Review Summary: I'm horrified by the prospect of defeat. So many demons want to make a home in me. And I want to burn their house down, I wanna burn it to the ground.Disclaimer: Cancer is a multi-media extravaganza; it is both a full-length science fiction film and a musical album. Being that I don’t have access to the movie or the liner notes (which will greatly help flesh out the concept) at this time, I can only discuss the music alone for this review. A future re-write once the film is released is possible.
There is an endless array of ways to approach making music. The route Showbread have taken is definitely off the beaten path. A quick glance at the band’s history cements this notion. Keytars? Horror movie references? On-stage TVs showing clips of anything from District 9 to Ren & Stimpy at shows? Releasing a read-along double album with a story in its liner notes in place of lyrics? Being a Christian band yet having your albums pulled from Christian stores and being banned from certain churches? Touring for free and releasing albums for free? It goes on. Now for the latest album, Cancer
, we have a science fiction film? Does Showbread do anything
in a normal way?
The short answer is a resounding no. Regardless of how you feel about their music, you have to respect their unwavering commitment to their artistic vision over the years. Their utter disregard of outside opinion is sobering…inspiring, really. Why make art for someone else? If you’re not completely in love with what you create, something is wrong. In Showbread’s case, each album has birthed a completely new sound, to the dismay of (ex) fans. A lot of bands do this, but part of what makes Showbread so blatantly different is their ability to write and play a definitive “Raw Rock” sound filtered through upwards of a dozen different genres. After about 14 years of being a band, they finally have mastered the songwriting element of their craft. Musically, Cancer
is a whirlwind of styles; I can confidently say their influences gel together more coherently on this album than anything else they’ve done.
Opener “I’m Afraid That I’m Me” is a nice sampler of exactly what I mean. This roller coaster of a song takes us through piano rock, gang chants, frenetic punk rock, ska, glam rock and pop punk, all in under seven minutes. Frontman Josh Dies provides jarring commentary on controversial subjects (surprise!) as well as honest introspection in this song – and the entire album. Old fans will be pleased to note that Dies has returned to the elaborate and interesting wordings of No Sir, Nihilism Is Not Practical
for this album. And yes, the screams are back. That distinct yell fans have been begging to come back has returned in all its glory. Dies even tweeted during the making of the album that he forgot how to scream, and Nihilism
fans everywhere can let out a collective sigh because that statement ended up being a joke. The following track, “Sex With Strangers”, has a healthy dose of the trademark scream. The song - especially the chorus - is reminiscent of Young Machetes
-era Blood Brothers, and it manages to be catchy and abrasive at the same time. “You Were Born in a Prison” and the first act of “Escape From Planet Cancer” are notable examples of the heavy side of Cancer
, with countless other examples showing up here and there elsewhere on the album.
One of the reasons the songwriting is as developed and complete as it is on Cancer
is Dies - being the primary creative force behind the band - has spent some time to come into his own as a guitarist. Since the departure of former guitarists Matt Davis, Mike Jensen and Landon Ginnings, both keyboardist Garret Holmes and Dies himself have had to step up in that department, and even his own bandmates were surprised at the progress he’s made on guitar. During the making the album, drummer Drew Porter publicly stated how impressed he was at his frontman’s guitar playing skills. Album closer “You Will Not Die in a Prison” has a remarkable guitar solo in it, and it’s remarkable because of who’s playing it; Dies had only handled simple rhythm and fill-in duties up to this point.
The best reason the songs are so good, though, is how fun they are. This album is a wild ride, and I can only imagine how much more that statement will ring true once its accompanying film comes out. But the bonus here is that these songs are all either really fun, or honest and thought-provoking, or both – even apart from the movie. This record is just a flat out good time. If you’re not shouting “Anarchy!” along with the titular track, there’s a good chance you have no soul. The fact that an album can be so conceptually heavy (think Coheed and Cambria and what they do with Armory Wars
) and have so many musical influences from Queen to NOFX and everywhere in between, yet ultimately wind up coherent and fun to jam in your car is a statement of creative genius. There is a unifying theme that runs throughout the entirety of the record that somehow pulls everything together to make it the “sci-fi rock opera” the band promised it would be (see: the album opens and closes with the same piano melody). It will all make sense when the film comes out; then us simpletons and normal people can really grasp what exactly Cancer
It’s not exactly shocking that Showbread made another weird album. They’ve always done things their way, and have lost fans and the support of some fellow Christians because of it, and Cancer
is no exception. This absolute refusal to adhere to the status quo of the music industry or to the whims of fans is also a big part of what created such a rabid fan base. Some might call it a cult following. Diehard fans will love this album. Even if its buffet of genres somehow misses the opportunity to please some of them, they will still love the lyrics. For fans that believe the same about spirituality that the members of Showbread do, Cancer
will only further solidify their connection to the band. The good news for everyone else, though, is that it’s also the best album they’ve written musically. For a long time Showbread has been a band with a small but dedicated fan base, but everyone else looking in has been scratching their heads wondering if the band will ever do anything relevant to the rest of the music world. With Cancer
, they finally have, whether it was intentional or not.