Review Summary: A decent attempt to branch out is somewhat marred by an excess of filler.
Let’s face it: you don’t go into a new Cancer Bats album expecting a tour-de-force, groundbreaking collection of songs. That’s never been the intent of the Canadian hardcore outfit. You listen to a new Cancer Bats album so you know the songs for the live show, and can at least shout along with vocalist Liam Cormier. The live show has always been the area of appeal for Cancer Bats; take it away, and you’ve basically got a competent band producing southern-tinted hardcore music. Nevertheless, I found a lot to really like about the band’s last release, Hail Destroyer
. It was far from revolutionary, but it was a fun bunch of tracks to headbang to, and at the end of the day, that’s all that you can ask from a Cancer Bats album.
With their third album, the excellently titled Bears, Mayors, Scraps, and Bones
, Cancer Bats have decided to shake things up... kinda sorta. Bears
is a decidedly sludgier affair than either of their previous efforts, a trend noticeable from the very first track. The second the lumbering riff for “Sleep This Away” enters, it’s clear that this isn’t quite the same band who recorded Hail Destroyer
. There isn’t any track quite as upbeat as “100 Grand Canyon” here; instead, it’s a lot of drop-C pummeling. On one hand, it’s clearly the thing the band is good at, and they prove it with a number of killer tunes. On the other, that lack of variety frequently makes Bears a very homogenous affair, and also one riddled with inconsistency.
The biggest problem with the album is the amount of filler that’s leaked through the cracks. With the exception of “Sleep This Away”, the first six tracks are basically non-starters. The problem with these tracks is their construction seems arbitrary, as if “Verse Riff A” was just combined with “Chorus Riff B” with no regard for how the two complemented each other. Songs move from section to section without any sense for the internal logic that allows these sections to live in harmony. Similarly, these tracks also lack some standout quality to differentiate them from the pack. First single “Dead Wrong” features a pretty good verse, but all momentum is shattered by its bland chorus. And “Doomend To Fail” is probably the most boring song the band has ever composed. Seriously, it goes absolutely nowhere, flailing away at a mid-tempo without a compelling riff to its name, and sporting awful lyrics like “Cause it’s not the destination, it’s the trip... man”. The album does eventually regain its direction, however, with “Scared To Death”. Potentially the best song of the bunch, its riffs are instantly memorable, and the whole thing is strangely catchy in a fist-to-the-face kind of way.
“Scared To Death” also marks the start of a dramatic upgrade in quality from the first half; the second half of Bears
is clearly the superior half, with great tracks like “Snake Mountain”, which executes on the ideas of “Sorceress” in actually compelling ways, and “Fake Gold”, which features the album’s single greatest riff (seriously, it’s almost Meshuggah-esque), backed up by excellent contributions from the rhythm section. Actually, it’s worth mentioning the dramatic improvements of the rhythm section here; Cancer Bats have never recorded with a bassist before, and the contributions of Jay Schwarzer are surprisingly pronounced here. Similarly, drummer Mike Peters has embraced the fact that he can actually play the drums really well, and has broken from the tedium of his previous performances to deliver a surprising amount of versatility behind the kit. Add on a really excellent run of four songs to end the album (including a pretty good cover of “Sabotage” by The Beastie Boys), and you’ve got yourself a pretty decent album.
In the end, Bears, Mayors, Scrapes, and Bones
simultaneously contains some of the band’s strongest material and some of their weakest. As an album, it’s a decent attempt at evolving the well-established Cancer Bats sound without really altering anything significant. But, as previously mentioned, if you’re going into a Cancer Bats album without plans to see them live, you’re really kind of missing the point. If by some chance you do plan to see them live within the next six months or so, feel free to bump up that score by .5 or so. Otherwise, it’s more Cancer Bats. Do with that what you will.