Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones
12 April 2010
by Hugh Platt
Let’s just get it out of the way now – I’m a major Cancer Bats fan. I’m talking Hail-Destroyer-is-in-my-Top-3-Albums-Of-All-Time levels of fanboy-status here. The ‘Sabotage’/’Scared To Death’ EP release recently not only increased my own personal-hype for Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones to near-stupid levels, but it meant that I was walking around with a musical hard-on for three weeks solid. I overplayed that release till my Last.Fm account almost broke.
So can Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones hope to live up to this pedestal I’ve erected (Jeez, I’m sorry) for it?
Of course it fucking can’t.
Unlike the hardcore headbutt of Hail Destroyer‘s title-track opener, here we have ‘Sleep This Away’. Beginning with a wall of spiky guitar growl, it initially hints that Cancer Bats are going to pay some serious lip service to their sludgier influences but then blows those hopes away by some unwelcome changes in pace. The song never speeds up enough to become an all-destroying hardcore stampede, but it increases tempo just enough for the sweltering southern growl to lose the edge of its menace.
Things continue to plateau with ‘Radiation’ and ‘Dead Wrong’, both fully passable and recognisable among the Bats back catalogue of hardcore growlers, with a brief, almost spoken breakdown from Liam Cormier, segueing into some repeat gang-vocal choruses and guitar licks tailored specifically to get a room full of fans boiling over each other in the mosh pit. But that’s the rub. It’s passable. While Hail Destroyer was arguably the Bats breakthrough record, they seem unable to know where to go now. This record feels consolidatory. By no means are any of these songs bad, but neither are they that memorable. And by this point of the album, it’s starting to feel like a worrying trend.
But then the turning point comes. Let’s just step back for a minute though, and take a moment to appreciate the title of the track that makes this happen: ‘Black Metal Bicycle’. Just fucking look at that title! It’s beyond awesome. Say it with me: ‘BLACK METAL BICYCLE’.
It doesn’t matter that this is probably straight out of the working-song-titles-the-band-thought-was-too-funny-to-replace school of naming songs. It doesn’t even matter that it’s actually one of the most floor-punchingly badass tracks on the entire album, with Cormier’s snarled declaration that “on my deathbed when I look back I’ll know I lived my life for nobody else” riding Scott Middleton’s surprisingly mutating riff work like an evil rodeo rider. The fact is that it’s still called ‘Black Metal Bicycle’, and I will always love Cancer Bats for naming a song so that I can never listen to it without imagining Nocturno Culto taking part in some kind of demented corpse-painted Tour de France. Bravo!
Watch Cancer Bats play ‘Darkness’ live in Dublin
From here on, the album slowly begins to shift in a more interesting direction. ‘Darkness’ has that stop-start rhythm the band perfected in the past with ‘Lucifer’s Rocking Chair’, but this time around they’ve also given it a menacing, razor-sharp mid-section. It might never gets that complicated, but has just enough of it’s own personality not to start feeling like an off-cut from the band’s second album.
But it’s ‘Drive This Stake’ and ‘Falcon Fortress’, the final two tracks of the album (if you don’t count the ‘Sabotage’ cover tacked on at the end) which provide the album with it’s two most powerful moments. Lyrically, ‘Drive This Stake’ appears to be Cormier’s confused love-letter to or something from when he’s out on tour. Whether this is a person, or Canada, or just his life in general matters little, as it’s Cormier’s delivery that really sells this song, flipping with deceptive ease from sleepy murmurs to his more usual throat-tearing screams and yelps.
‘Falcon Fortress’, opening with a lone, growling guitar line that builds into something altogether darker as the song pushes towards its sludge-triumphant climax. Easily one of the most non-Bats sounding songs the band have ever attempted, it ends the album all the stronger for it.
This isn’t a bad album, but it is one that fails to meet the band’s previous high watermark of Hail Destroyer. Tellingly, there’s nothing on here that quite matches the frenzy of either ‘Scared To Death’ or the riotous joie de vivre of their ‘Sabotage’ cover, the two songs that were made available to fans long before the album will go on sale. It almost feels like the band’s label and management realised that these were the most raucous and the digestible of the newer songs to tease the established fanbase with, so they made sure it was those tracks we got jacked up on first.
Watch the video to ‘Sabotage’ as covered by Cancer Bats
I’m holding out that the first half of this album will be a grower. Part of me wants to look back on it come December, when we’re coming up with the final Albums Of The Year lists, and hang my head in shame at my all-too-quick dismissal of the early tracks of Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones. But the simple truth of it is that a much larger part of me doesn’t think that’s how I’ll end up feeling about it at all. Shame.
Sounds like: Every Time I Die, Corrosion of Conformity, the crush and clamor of you and your bro’s in a mosh-pit
Top tracks: Scared To Death, Black Metal Bicycle, Falcon Fortress
Cancer Bats – Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones tracklisting
Sleep This Away
Trust No One
Doomed to Fail
Black Metal Bicycle
We Are the Undead
Scared to Death
Drive This Stake
Sabotage (Beastie Boys cover)