With their fourth studio album, Dead Set on Living, Toronto’s Cancer Bats have unlocked a hellacious groove monster. The record is certainly still caked in the band’s hardcore chops, but things are more expectant and more groove-oriented.
While Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones was a pretty dark affair, Dead Set on Living is almost the answer to the pessimism. Make no mistake about it, the Bats haven’t gone all sunshiny and hyper. But there is a decidedly jubilant edge to these tunes, for the most part, and the album is the better for it.
When vocalist Liam Cormier announced that he was listening to “non-metal bands” in the run-up to Dead Set on Living, many Cancer Bats fans were probably left scratching their shaved heads and running confused fingers through their beards. After all, it isn’t every day that you hear about the lead singer of a hardcore act checking out the Fleet Foxes while creating a new album’s foundation.
Dead Set on Living isn’t a neo-folk record by any extent of the imagination, but the songs are somewhat more melodic and do appear to have more “pop” meat on the bones. It’s probably not much of a stretch to suggest that Cormier and Co. were also studying the works of Kyuss and other desert-kissed acts, as the grimy elements of stoner metal also make their respective appearances.
The record boots into gear with “R.A.T.S.,” a blistering cut built on solid drum work from Mike Peters and a squall of chugging guitars supplied by Scott Middleton. The song is pure Hatebreed-inspired hardcore, to be sure, but the thin grooves underneath speak to surprises to come.
“Bricks and Mortar” is the track that really shuffles the deck. Cormier’s vocal performance is every bit the throat-shredding firestorm fans have come to expect on the chorus, but there’s evidence that he’s toying with Southern-friend rock at times. Middleton’s repetitive guitar drills away nicely.
“Breathe Armageddon,” one of the best tracks on the album, really unloads the dirty grooves. They fit well with the hardcore elements and the tempo changes, creating a stinging sonic storm of “nuclear winter” that’ll unnerve eardrums from coast to coast.
Of all the tracks, “New World Alliance” is the most whiskey-soaked of the horde. Served up with a forkful of cigarette butts, this cut is pieces of hard rock, hardcore, groove metal, and even hair metal tossed into a bag and flung down several flights of stairs.
With Dead Set on Living, the Cancer Bats have unleashed the groove (there’s that word again). They’ve concocted a satisfying, fun, loud hardcore album that dips outside the band’s comfort zone enough to keep things fresh.