After the surprisingly massive success of Toronto's Cancer Bats' first full-length, Birthing the Giant, a tidal wave of carbon-copied, Pantera-influenced hardcore bands (see Barn Burner, the Danger Boys, Dead and Divine, etc.) started to come out of nowhere in the Canadian underground heavy music scene. Thanks to this and the rising popularity of their chaotic counterparts in Every Time I Die, the whole "Southern lordcore" thing was getting very played out very quickly, and it seemed like every hardcore band in the scene was trading in their camo shorts for trucker hats. Their affiliation with many of Canada's more commercial punk rock groups (notably MTV-loving chart-busters Alexisonfire and Billy Talent) didn't help their credibility much either, as many fans saw this as a sign of going soft since the days of displaying a picture of a naked vampire chick spreading her "see you next tuesday" on the cover of the band's first EP.
Needless to say, I had little to no expectations for Hail Destroyer. This sleazy style of metallic hardcore punk was now safe and fashionable to the point where every Tom, Dick, and Harry on the block was out to start a band with intentions of sounding like the Bats. As a big fan of Birthing the Giant and having listened to it one too many times over the course of two years, I was over it and thought there was no topping it. That feeling, coupled with the release of Hail Destroyer's disappointing title track as its first single, made for a bad first impression. The song in question sounded rushed and weak compared to earlier work; Scott Middleton's guitar didn't have the crunch it once possessed; and vocalist Liam Cormier's trademark Robert Goulet-meets-Wolverine growl just wasn't there. It actually sounded more like one of those Cancer Bat clone bands I was discussing, and nothing about the track really stood out for me.
But then I got a hold of the actual album, and everything changed.
Other than the marginal title track opener mentioned above, Hail Destroyer is very different than Birthing the Giant for many reasons, but each one being a substantially positive change. On this latest effort, the production captures the Cancer Bats' true sound far better than the past, as clean-cut production is toned down and distortion is turned way up. Because of Giant's uber slick production, the Bats' raw live sound was lost in translation, and sounded way too crisp and articulate even by today's standards for a band that coined themselves "hardcore punk." This is a very important step up for the band, as their intense live show had always outdone their actual material, and now that feeling of excitement and eardrum destruction is captured onto disc. Shit, they even managed to make big-time loser Ben Kowalewicz's guest appearance on the song "Smiling Politely" sound bad-ass!
And if anyone out there is worried that the Bats might have gone soft, they can rest assured that this is by far their most hostile release. The Bats are far less user-friendly this time around and more aggressive, sounding more like a hardcore band playing metal than a metal band playing hardcore, as the band is more focused on putting out deafening bangers than coordinated moshers. This leaves the songs going at a slower pace than usual, allowing Middleton and drummer Mike Peters to get their shit together and really shine on tracks like "Deathsmarch," "Bastard's Waltz" and "PMA 'Til I DOA." In doing this, the band have also been able to shake themselves of the constant ETID comparisons. While the latter band can still be found prancing around, screaming/whining like a dying cat, their music has taken a more safer and formulated approach to the sub-genre (oddly enough, sounding a lot like the Bats did on Birthing the Giant, and even odder, just after the two had toured together... hmm...) while the Cancer Bats have almost gone full-blown metal a la Down.
As for Cormier's voice: major improvement. No longer crooning, Cormier is really giving it his all here, surely giving his vocal chords a workout as he does each and every single night the Bats play live. Check out "Let It Pour" for proof. If that isn't enough, it has a few interesting guest appearances, including Tim McIlrath of Rise Against and Alexisonfire's underrated vocalist Wade MacNeil ripping their pipes apart to keep up.
To say the Cancer Bats surpassed my expectations would be an understatement. Never did I think they could even match Birthing the Giant but somehow they did it even with Eric Ratz (Big Sugar, Theory of a Deadman) on co-production duty! It might not be as catchy for the kids, or as bro-y for the straight-edge dudes, but they've definitely become a more cohesive metal/hardcore hybrid thanks to constant touring with heavy bands of all two-steps of life.