By Aaron Brophy
On July 10, 2011 Toronto heavy rockers Cancer Bats went through some changes. Liam Cormier, Scott Middleton, Mike Peters and Jaye Schwarzer were swept into a void at the Sonisphere Festival in Stevenage, England, and when they re-emerged they became… Bat Sabbath, a hardcore Black Sabbath cover band.
The Bat’s set, which was meant to be a one-off post-Slipknot after-party, attracted 5,000 bangers. More importantly, it captured the imagination of promoters. As such, starting this December, inbetween recording sessions for their fourth full-length album, Bat Sabbath will once again emerge from that hole in the sky and perform 11 dates across central Ontario and Quebec.
Hellhound spoke to Bat Sabbath/Cancer Bats lead singer Liam Cormier about own relationship with Sabbath and what it’s like to put on the upside-down cross and channel Ozzy. Here’s what he had to say:
What was the reason for you guys becoming Bat Sabbath?
We actually got to do Bat Sabbath originally by a festival in England, called Sonisphere. They were like, we’re going to have you play your original set at like 4 or 5 in the afternoon, but we’re looking to get a band to be the Slipknot after-party. And you guys could maybe do a bunch of covers, like maybe a Pantera set. And we were like, “We’re not talented enough to do a Pantera set.”
So we were like, no not going to work. So they were like, “Oh, well, you can do whatever you want. We just though Pantera would be rad. What about Black Sabbath?” And we were like, “YEAH! We can nail Black Sabbath!” But I think it’s funny because we were like, “Black Sabbath, no problem! Everyone grew up with it” And then we dove into it and it was like, “Holy Shit. These guys are way more intricate and jazzy than we kind of first thought.”
We kind of felt like idiots in retrospect. Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi — those are two of the greatest bass and guitar players in heavy music, ever — so obviously their parts are gonna be fucking insane. But I lucked out because Ozzy Osbourne, for as long as all those songs are, he only sings like a third of the time, so I get to just headbang.
Are you going to dress like Ozzy for the upcoming shows?
Yeah, when we did the show I had like a big cape. I was like, “Yeah, I’m not Liam from Cancer Bats, I’m, y’know, Liam from Bat Sabbath.”
I’m getting my suit for real, too. I don’t have it completely mapped out yet, but I’m definitely going to put some engineering into my outfit. Because I also, I made that outfit and it lasted one show. It was pinning a cape to our drummer’s button up shirt. So that worked for the time being, but I had to actually, if I have to actually wear this every day for 12 days I got to make this a little bit more reinforced.
What was the reaction like when you guys played Sonisphere?
The actual festival was the greatest. It was probably one of the raddest things I’ve ever done in my life. Especially in England where people know the words to every single Black Sabbath song. Like, we closed our set with “War Pigs” and it was like in a tent with 5,000 people singing along. I didn’t even have to sing, I just put the mic out to everyone.
So is everyone in the band into the idea of being Bat Sabbath?
One hundred per cent. That’s the thing, too, with covering. Picking a cover sometimes can be so excruciating because you have to get everybody to sign off on it because your band is like a relationship and everyone’s gotta agree and be on point. Like even the [Beastie Boys’] “Sabotage” cover, three-quarters of us were 100 per cent on board and it took some heavy convincing. But he came around.
So what Black Sabbath albums are you going to draw from for your set?
We have our original five songs that we did for Sonisphere, so we’re gonna stick to those because they went over so well and we spent a long time learning them. So far it’s “Paranoid,” “Iron Man,” “N.I.B.,” “Supernaut” and “War Pigs,” but yeah, we want to draw on the heavy classics, so probably it’ll be dominated by the first four albums. Hits only.
Does that mean no Dio?
Definitely no Dio. It’s gotta be all-Ozzy. And I mean no disrespect to that era, but if you’re going to go see a cover band, you want to hear the hits. You don’t want to hear the obscure b-side that only the guys in the band and the superfans know.
So no Ian Gillan, or Glenn Hughes or any songs from their revolving-door singer period, either?
No. One hundred per cent Ozzy. Ozzy or nothing.
What’s your favourite Sabbath album?
