Cancer Bats – Dead Set On Living

By Bill Adams

In the six years since Cancer Bats first started making records, a few phrases have been use to qualify the band’s music that they’ve nearly become cliche. Each time the Bats have released an album, for example, sentiments and praise like “Canadian post-hardcore behemoths,” “Cancer Bats did it again (sometimes punctuated with an exclamation mark),” “brutal” and “awesome” have accompanied discussions of the music in print but, while it has been deserved, it has also become repetitive. Fans know the band is great but the rest of the world has always seemed to fall just short of catching on. Such a tradition qualifies easily as the dictionary definition of a heartbreaker but on their fourth album, Dead Set On Living, the Cancer Bats may have managed to find a sound and style which helps them successfully cross over without selling out; when the band shreds it up a little in the eleven songs that comprise Dead Set On Living, it’s impossible not to envision the results playing like the perfect soundtrack to an awesome, hard-grinding half-pipe session.

Listeners won’t be able to stop themselves from cracking a wry smile of anticipation as a cloud of billowing, caustic noise (“Noice!”) rolls in to open “R.A.T.S.,” but they’ll still have to brace themselves as the song explodes and guitarist Scott Middleton and bassist Jaye R. Schwarzer blow the walls out in a moment of perfect, aggressive anthemia. Running lean but viciously with its adrenaline levels already up, teeth bared and singer Liam Cormier barking, the band bounds out with a perfect, aggressive and hypnotizing sound that is hard, but also surprisingly lithe and agile; here, the band flies around listeners in a rage which holds up even after “R.A.T.S.” gives way to “Bricks And Mortar” and “Road Sick,” and maintains the treacherous pace they’ve set beyond that as well.

While Dead Set On Living does give up a couple of less-than-exemplary moments as is goes (“The Void” and “Drunken Physics”), they are few, paltry and permissible stacked next to the staggering number of great songs on the album (“R.A.T.S.,” “Bricks And Mortar,” “Road Sick,” “Old Blood” “Bastards” and “Rally The Wicked” all rank as a selection of the best songs Cancer Bats have ever written), and listeners who were only half-way on-board with Cancer Bats’ mix of metal and hardcore will find themselves all-in and really receptive to the band’s approach here as they manage to keep their energy levels peaked. When “New World America” finally does collapse out of exhaustion to close out the record, listeners will find themselves reaching to re-start the record all over again because highs on Dead Set On Living and the way they’re presented are addictive. While Cancer Bats have never released a record that anyone could call a failure, this album should be a widespread, runaway success – it deserves to be, it is absolutely their best, most accessible album to date.

(Distort [Canada] / Metal Blade [USA])

Cancer Bats perform at HEAVY TO on August 11th and at HEAVY MTL on August 12th

Sean is the founder/publisher of; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.