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Every Cancer Bats album ranked worst to best, by vocalist Liam Cormier

Liam Cancer Bats
(Image credit: Marc Broussely/Redferns)

Cancer Bats are punk rock lifers, now seven albums deep into their career. Slimmed down to a three-piece following the amicable departure of founding guitarist Scott Middleton in 2021, the Canadian trio - frontman Liam Cormier, bassist Jaye R. Schwarzer, and drummer Mike Peters - are approaching their 20th anniversary as a band with their appetites renewed.

Here, Liam Cormier assesses their journey so far, rating and ranking their studio output with typical honesty. 

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7. Birthing The Giant (2006)

"I've ranked Birthing The Giant (opens in new tab) lowest because this was us as baby Bats. We definitely had some songs here that were dope - there were obviously songs that connected with people, which allowed us to continue and make another record - but this was us learning from Gavin Brown, our producer, and our engineers Eric Ratz and Kenny Luong, how to make a real record. This was us being taken under their wings, and the whole process was really useful in teaching us how to be a band.

Back then our songs were so weird. I remember Gavin saying, 'These songs have so many parts!' We had no clue, the idea of justifying why we were writing in this way was completely foreign to us. So, like, I remember with the song French Immersion, which ended up being a huge song for us, Gavin literally cut that song apart and spliced it back together. He was like, 'Go write new lyrics', and I wrote new lyrics and he said, 'Nope, go write more lyrics.' We were like, 'Okaaaaay, I guess we're really doing this!'

We learned about our shortcomings making this record. I blew out my voice, all of us had our mis-steps, and there's definitely songs we could have done a lot more with. But I think Pneumonia Hawk is great, French Immersion is great, Shillelagh I love... there's definitely some bangers on it. 

Because we were on the same label as Alexisonfire [Distort], I think we had this notion that the record would come out and all of a sudden we'd be this massive band, without having to put in the work. And then you get the first day's sales figures and it was like, 'Oh, we need to work really hard here to spread the word'."

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6. Bears, Mayors, Scraps and Bones (2010)

"Bears, Mayors, Scraps and Bones (opens in new tab) is our third record, and was another learning experience. We learned a lot on Birthing... and put a lot of that into practise on Hail [Destroyer], and then the next chapter of our career was, like, figuring out how we should be as a band, and how to step up to that next level. And while I think there's some great songs on Bears... I feel like we lost some of that way to connect in trying to figure out where we were as a band at that point. 

It was also a point at which people started to give us their 'advice'. Before that, with Hail... there was just the four of us jamming in a room, but now people were saying, 'You know, you had a lot of popularity with this song, you could maybe...' and I think we got a bit... turned around with that, and forgot, maybe, what Bats are. The upside of that was that we made some really heavy songs as a reaction to that: I love Sleep This Away and Darkness Lives and Trust No One, but I feel like we rounded out that record with some filler. Scared To Death is really cool, but we could do a better version of that now.

But, luckily, we figured a lot of things out on this record, and that allowed us to make [2012's] Dead Set On Living."

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5. Searching For Zero (2015)

After coming off touring Dead Set On Living, we were in a really weird place as a band. We had toured so much at this point that we were kinda crushed. A lot of Searching For Zero (opens in new tab) is really heavy, because there were people who were really close to the band that had passed, and that was a lot to take in, and we kinda used this record as our way of dealing with some really hard, emotional things.

We wrote some really cool songs, like Arsenic In The Year Of The Snake, and True Zero, and Beelzebub, but the whole vibe is so sombre and heavy: it marks a real period in our lives, but to me, it's not really what our band is. Maybe if we'd given ourselves more time to reflect a bit more on what it is to be in Cancer Bats, and what world we exist in, it wouldn't have been so heavy: we can communicate heavy messages even within our fun, party records.

We took a big break after Searching... in order to regroup and think about what we are, what we love about Cancer Bats, and what we really needed and wanted to do as a band to keep the vibe going. And luckily we have a fan-base who were able to accept that record as a bit gnarly, and were happy to see where we might go next."

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4. Dead Set On Living (2012)

"It's kinda a toss-up me for whether to put DSOL (opens in new tab) here, or Spark..., because both these records, to me, are us rising up to the occasion. But I'm gonna go with DSOL.

