Dead Set On Living
16 April 2012
by Tom Dare
We quite like Cancer Bats (had you noticed?). In fact there aren’t many bands that quite so many of us agree are fucking brilliant. At their best (Hail Destroyer), they are in that “so exciting you’re in real danger of injuring yourself” bracket that precious few bands in any era have managed. So if Dead Set On Living is as good as we know they’re capable of, this could get frothy.
The side of the metal/hardcore divide Bats lean more towards is now firmly the “metal” direction. Splendidly hirsute riff-machine, Scott Middleton, has put together a chugging, stomping array of crunch that’s something of a departure from the last three records, yet is still unmistakable as Cancer Bats. That Southern rock flavour combines with this more metallic approach to produce an album so heavy (see: ‘The Void’) and groovy it could almost be considered bordering on being a stoner metal record. This more METAL! approach works brilliantly, suiting them down to the ground. And then you’ve got Liam Cormier’s vocals raging like he’s out to tear down buildings with his bare hands.
The really clever thing Cancer Bats have done on DSOL – the reason this is far and away the best thing they’ve ever done, one of the stand-out records of 2012 and the reason it makes me want to put my fists through brick walls – is that Cancer Bats sound more fucked-off than 99% of bands without needing to be (Cancer) batshit fast and furious. Whether it’s a conscious choice or just the way the songs turned out is irrelevant – either way, it’s a master stroke. It’s results that matter, and the slight drop in overall pace in favour of deeper grooves and harder pounding might hasn’t stopped Liam Cormier sounding angry in a way piss-poor numbers of metal and hardcore singers can.
Watch Noisey’s mini-documentary about Cancer Bats’ Pentagram Tour:
If you’ve got someone like Cormier on vocals – in much the same way LoG have Randy Blythe, or Napalm Death have Barney Greenway – you don’t need to play fast to sound abrasive and hacked off. Liam’s one of those (actually quite rare) singers who manages to fill his voice with monumental fury, the screams articulated so they have shape and form. Or to put it in less pretentious terms, you can feel every syllable. There’s a great difference between monotonous screaming and singing in an extreme style. One makes you scrunch up your face and throw down like you’re indestructible, the other’s just….there, and Cormier’s distinctive, high-pitch shriek is very much in the former category. It’s part of why Cancer Bats sound so utterly furious even at lower tempos.
But it’s not simply that slowing things down doesn’t lose anything; it’s that it actively improves everything. The riffs (and DSOL is easily among the best sets of riffage Bats have ever compiled) have more space to get noticed straight away, to make you sit up, bang your head hard enough to injure yourself and feel your pulse shoot way above what’s healthy. It also allows loads more room for big fuck-off hooks in the vocals. The scream of “There’s a special place in hell for people like you” in ‘Rats’, and the roared “There’s safety in numbers!” during ‘Drunken Physics‘ are just two examples of titanic, shit-yourself-screaming moments that pepper DSOL from the off. The result is an album that swaggers with incredible confidence, beats the shit out of you with consumate ease, and is so effortlessly cool it sweats bourbon.
From the tiniest moments (the bit at the start of ‘Road Sick‘ that sounds a bit like ‘Ghouls Of Nineveh‘ by black metallers Melechesh is a little piece of genius), through each individual track, right up to the whole fucking record when taken as a whole, Dead Set On Living is brilliant. Beat-your-chest, throw-yourself-in-the-pit, make-you-feel-more-alive-than-you-thought-possible brilliant.
Sounds like: “THERE’S A SPECIAL PLACE IN HELL FOR PEOPLE LIKE YOU!”
Standout tracks: R.A.T.S., Road Sick, Drunken Physics.