Cancer Bats: Breaking Point

As rare as it is, some bands have never put a foot wrong. You can look through their career or back catalogue and think to yourself, “I wouldn’t change a thing about this.” Bands like Deftones and Every Time I Die. Bands that consistently deliver quality albums, ripping live shows indoors and at festivals and that are consequently and correctly lauded for it. Cancer Bats are another one of those bands. Since bumrushing the show with the punk ’n’ roll fury of Birthing The Giant, the call to arms of Hail Destroyer and more metallic pastures of most recent outings Bears, Mayors, Scraps And Bones and Dead Set On Living, Cancer Bats have been darlings of both the critics and the rock community at large.

Celebrating a decade of destruction, they’ve slayed the main stage at Download and Reading and Leeds, played six shows in London in one day and achieved all manner of killer landmarks that only a few bands of their ilk achieve.

“We’ve always been the punk band that metalheads like and the heavier band that punk kids like and that’s something to be stoked on,” says Liam Cormier, the Bats perma-PMA frontman who challenges Dave Grohl for the number of people that will rightfully call him one of the nicest guys in rock music. “We’ve got all kinds of reactions from playing people this new record, though. There’s so much different feedback, it’s hard to keep track of.” /o:p

It’s true that things are about to be switched up for Cancer Bats upon the release of their brand new album, Searching For Zero. Destined to split the band’s fanbase in two, this is the most challenging and just plain out there release that the guys have put their name on. Not lacking in aggression or the bluesy, tripped-out Sabbath vibes that have been slowly consuming the Bats in recent times, it also contains what is comfortably the most taxing and abnormal material in the band’s catalogue.

“We took some time out for the first time in forever because we were getting burnt out in 2013,” admits drummer Mike Peters, who is again incredibly lovely in a way that makes you question as if they’re having some kind of inter-band battle to see who can be the raddest dude. “We were enjoying shows and people coming up and being super psyched after the show but internally, we were pretty beat. After taking that time out to be off of the road for a little while, we came back to the band refreshed and we were confident after everything we’d done up to this point and felt the need to be dragged out of our comfort zone.” /o:p

Being dragged out of their comfort zone included hiring the production talents of the evil genius that is Mr Ross Robinson. Though he’s mainly pigeonholed as The Godfather of Nu Metal, it’s not that much of an odd fit for Cancer Bats when you consider his work with Glassjaw, At The Drive-In and Amen. Where this becomes an incredibly curious working relationship is in terms of a potential personality clash. As we’ve pointed out, Cancer Bats are some of the most pleasant, straight-up normal guys going and, while admittedly very charming, Ross is a freak. A man best known for physically and mentally torturing everyone he works with, from lobbing tangerines at Slipknot to making The Cure’s Robert Smith cry. It’s an intriguing hook-up for a band like Cancer Bats to say the least.

We’d have heavy emotional conversations before every vocal take for about 20 minutes,” Liam recalls, his enthusiasm as infectious as usual. “It was some heavy shit! Songs come from a place of emotion and he wants to drag that out. Arsenic In The Year Of The Snake is about a lot of our friends that have passed away, and Ross will get you to a point where you’re ready to break down. I was literally ready to break down. He would tap into personal relationships and you’ll finish that and then he’ll get you to visualise playing a basement show in Bath and opening with your slowest, most painful song and see how you’d record it and all of these cool and crazy techniques”.

“I had to kick him to get him off of me,” Scott Middleton recalls of Ross, who would work 14-hour days on the album, pausing only to feed his dog. “He’s just there, laughing and pushing me physically, and it’s fun but I did have to kick him in the leg one day. You’re used to sitting in a sterile booth thinking about your hands and what you’re going to be playing and he is all about fucking with that. Ross loves to fuck with convention.”

“We got used to him throwing stuff at us,” Liam laughs. “It was fun to go to work in a war zone! He only throws stuff when things are going well. He starts throwing things around because he’s stoked. It’s part of the energy that he brings and you’re stoked that he’s throwing stuff at you while you’re recording because that means everyone is killing it. He’s not throwing a Coke can at your head because you suck!”

“People were asking, ‘Aren’t you scared? You’re too normal for this!’” Liam continues. “This was all about doing something different and taking ourselves out of our comfort zone. We made Dead Set On Living for Cancer Bats fans and we knew we had something that was going to be great for everyone who already liked Cancer Bats, but this was about trying to do more. If we didn’t record with Ross, we would have had a very different progression from DSOL. We were just at a point where we thought to ourselves, ‘Why not try and get weird?’”

And ‘weird’ is certainly on the agenda. Dusted is an arty stoner jam that is led by a gut-rumbling bassline and the kind of Dimebag-worshipping shred that has been creeping into Cancer Bats jams over the course of their last couple of albums. Cursed With A Conscience features a Cormier vocal take like no other as he delivers an eerie and desperate sound that is bulletproof when it comes to emotion and sincerity, if not melody and catchiness. Even the first two songs offered up for mass consumption, the bare bones, spit and sawdust attack of Satellite and the more familiar tones of Arsenic In The Year Of The Snake, are more difficult to grasp than the band’s calling cards to date.

“That idea of having another Hail Destroyer is something that was brought up to us,” admits Liam. “But that quickly became something to rebel against and that we had to get over. That song and that moment has been and gone.”

“You’re never going to get that because you’ve done it already and it’s always going to be insincere if you’re doing something just because it’s popular,” offers Mike.

Make no mistake about it, this feels like a very important moment in the band’s timeline. This is the first Cancer Bats album that will fuck with people. While there have been variations on a theme (the first two albums are faster and on the punk side of the fence, the last two are heavier, slower and have more in common with the bands you’ll read about in these pages), this could split their fanbase in a way that Architects did with The Here And Now or The Bronx did with the more stoner side of things on their third self-titled album.

“It’s not something we would do, something that didn’t feel honest,” Liam points out when we mention that this album could confuse people. “We write the music we enjoy playing. We wanted to show a bit of everything we’ve done, so we wrote songs in the punk style we do; heavier songs, stoner jams… it’s definitely varied, but I don’t think it will spin peopleout too bad.”

Time will tell what people will make of this record and it’s always awesome to hear a band throw caution to the wind, fuck with convention and challenge both themselves and their audience. This is a band that you get the impression could churn out another album filled with hits any day of the week, but they instead choose to stay true to who they are and go against all trends currently doing the rounds. After our chat, they question us about the album in depth. What we like, what we don’t like and what we think is weird about the record are all questions asked in a fashion that suggests the band know that they are about to mess with people’s mojo, more than to catch us out or prove us wrong.

“We’re all stoked on it,” smiles a clearly pleased-as-fuck Liam. “We feel like the album’s a success just because we’re all so happy about it. Some people have told us it’s the best thing we’ve ever done and other people aren’t sure about it, but no matter what, we had a blast making this album and we are stoked.”