“Positive” is a relative term with the Cancer Bats.
The three-time Juno-nominated hardcore metal/punk band has made a habit of stopping in Red Deer to convene with fervid local fans while touring Western Canada.
“We love Red Deer!” enthused vocalist Liam Cormier, who feels the Toronto-based group always gets a great reception here.
The band’s next stop at The Vat on Thursday, is part of a final tour for the Cancer Bats’ fourth and latest album Dead Set on Living. The 2012 release is described by Cormier as being “pretty positive” — and inspired by folk rock bands like The Fleet Foxes.
But if you think that meant toning down the screeching vocals, raging lyrics, shredding bass, or unapologetically heavy guitar, you would be mistaken.
“There’s a special place in hell for people like you,” screams the chorus of R.A.T.S. — a song about “dead-end friends,” “low-lifers and haters,” who “break you, leave you” or otherwise deceive you.
Breathe Armageddon, a hard-driven political song that speaks of “son of the atom” and “nuclear winter” shrieks, “Everything you know. Always been a lie.”
So where’s the positivity? Cormier admitted some of it evaporated when a good friend of the band’s had a heart attack, due to his hard living, just before the recording process. The 33-year-old singer suddenly found himself thinking about death in a more personal way and he wrote Dead Set on Living in response.
It’s about someone who decides to break 15 years of bad habits — including drinking, cigarettes, Benzadrine — after a doctor tells him he’s on the fast track to an early grave.
The last line of the tune declares “I’m dead set on living” — so there it is: the Cancer Bats’ version of a happy ending.
While an underlying anger has always ignited punk and heavy metal, Cormier maintains that sustained rage isn’t really what fuels the Cancer Bats anymore. “When you’re a kid, there’s some frustration there, but that’s not us. We are a lot older … and we try to balance thing out.”
The band still puts out some bitter, reactive songs, but on the positive side, he counts such tunes such as Old Blood (“about never giving up”), Drunken Physics, “a fun song” about the late-night conversations between Cormier and the band’s sound person, and Road Sick, about missing loved ones while on tour.
Road Sick (in which a blood trail drips down someone’s face in the video) “definitely is a love song,” said Cormier — although some viewers might be hard pressed to see that.
A lot of metal bands have thrown radio the occasional bone, in terms of producing a softer rock song that fits the commercial format of mainstream stations, but Cancer Bats has resisted this over the group’s near decade-long career.
While band members have performed their own head-banging covers of Black Sabbath tunes under the guise of Bat Sabbath, Cormier believes making an intentionally commercial song, just for the sake of getting more radio play, would be selling out.
“We definitely love the fans we have,” he said.
The group might make a lighter-sounding song if the mood strikes, but “we’ve never even thought about doing it in a commercial sense, just so we could tour with Radiohead or Kings of Leon in a bigger market.”
Typical audiences for most metal/punk groups used to be about 50 people. But Cormier said in the last few years, it isn’t unusual for hardcore bands to play for crowds of 1,000 or more. “That’s unheard of … it’s solely because of the Internet that it can happen.”
Cancer Bats, which has shared stages with Billy Talent and Rise Against, and toured North America and Europe, is also made up of guitarist Scott Middleton, drummer Mike Peters and bassist Jaye Schwarzer.
For more information about the show at The Vat, call 403-346-5636.