Cancer Bats – Searching For Zero

Two Hellbounders weigh in on the latest from Toronto’s Cancer Bats…

I’ll freely admit that when I first started listening to Searching for Zero, the latest from the hard-touring Cancer Bats I was a little let down. Then again, anything they commit to tape will pale in comparison to their incendiary live performances. But as I gave it more time the building blocks of a Cancer Bats record fell into place.

For anyone who has followed the band they know what those blocks consist of; metal-tinged hardcore with more than a touch of southern groove and the unmistakability of vocalist Liam Cormier.

Searching for Zero starts off with a bang on “Satellites”. The guitar tone is unusually warm, possibly due to the influence of producer Ross Robinson. But it’s still very Cancer Bats. It sounds more metal, almost sludgy in the low end. And of course, the chorus (and gang shouts) are sure to rile up a crowd. The vocally heavy build up the chorus later in the tune doesn’t explode into the extra energy one would expect however.

There’s plenty of energy to be found though. “True Zero” and “Arsenic in the Year of the Snake” take care of that. The latter deals with a number of deaths close to the band as referenced by the line “too many friends died this year.” No doubt fans will relate with that one.

Things slow down a little after that with the hard rockin’ “Beelzebub” and its heavy riffing and touch of sleaze. Its follow-up “Devil’s Blood” seems a bit out of place and disjointed. Its mix of tempos and stop/starts don’t necessarily mesh well and dampens the impact of the heaviness heard at times.

In general the energy levels on the album go back and forth. “Dusted” sees Cormier a little subdued alongside a doomier groove while “All Hail” (a tribute to the late Dave Brockie of GWAR) ratchets up the intensity.

Through it all there’s not much a Bats fan won’t be able to latch on to, as in typical fashion the choruses are ridiculously singable and playing almost any of these tunes live is sure to be met with slamming bodies and die-hards screaming every goddamn word just as vehemently as Cormier.

The album finishes as strong as it started with “No More Bull Shit”. There are parts that absolutely rip in the same way as High on Fire. Something I for one was taken aback by (in a good way). And starting around the 2:10 mark it moves into a groovy part with the album’s most anthemic vocals mixed with melody. It’s a contrast to the album’s fiery beginnings but a nice way to bring Searching for Zero to its conclusion.

The production here might be a bit too much of a change for some listeners, and it’s not their most consistent album, but it’s still Cancer Bats. They still put every ounce of themselves into it. It feels heavier and there are subtleties that reveal themselves. I still feel like nothing will live up to Hail Destroyer but I’ve spun the shit out of this one and with their catchiness and incredible energy you can’t complain too much. And as stated, these songs will get the place off in a live setting. (Matt Hinch)

Taking their entire career into account, Searching For Zero represents an excellent, bold and potentially inflammatory step in Cancer Bats’ development: it’s a punk record through and through. “How is such a turn potentially inflammatory,” you may ask?

Well, the album takes a decades-old musical progression and turns it on its head; over the last few years, it has been very common for punk and hardcore bands to develop increasingly harder edges in their sound before finally making the jump to metal (see the careers of Agnostic Front and Propagandhi, for example), but a move in the inverse direction is virtually unheard of. That rarity is enticing but, even better still, that they do it so well makes the Bats’ fifth full-length a document to not be missed.

Even with that declaration made so listeners get a bit of an idea what to expect of Searching For Zero, there is unlikely to be a single fan who doesn’t recoil in surprise a bit the first time they hear the album’s opening track, “Satellites.” There, guitarist Scott Middleton basically leaves every shaving of metal he’s ever thrown into Cancer Bats’ songs before at home, locks in tight with the rhythm section laid down by bassist Mike Peters and drummer Jay R. Schwarzer and launches out with a totally focused, thick and dense attack.

There are no solos here, no instrumental heroics of any kind and no other such nonsense – just POWER. Proving that he’s up for the pace set by the band, singer Liam Cormier rips through listeners’ senses rough and ready with the band, ready to shred a lung if needs be. The results are phenomenal, and listeners must be left feeling like they’ll have to choose one of two options if they want to keep up with Searching For Zero: they can either fall in line behind the band or get the hell out of the way, because they will not be stopped.

After “Satellites,” those who stay on board with Searching For Zero (and really, who won’t?) will be rewarded with another hard, focused and solo-free assault in the form of “True Zero” as well as the razor-sharp and shockingly spare hardcore anthem “Arsenic and The Year of the Snake.”

In both cases, the band doesn’t break its focus to see how many fans are keeping up awe-struck, they just keep digging; finally, they break stride (slightly) with “Beelzebub,” and come close to playing straight metal, but the power in it feels negated by the track which follows it (“Devil’s Blood”) which follows on its heels and knocks out a phenomenal punk number.

As it continues, the metallic grit which many fans know to normally be the Cancer Bats’ stock in trade does appear occasionally (in “Cursed With A Conscience,” “Buds” and “Dusted”), but with a fraction of the presence that the punk and hardcore tracks flaunt. That is not to say that the metal in the record feels put on, it’s just not as captivating as the leaner, more angry and confrontational punk and hardcore tracks included.It’s amazing how far from their established center Cancer Bats come on this album, in fact, and how easy it is to be won by what they offer on Searching For Zero; as (the perfectly entitled) “No More Bullshit” ushers the album out with one last formidable stomp, listeners will get a minute to really wonder what Cancer Bats might do next.

The band has already challenged the expectations that fans have placed before them (they’ve become a formidable metal act, formed a respectable Black Sabbath cover band as a profitable hobby and begun to sink both their heels and teeth into punk and hardcore too) and exceeded them so effortlessly that there’s just no telling what hurdle they might decide to jump next. There’s no doubt they will though – after five albums of continually refining themselves, Cancer Bats have pretty much proven they’re capable of ANYTHING with Searching For Zero. (Bill Adams)

Released by New Damage/Metal Blade on March 10, 2015.

Cancer Bats – Searching For Zero“True Zero” – [mp3 download]

Bill Adams is Editor-in-Chief of Ground Control Mag.

Keep up with all Matt's exploits on Twitter @Kingdomofnoise!