Cancer Bats – ‘Searching For Zero’

Fuelled by tragedy, the hardcore Canadians' fifth emerges as their strongest record yet

Three seconds into ‘True Zero’, the second track on Cancer Bats’ fifth album, frontman Liam Cormier screams, ”May I remind myself who I really am”. That sense of rediscovery runs throughout ‘Searching For Zero’. Exhausted by heavy touring in 2013, the Toronto ragers used 2014 to recuperate. But tragedy wrecked their recovery: the deaths of several close friends left the quartet battered, bruised and uncertain. The resulting record is the sound of a band wrestling to re-engage with the reasons they started in the first place.

It doesn’t take them long. Opener ‘Satellites’ is a fast, frayed collision of metal and hardcore, with piercing guitar from Scott Middleton and hollered group vocals. It’s an example of the unifying heaviness they’ve been honing since their 2006 debut ‘Birthing The Giant’. On the bone-rattling ‘True Zero’, Corimer’s catharsis is palpable. He’s not just screaming, he’s forcefully ripping his lyrics from the back of his throat, quashing his sadness: “Negative falls away/This is where I’ll stay”.

Encouraged by producer Ross Robinson (Slipknot, Korn) to channel their emotion into the most forceful noise they could muster, Cancer Bats push themselves to punishing extremes. The brutal sentiment of the bracing ‘Arsenic In The Year Of The Snake’ (“Too many friends died this year”) is set to drumbeats that land like machine-gun bullets, and ‘All Hail’ (a tribute to Dave Brokie of horror-metal band Gwar, who died in March 2014) is a frightening 90-second bombardment. ‘Devil’s Blood’ is the best tune here – a breakneck rhythm from bassist Jaye Schwarzer and drummer Mike Peters is matched by Middleton’s searing riff and Cormier’s deranged screams of “World on fire!”. Without warning, the song falls into a deep, Melvins-like sludge before suddenly reverting to its rapid chorus. Even after repeat listens, the surprise is nauseating.

Elsewhere, Cancer Bats indulge their Black Sabbath obsession on ‘Beelzebub’ and ‘Buds’. Both tracks add depth and tone to what emerges as their most complete, most important album yet. Ferocious, thrilling and unrelentingly heavy, it’s an emphatic reminder of who Cancer Bats really are.