Paranoid was the cassette that I bought that got me into it. And around that time, I forget when it was but I remember being like 10 or 11 years old and jamming on that superhard. And my brother had a bunch of these older friends and they gave me these Black Sabbath compilations, like a bunch of Best Ofs — they were like bootlegs or something. And I remember those were like my go-to, so I had to actually like, in hindsight go back and figure out what songs were from what records. And then later that Nativity In Black cover series came out and I remember jamming on that really super-hard too as a youth.
I got into Sabbath when I was a kid, too. And one of the things that did it was the wicked cover art on records like Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. What did you think when you saw those covers as a kid?
These guys are terrifying. Jaye Schwarzer, our bass player, he got on early, like the first Sabbath record, and it was his mom’s. And he used to like stare at the witch on the cover and be like completely terrified by it. And that was his entrance. And that’s what rules, as much Sabbath fans as we all are, Jaye knows every single song off the first four albums on guitar, and has now learned all the songs on bass — his entire life was dedicated to learning Sabbath songs.
What’s your favourite Sabbath song?
I don’t know. Like, when I was a youth it was “Paranoid” and “Iron Man.” But now that I’ve kind of grown up I’m super into like how Satanic “N.I.B.” is.
That first album’s still pretty scary today.
Yeah. And I really like a lot of the romance aspects of. I’m reading more of the lyrics and I’m reading a lot of Ozzy’s earlier stuff, which I actually think is really well-written and intelligent. Like, just that idea of romance with the occult and with Satan and a lot of that stuff. And I’m like, “This is really cool.” But I think that’s also because I’m into a lot of that writing now personally while I’m writing our fourth record and I’m trying to step up my game, so I’m looking at a lot of cool first-person and third-person ways of telling a story.
How did you discover Sabbath in the first place?
I think it was like being a young kid and into Led Zeppelin and AC/DC and all those bands. Even just, you asked your dad what else you should check out. And a big thing too was I went to camp when I was like 9, 10, and we had all these like 15, 16 year old hippie stoner counselors, and they were like, “You should check out Ministry,” and another dude was like, “You should listen to The Grateful Dead,” and another dude was like, “You should listen to The Clash,” and another dude was like, “You should listen to The Rolling Stones…” and then someone was like, “You should listen to the Beastie Boys, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.” And I was like, “OK.”
Basically these counselors were ruining young minds.
No, they were doing their job as life counselors. That was how I learned about a ton of bands.
What do you think of Ozzy these days?
I remember going to see Ozzy, I lived in the States in, like, 1996. He played and he came out and was shooting people with a super-soaker and I was fucking so bummed out. I was, like, “There’s nothing evil about about a super-soaker.” I remember 15, 16 year old me, like, obviously all teenagers are assholes, so whatever, Ozzy can play on, but I remember that ruined it, that super-soaker bummed me out so hard.
So what can we expect when you guys play?
We’re going to build on those five songs and make it so we have a good 45-50 minute set. Maybe an hour. It’s kinda easy to get long sets with Sabbath. And I don’t even have to learn anything. I just stand there because I only have to sing for two minutes of the eight. It’s perfect. I might bring a tambourine. I think that would be a good vibe.
I’m just super-psyched to play these songs. I think it’s going to be awesome. I feel like, for kids who love getting fucked up this is going to be a perfect setting, getting stoned as possible. If you love staying sober this is going to be the perfect setting, too. Because I’m going to be as sober as possible.
Bat Sabbath’s upcoming tour dates:
December 2 Toronto, ON Parts & Labour
December 3 Collingwood, ON Casbah Bar
December 7 Barrie, ON The Mansion
December 8 Ottawa, ON Mavericks Bar
December 9 Kingston, ON The Mansion
December 13 Guelph, ON E-Bar
December 14 Peterborough, ON The Historic Red Dog
December 15 London, ON Rum Runners
December 16 Montreal, QC Les Foufounes Electriques
December 17 Burlington, ON Queen’s Head
December 18 St.Catharines, ON L3 Nightclub
Youtube links to Bat Sabbath’s Sonisphere set:
Aaron Brophy is a Toronto based freelance writer. Find him online at www.riskyfuel.com