Released at the tail end of April 2008, Cancer Bats’ sophomore album Hail Destroyer was an instant classic, a napalm-soaked roundhouse kick to the face that pumped the band’s signature chainsaw punk-n-roll sound to epic levels of intensity. With frontman and living Duracell bunny Liam Cormier embracing a more direct approach to lyrics, diving headfirst into the DSOL spirit we’ve come to love, and guitarist Scott Middleton getting truly sexy with his riffage, the band kept the spirit of hardcore alive while making things ever more metal, exploring doom in a way no other band had. Up until last week, when surprise album The Spark That Moves dropped out of nowhere, it was far and away their most consistently brilliant album to date. With that title now in question, and to celebrate the band’s upcoming London dates marking its 10th anniversary, we take the unenviable task of ranking all 12 songs from least awesome to most awesome. Game on:
1) Zed’s Dead, Baby
Choosing a least best song was always going to be tough, but after much consternation, it’s the album’s thumping colossus of a closing number that “wins”, trapped as it is, 127 Hours-style, between the rampaging party hardcore and rolling sludge that makes up Hail Destroyer.
Exploring the band’s doomier tendencies properly for the first time, Deathsmarch burns slow on the fattest of fat guitars, Scott covering everything in a soupy gloom, right up until those final dominant, snarled chords ring out. The sheer bloody belligerence of it all is impossible to ignore.
3) Smiling Politely
A genuinely terrifying, foreboding intro that creeps with the menace of a horror film; an uncharacteristically feral guest appearance from Billy Talent frontman and fellow Canadian Ben Kowalewicz; and a crescendo that screams for a mic-in-the-crowd rockstar finale… What’s not to love?
4) Lucifer’s Rocking Chair
Everyone loves a 90 second nosebleed, but Hail Destroyer was the moment Cancer Bats proved there’s more to them than smashing things up, starting with this, their longest song to date. Just over four minutes of pure Sabbath worship with lyrics that act as a battlecry for the band and hardcore in general: “Help me get this going”, “this is a battle song”, “just keep it brutal”. Anything you say, Liam, anything you say!
5) Bastard’s Waltz
Offering a brief respite from the endless circle pit that was a Cancer Bats show at the time, Bastard’s Waltz saw the band in romantic mood…. if by romance you mean a song about the physical demands of hardcore in the style of Black Label Society anger-banging The Ramones until they submit. And we do.
6) PMA ‘Til I’m DOA
Arguably the most rock & roll song on the album, albeit with a side order of the sludgiest swamp swag, PMA sways like a pendulum of snakes, with Liam doing his best Andrew WK impression over the top, ensuring no one leaves this party feeling anything other than invincible.
That drum intro, that opening line, that chorus riff. Regret is Cancer Bats at their slinkiest, grooviest, disco-burning best, Scott’s guitar acting the hero once again and taking the foundations laid by tracks like Ghost Bust That from the debut album and turning everything up to 11.
8) Let It Pour
A signature Cancer Bats song if ever there was one, blending all those doom and hardcore influences into one glorious, grunting behemoth that launches with a near perfect example of the hardcore “huh”, the lesser-known out-of-town cousin of the hardcore “bleurgh”.
9) Hail Destroyer
How do you start an album called Hail Destroyer? Only one way. With a crunching, crushing, chugging call to arms title track that is destined to fill festival campsites around the world for years to come. As heavy as anything you care to mention, impossible not to headbang to, and a stone cold modern metal classic. If you’ve not blown your throat screaming “Children of nothing, this is our song!” at some point, do you even hardcore, bro?
10) Harem of Scorpions
And how do you follow that up? With an absolute fucking rager that charges full-steam ahead in a way only a horny rhino on a promise could understand. This is the sound of a band firing all cylinders at once, unwilling and unable to stop even if they wanted to, pausing for no one, and to hell with the consequences. It’s no coincidence that the top three songs in this list are also the fastest, hardest and gnarliest.
11) Pray for Darkness
It seems appropriate that the shortest song on the album is also the fastest, an ode to vampires that doesn’t hang around a second longer than necessary before evaporating into the night. And these are not twinkly Twilight vampires we’re talking about, these are barely even Lost Boys. These are greaser, former serial-killer, psycho vampires. If the Underworld survives four nights of this, it should receive a blue plaque, unveiled by the Queen herself.
The Bats’ finest song to date, Sorceress takes zero prisoners, mounting another slinky AF riff on top of a thorough pummeling from drummer Mike Peters and some truly spiteful lyrics. The ultimate cathartic release, stronger than any Fight Club. When the song breaks down, Liam screams “Oh God, I’ve got to get this off my chest” and that riff kicks in, expect blood to fly. A canopy of rage worth the entrance fee alone. This is what it’s all about. All of it.
Cancer Bats will play four shows at The Underworld in Camden from 24-27 April.
If you’re lucky, there might be tickets left for the first night.
If you’re unlucky, you might bump into MonkHammer on the Tuesday and Thursday nights.
Their new album The Spark That Moves is out now via Bat Skull Records