Seemingly exploding in popularity the past two years or so, Cancer Bats are back with another full-length album titled Dead Set On Living. 2010’s Bears, Mayors, Scraps And Bones put the band on a lot of peoples radar, containing both a big step forward in terms of the quality of music as well as pacing and consistency. Dead Set On Living has a lot to live up too, will it succeed in hitting and even vaulting over the high bar set by it’s predecessor?
From the start, Dead Set On Living grabs you with a unique blend of hardcore and metal that’s been the bands signature sound since they’re debut album. Few bands do it better than Cancer Bats, seemingly able to create catchy riffs and memorable vocals that make you want to shout along with ease. The opening song “R.A.T.S.” kicks thing off the right way with an opening riff that’s simple but will make your spine tingle. Actually, let’s stop right away and examine that. Simplicity. Cancer Bats has a real knack for creating incredibly simple yet catchy riffs, something that undoubtedly comes from their hardcore roots. The end result are songs that are instantly memorable; songs that you’ll be unable to get out of your head for days. This is some good stuff, folks. The album never really dies down either, consistently grabbing your attention song after song. It’s the type of album you can put on while riding around in your car with the windows down; basically just a lot of fun.
Vocalist Liam Cormier sounds great on Dead Set On Living, and so do the guitars manned by Scott Middleton and Jaye Schwarzer. Drummer Mike Peters sounds energetic, although it’s important to note that the drums lean more towards hardcore than metal (there are few, if any, double-bass pedal moments on this album for example) so don’t go in expecting a barrage of blast-beats or anything like that. Cancer Bats has shown in the past that they’re a band where the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Picking apart the instruments individually won’t do you any favors; it’s all about how well they interact together. The beginning of “Breathe Armageddon” is a great example of this; starting off with the sharp thumping of the kick-drum followed by a particularly nasty (in the best way possible) riff. Musically, Dead Set On Living trades in the overall heaviness of Bears, Mayors, Scraps and Bones for a catchier and more to-the-point sound that for the most part results in different type of album. Some fans might find that this sounds off-putting, but just think of it this way: This album is more in the mold of Hail Destroyer than Bears/Bones.
There is no denying that Cancer Bats have mastered the art of blending hardcore, metal, and hard rock into one excellently presented package. Songs like “Bastards” and “Drunken Physics” contain bombastic choruses that you’ll find hard-pressed not to turn the volume up while listening to, demonstrating the unique blend of music that is done so well on Dead Set On Living. Sludgy, thick guitar tones add the hint of metal that makes everything gel together so great; the peanut-butter to the hardcore’s jelly. Liam’s vocals also show more range than your average hardcore vocalist, helping to elevate them above other similar bands while also having a tone to his voice that makes it instantly-recognizable, an added grit that really helps sell the vocal performance. Really the only problems with the album come into play with slower songs like “The Void” and the middle part of “Rally The Wicked” which struggle at times to hold your attention span. These moments are usually rather brief though, and before you know it you’ll be back to being pissed off along with the rest of Cancer Bats.
To answer the question posed in the beginning of this review: yes, Dead Set On Living absolutely hit’s that high bar set by Bears, Mayors, Scraps and Bones. I wouldn’t say it’s better, if only because Dead Set takes a slightly different direction than Bears/Bones; in the end it’s basically a much better and more consistent Hail Destroyer which if you’re a Cancer Bats fan should sound fantastic. What does this mean if you’re a newcomer interested in checking them out? I would say that Dead Set On Living is a great album, one that you should listen to immediately. That’s really all there is to say.