Album Review: Cancer Bats - 'The Spark That Moves'

11 May 2018 | 9:10 am | Alex Sievers
Originally Appeared In

'The Riffs That Slay'. 

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Canada riff-masters Cancer Bats have a brilliant unholy trilogy of records existing at the dawning age of their career. This trio of damned solid releases comes in the shape of the group's debut LP 'Birthing the Giant' (2006), the fan-fave sophomore 'Hail Destroyer' (2008), as well as the indeed solid follow-up, 'Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones' (2010) - a record whose kickass 'Sabotage' cover still goes as hard as ever. Either or all of these three records are what most die-hard and casual fans will point towards as their best sets of work; releases that put the Bats name right on the map with their gnarly output of memorable riffs and raw, well-paced hardcore punk; all with frontman Liam Cormier's whiskey-soaked vocals leading the aggressively noisy charge.

However, as I know most fans will agree, the Ontario band's strong discography at that point takes a dip after the consistent 'Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones' with their last two albums: the average Dead Set on Living' (2012) and their weakest record, 'Searching for Zero' (2015). Admittedly, I myself love Cancer Bats but even I didn't really care for those last two records and that's actually the consensus from many listeners out there. Minus a few of exceptions between these two LPs ('Devil's Blood', 'Rally The Wicked', and 'Road Sick', for instance), the band focused far too much on their slower-to-mid tempos and their Southern-sounding, sludge metal elements without the actual banging songs to back it all up.

Sure, guitarist Scott Middleton still had plenty of awesome licks and wicked Black Sabbath-inspired riffs to gift us all during these dark times, but there was just so little else on offer to keep one coming back. What with everything being so goddamn bogged down by their Southern rock tones and having this thick but dull sludge vibe to it all. Dudes, that's not what we wanted when us fans frothed the ever-loving shit out of 'Lucifer's Rocking Chair' some ten years ago.

Though thankfully, a burning fire has really been re-lit under the collective arses of Cancer Bats as their latest album, 'The Spark That Moves', fully recaptures their older, high-energy hardcore levels with great riffs, faster tempos, more invigorated vocal deliveries, and just more passion present, really. Sure, this new record doesn't break new ground for Cancer Bats sound but it never needed to; for it just needed to be good, or at least better than the last two at least. And just as myself and other fellow die-hard fans have been wishing for years now, it's a welcome return. For real, ‘The Spark That Moves’ is by far Cancer Bats’ most consistent and enjoyable release in years!

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[caption id="attachment_1102088" align="aligncenter" width="760"] Cancer Bats.[/caption]

With some wailing guitar amp feedback, 'Gatekeeper' bursts forth with heavy riffs aplenty and a pissed-off Cormier taking no prisoners from behind the mic as he rips into the jaded old-guards behind any and all hobbies and professions. As far as album intro's go, this beastly short attack of adrenaline tells you all you need to know about Cancer Bats right now in 2018: these guys are finally back in the game. And it's great to have them producing music like this again, with a real purpose and a true sense of drive to the music no less.

A real tell-tale of this record being a cut above recent releases is that only half the tracklisting dares to cross the three-minute line but when they do, they don't bore you - something that you couldn't say about their previous two releases. Case in point: the skin-blistering 'We Run Free', the melodic and "never gonna quit" mission statement of 'Bed Of Nails', as well as the sheer savagery found on 'Heads Will Roll'. Elsewhere, 'Fear Will Kill Us All' actually starts life out as a solitary piano piece (well, for all of ten seconds), right before the band tug the carpet out from under you and descend into one of the more vehement yet catchier songs Cancer Bats have penned in fuck knows how long. Seriously, this song's battle chorus cry of "we're shedding our skin to live/we don't need you" is goddamn hooky!

The frenzied riffs and the frenetic pacing of newest single 'Headwound' is easily the album's best hardcore jam, whereas the cosmic-themed 'Space and Time' is more of a stoner-themed heavy metal track than a fiery punk anthem but doesn't hold back the record's overall steam either. In fact, this brings up another really good point about 'The Spark That Moves': yes, it's a very familiar Cancer Bats release, but it's one that blends their sludgier/Southern elements with their hardcore punk style more potently than its two predecessors could have ever dreamed of doing.

Now, whereas most Cancer Bats tunes are akin to a raging campfire placed mere inches from your very person, this sixth LP closes out with the frosty, bass-heavy and stomping ‘Winterpeg’, which features a nice guest spot from the gruff 'n' rough Propagandhi frontman himself, Chris Hannah. And then, after the track's dark and loud chaos subsides, a death-laden feedback fade out slips forth from the void for the record's curtain-call; a mirror image to how 'Gatekeeper' began this album's wild roadshow some half hour ago with its own piercing feedback.

It's great to have the old Cancer Bats back doing what they once did so bloody well - and to have it be in such a solid form now too! Of course, this new record is no 'Hail Destroyer' but 'The Spark That Moves' is still a satisfying and invigorating new listen from a band back on a high note after sadly been stuck in a lull for the past few years. You know that unholy trinity of Cancer Bats records that I spoke of before at the start of this review? Well, there's a fourth album coming up hot and fast behind them.

  1. Gatekeeper
  2. Brightest Day
  3. We Run Free
  4. Space & Time
  5. Bed Of Nails
  6. Headwound
  7. Fear Will Kill Us All
  8. Rattlesnake
  9. Can't Sleep
  10. Heads Will Roll
  11. Winterpeg

'The Spark That Moves' is out now - get dem riffs in ya.