Cancer Bats: Searching For Zero

Toronto hardcore punk firebrands set a course for the torrential

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For the type of melody-free, no-bullshit, hardcore punk they make, Cancer Bats have made some great strides toward commercial acceptance over the last five years. From headlining small clubs to respectable theatres, mainstage festival appearances and with a handful of instantly recognisable rock club floor-fillers, they have exceeded the ambition of any band within their genre. The question, then, is this: where do Cancer Bats go next?

If you were a betting man the safe money would be on them developing a taste for the high life and attempting to rubber-stamp their position at metal’s top table by toning down the harshness a little, adding a touch more melody; maybe whacking out another hip-hop cover. If that’s your first instinct, then heed this warning and keep your cash in your pocket, because Cancer Bats have run off in completely the other direction.

Searching For Zero is a tough, difficult, relentless album. Opener Satellites is probably the most easily digestible song on the record, and even that is a swirling, stop-start mess of feedback and Liam Cormier’s caveman vocal retching.

And you suspect most of the blame/credit should go to ‘nu metal über-producer’ Ross Robinson. He may be famous for his work with Korn and Limp Bizkit, but it’s worth remembering the work he did with bands like Amen, At The Drive-In, Glassjaw and Blood Brothers. All of the above were studied by Robinson intently and produced to suit the band that he truly believed they were. On Searching For Zero he treats Cancer Bats as a militant underground punk band from the early 80s. It’s loose, raw, live-sounding and without a touch of polish.

All Hail is just over a minute long and could be mistaken for a Circle Jerks demo, Dusted lets Scott Middleton’s riffs, always the most metal part of the Cancer Bats sound, fall like crumbling rubble rather than in huge concrete blocks like we are used to, while on Arsenic In The Year Of The Snake Liam sounds not just furious but possessed by a demon. His performance throughout is enough to give you a stomach ulcer, tearing his vocal cords to shreds on Cursed With A Conscience. You want big choruses and chant-along anthems in the vein of Road Sick? You won’t find them. This is more Bad Brains taped on a Dictaphone than shiny ProTooled metalcore.

For a lot of people this amalgam of sludge riffs and clattering garage punk will be too much. The commercial upward momentum Cancer Bats have enjoyed will stop here, surely. They may even drop down a festival placing or a venue size. Does that make Searching For Zero a failure?

Not remotely. Artistically this is a brave, honest statement. On the crushing True Zero Liam sings, ‘I remind myself who I really am,’ and the message couldn’t be clearer: Cancer Bats are a proper punk rock band.

This isn’t designed for big stages, glossy videos, sponsorship deals with energy drink companies or causal rock fan appeal. This is nasty, old-school hardcore like they used to make before punk’s assimilation into the mainstream. It’s not for everyone, but the equally intrepid fans will adore it./o:p


Liam Cormier [VOCALS]


“As the most intense, exciting bro-hang ever. Ross Robinson understood what we wanted to do and he was like, ‘Let’s make this the most insane, crazy shit and I’ll push you ’til you’re ready to explode.’”


“It’s us pushing a lot of ideas that we’ve touched on in the past, so it’s a progression.”


“One hundred per cent. There are a lot of heavy things I was trying to work through and I used this album to deal with a lot of that stuff.”


All Hail is going to fucking destroy. I’m going to barf in kids’ faces to that song.”/o:p

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.