leaner, meaner and less laden than they have been previously; it’s not exactly a lighter touch, but it’s not as methodical as the band’s previous albums have been either.
There’s no doubt that everything has changed, in fact, as “Trust No One” pipes up to showcase everything fans can expect in Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones, almost in one fell swoop. With a swinging and universally mean attack, Cancer Bats set fire to much of their own past as well as a significant number of the bands that would pretend to be their peers as they find the best possible middle ground between old school hardcore (like Black Flag) and Seventies/Eighties-era metal (think Judas Priest), and throw in something that loosely resembles the raw energy of skate punk for good measure. Veering between cocksure, half-spoken lines and caustic thrash, snarling aggro-metal and good, old-fashioned, metallic guttural grunts that all examine anger more than the typical undead metal fare, singer Liam Cormier acts as his audience’s guide through the fetid, unclean places addressed in songs like “Trust No One,” “Doomed To Fail,” “Scared To Death” and “Fake Gold.” The interesting thing is that it’s done here in such a way that each change in the singer’s voice signals a change of direction in the song as well; each time Cormier steps down and gets a little darker, so too do Middleton, drummer Michael Peters and and bassist Jaye Schwarzer. While the timing of those vocal shifts becomes easier to call the further into the album both listeners and the Cancer Bats get, it never ceases to be engaging (no more so than in “Scared To Death”) and pulls audiences through because it never ceases to get listeners’ adrenaline up. It is, very simply, the best album Cancer Bats have released to date.
Great, sure – but what exactly is it? In following along through the Cancer Bats’ first two albums, a fan is able to spot the strengths and what was lacking, and mark the differences between the first two and this new one. As a cover of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” (it’s good – you have to hear it to believe it) closes out Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones, listeners are left wondering if this success is what Cancer Bats were intent upon achieving or if there will be more changes made. Regardless, the greatest success in Bears, Mayors, Scrapes & Bones is that the band is standing firmly on solid ground unpopulated by anyone else; Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones registers Cancer Bats as a beast all their own.