At this point we had processed everything that had happened with the first three records, and we looked at how much success we'd had with [Beastie Boys cover] Sabotage, because that cover, I think, was what pushed us to another level, and then with DSOL we thought, 'Right, okay, now we need to write some songs that are at the calibre of this Sabotage cover.' We felt we'd written some huge tunes with the likes of Hail Destroyer and Lucifer's Rocking Chair, and then that cover really hit, so now we needed to write some Cancer Bats songs that could stand alongside it.

Matt Ash, our manager, was really vibing with us, and he was sending me videos, like 'Watch this Biohazard set from 1993!' or old school Sick Of It All videos, and so we went back to recording with {Birthing The Giant engineer] Eric Ratz, and put pressure on ourselves to write songs like Roadsick, Bricks And Mortar, Rats... songs that really boiled down what Cancer Bats was as a band, and songs that lived up to the hype that we'd been riding on for a while. We wanted to make the artwork super-hardcore, and have everything just [here Liam pounds his fist into his palm] smashing. And I felt we pulled off what we set out to do, with the band coming together with one mind and purpose."

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3. The Spark That Moves (2018)

"To me, Spark (opens in new tab)... is an album that I can listen to front-to-back and there are no points where I think, Ah, I wish we'd done that differently.

Playing-wise, it's great - we recorded that record live off the floor - and I feel like vocally I really stepped up at that point to be able to actually sing the melodic ideas that I had started to explore, and not just be the screamy guy anymore. So on Winterpeg, for instance, I was able to put three distinct singing styles on there, and it gave us more range and depth.

Coming off the back of that time out we took after Searching For Zero, it felt like we were doing exactly what we wanted to do, and that was a good feeling."

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2. Hail Destroyer (2008)

"Hail Destroyer (opens in new tab), to me, really captures something of the magic of youth. We'd gained all these cool lessons from Gavin Brown when making Birthing The Giant, and we'd really toured hard with all these great bands who were killing it- Alexisonfire, Rise Against, Comeback Kid, Parkway Drive, The Bronx - and so we had all this new information in our heads. So then we went into a jam space for 12 hours a day, with blinkers on, and thought, Okay, we need to write the most kick-ass record right now.

It was almost like we'd sold our souls to the devil, but I almost don't remember writing some of these songs, because it was such a blur! With a song like Lucifer's Rocking Chair, we definitely worked that through, like, Okay, what is the chorus? What riff comes next? but with [title track] Hail Destroyer it was just like a moment that happened: even as we were playing it for the first time I was thinking, "Man, this song is crazy!'

There was just something so raw and pure about the record. Like, I remember that Scott (Middleton, guitarist) and I went to see Slayer when they played in Toronto, and we left early so that we could go back to our space, and I got behind the drum kit and he picked up his guitar and we wrote Pray For Darkness in 30 minutes. 

After the record came it, it was a fun and crazy time. I remember Kerrang! put us on the cover, and people were really taking notice of us, and we had a great record to back it all up. Our shows immediately doubled in size, we went to Japan, we got nominated for a Juno, and we were like, "Woah, this is sick! Everything was really flowing at that point.

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1. Psychic Jailbreak (2022)

"Psychic Jailbreak (opens in new tab) is another landmark moment in our band's career, and I'm super pumped about it. It's our first record without Scott [Middleton], but that evolution felt natural to us all. Scott has a family now, and he was building his own studio while we were writing these songs, and getting stoked about recording all these bands, and so it wasn't confusing to any of us when he stepped away from the band to focus on that passion.

By then, we'd already written a ton of songs for this record, and the three of us - Jaye, Mike and myself - were having a ball, and the songs sounded ripping with Jaye on guitar: everyone who works with us thought the demos were sounding amazing. So we had the confidence to keep going, and we had Scott's blessing, because he didn't want to hold us back, and vice versa.

Obviously Covid put life on hold for everyone, but having two years to kick back and think about what I love about this band was really refreshing, and really brought home to the three of us that we love what we do. We'd be out skateboarding and someone would play an old school Metallica song, and we'd all be vibing on it, and that was the same kind of energy my best friends and I were bringing into the studio. And it was like, This is why we do this, this is why Cancer Bats exists."

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Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.