Cancer Bats – The Spark That Moves LP

When a band gets six albums deep into their career, history has illustrated that one of two things happens: either the group releases a career-defining album, or they release the worst shit shingle in their catalogue. For every British Steel, Iron Fist, Machine Head, Divine Intervention or Sound of White Noise, there are also albums like Somewhere In Time, Take A Look In The Mirror or Load. In fact, that ‘sixth album’ slot is a pretty remarkable one to occupy.

From the moment the needle catches the groove in the A-side of The Spark That Moves and “Gatekeeper” crashes to life to open it, listeners will understand that this record is positioned to align itself fantastically with history’s “sixth album tradition”. There, everything that has ever won Cancer Bats praise from both fans and critics is already locked down tight and swaggers along with the knowledge that what the band is bringing is going to work.

From the first instant that singer Liam Cormier crows out, “Goddamn,” he’s already loose and limber, and the band is in lockstep with him. The backing supplied by bassist Jaye R. Schwarzer and drummer Mike Peters is the solid stuff that fans have come to expect of Cancer Bats over the last dozen years and guitarist Scott Middleton’s punk/metallic performance just seems to coil and roll viciously throughout the song’s two-minute, forty-seven-second runtime, but that sound combined with Cormier’s vocal somehow manages to not only exceed expectation, but the limitations perceived to be inherent to both metal and punk rock as well.

The sound is huge and brutal, but listeners of the right mind will find themselves drawn in and totally hypnotized by it too. It’s for that reason they’ll be held starry-eyed as “Gatekeeper” runs out and “Brightest Days” grinds its way seamlessly before battering listeners senseless too.

As the A-side of The Spark That Moves progresses, it’s important to point out that listeners will find themselves becoming completely engrossed by the choices that the band makes track-by-track in spite of the fact that music doesn’t lighten up at all.

In “Brightest Days,” for example, listeners will be incapable of keeping their eyes from widening and their pulses from rising every time Cormier barks out the words “Head held high” as well as the assault of the E chord which punctuates them.

Conversely, the squalid guitar tones which drive the raging tempo of “We Run Free” are offset by the surprisingly nimble bass and drum performances, and listeners won’t be able to keep themselves from cracking a defiant smile at the end of the song when they hear Cormier exclaim, “Aw Pete, that was the vibe” to producer JP Peters to close the song.

Those tones alone would be enough to ensure that listeners would be incapable of pulling themselves away from this runtime, but that power and pristine performance is put into all-the-greater relief as, to close the side, “Space and Time” and “Bed of Nails” threaten to compress listeners so much that they may fracture.

There, while the cuts do bleed together (read:  there isn’t a hard stop or break between them on the vinyl presentation), listeners will find themselves happily lost as the two songs spiral out of control into oblivion. While the lines between the songs do bleed, both songs are individually recognizable; in this case, “Space and Time” just seethes with raw energy as Middleton’s guitars batter listeners and Cormier spits lines about a new day rising and a desire to live in a nuclear age, but the most infectious moments (and the real payday) come as the song fades out, “Bed of Nails” quickly picks up and Cormier issues the perfect rejoining sentiment with the words, “Never gonna quit.”

In this case, while “Space and Time” and “Bed of Nails” do seem conjoined, and do complement each other, there’s no question that they’re autonomous entities. The production of the two songs just stand as miles apart; “Space and Time” sears senses with raw power and emotion and the songs production is so densely packed that it threatens to negate all the forward motion that Cancer Bats  had made prior to to that point on the A-side of the album, but “Bed of Nails” comes along immediately thereafter with finer, more articulated and defined instrumental performances, and inspires a very different kind of vibe than does its predecessor. Simply said, that these two cuts follow each other in this side’s running and also closes it amounts to a pretty perfect decision on the band’s part; this way, listeners get a sense of just how large Cancer Bats’ compositional scope is, and shows that the band has no interest in focusing on one, specifically, in the slightest.

Simply said, the band clearly regards these forms as all part of one palette, and that the pairing closes the side will leave listeners invigorated and ready for a second helping.

…And, after listeners have flipped the record over and their turntable’s stylus finds the groove, they’ll find that Cancer Bats far from exhausted themselves with the A-side of The Spark That Moves. The B-side opens with “Headwound,” which really lives up to its name; here the band crosses turgid, grimy tempos with histrionics reminiscent of the groaning crunch that Powerman 5000 used to peddle (think “Worlds Collide” and you’re on the right track) before Cormier throws chills down everyone’s collective spine with the words, “The heavens will kill us all.”

The assault is flawless and glorious and perfectly opens the side, but the cut which follows it, “Fear Will Kill Us All” offers the perfect foil which really drives its predecessor home. There, with a gentle and spare piano introduction, Cancer Bats easily cause listeners to feel a sense of remorse which might feel a little strange in this album’s context before the band just begins battering them relentlessly.

While “Fear Will Kill Us All” features some pretty great guitar finery provided by Middleton, there’s no question that the song is really Peters’ show; here, the drummer just assaults his instrument relentlessly – moving from cymbals to toms and snare with a fluidity which borders on mercurial – and effortlessly conducts all of the other instruments in the song in so doing. It feels as though no one from Cormier on down in the mix moves without Peters’ say so, and it is phenomenal.

After the act of caustic, unrelenting brilliance that is “Fear Will Kill Us All,” Cancer Bats continue to grind with “Rattlesnake” – which only features the slightest step back in presence from its predecessor – before revisiting the metallic hardcore angle that the band took for Dead Set On Living with “Can’t Sleep” and really letting Middleton off the leash to play the roll of a Zakk Wylde-ish guitar hero for “Heads Will Roll” and then letting Schwarzer do the same for “Winterpeg” to close out the proceedings.

For those who have followed the band for a while, “Winterpeg” represents something of an impressive breakthrough; Schwarzer’s bass is the central instrument in the mix (behind Cormier, or course) and is responsible for giving the venom in its teeth – which isn’t common for Cancer Bats who have historically been a guitar and vocal-dominated outfit. That the change plays so well here may cause fans to rethink their perceptions of what the band is capable of though, and that it happens with the closing cut on this album will leave listeners eagerly anticipating what may come from the band on their next release. 

After they’ve run front-to-back with The Spark That Moves, that aforementioned anticipation left by “Winterpeg” will have listeners ready to run the gamut set forth by the band as many times as their turntables will allow. The power and the hooks apparent throughout The Spark That Moves are spectacular and will have listeners satisfied. Needless to say, that The Spark That Moves IS so good is both exciting and gratifying; six albums in, and Cancer Bats have followed the historical paradigm and released a true classic with The Spark That Moves.

(Bat Skull Records/New Damage)

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