"What has always made Cancer Bats stand out is that nobody can ever label them as anything but original. Sure, they're not the only ones making aggressive punk/metal-inspired music, but they put their own stamp on it, and it's a sweet stamp!"
This was said about the Bats' full-length debut, Birthing the Giant, by Punknews editor Ben Conoley way back in 2006, and I couldn't have agreed more. It was a band and an album that proved to be ahead of their time, as we quickly saw a resurgence of Entombed-loving hardcore bands hit the circuit following Giant's almost mainstream success. I also wrote up the Punknews review for their 2008 followup, Hail Destroyer, which saw the band maturing over the "hell yeah!"s and "awwwright!"s in their sometimes gimmicky lyrics, pushing past the Every Time I Die comparisons, and putting together a more cohesive and well-rounded record that, in my opinion, surpassed Giant in nearly every degree.
It's been two years since Destroyer and, to say the least, expectations for this record, Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones, ran puh-retty damn high from this listener. I was the guy who issued Destroyer a solid four stars and have probably seen the band play more times than anyone else I know. For much of the past four years, I touted the Cancer Bats as one of, if not THE best hardcore bands Canada has to offer. So what could be wrong about this particular Bats release that would warrant the measly three stars you see above?
Bears, in a nutshell, picks up exactly where Destroyer left off. But therein lies the problem: It features a lot of the "same ol', same ol'" that, although enjoyed on the latter-mentioned record, is kind of unwelcome here. What I mean is that Bears is void of almost any of the progression and maturation we happily saw transpire among their EP, Giant, and Destroyer, and the few songs that might see the band shaking things up a bit is ultimately forgettable.
Not to say that this is a bad record--it isn't, and the band sacrifices nothing in terms of heaviness, speed or rawness that one might expect from a band seeing some slight mainstream success such as these guys. The problem lies in the fact that there isn't one single track (okay, aside from their cover of the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage," which rightly kicks ass) that really stands out as a great Bats song. Bears feels almost like a B-sides collection of tracks that weren't exciting or enticing enough to fit on anything else of their until-now great catalog of releases.
Unfortunately, Bears falls just above average. Which is fine, and may well be good enough for any newcomer who may stumble onto Bears as their first Bats record, so it's hard to say much against the Cancer Bats' latest project (mostly because there is not much to say about it, neither negatively or positively as it is just so damn mediocre).
Now, I love this band--always have and always will. But as a long-time fan, this record is but a disheartening trip into all-too-familiar territory. I'm all for bands trying to shake certain clichés, gimmicks and expectations they might be known for, but I think the Bats might have lost a bit of their flavor in doing so, leaving Bears as merely a decent hardcore album during a time when we are witnessing, and I quote from another Punknews writer, a "hardcore renaissance."
But don't just take my word for it.