Cancer Bats are a sneaky bunch. The Toronto punk legends surreptitiously dropped one of the best hardcore albums of 2018 on the eve of their Hail Destroyer anniversary show. It was hard to tell how many fans in attendance knew about the new album. Twelve hours is a bit short notice. But this show was about Hail Destroyer, the legendary album that catapulted Cancer Bats to scene dominance back in 2008. Even without the new album, this show at Lee’s Palace would still have been a triumph.
Local doom merchants Olde kicked things off. They were hampered by a truly bad mix, including an eardrum-puncturingly loud bass drum, but their Mastodon-style riffing shone through. TotalxWar had a lot more in common with the headliners, delivering a frantic hardcore set full of all the best clichés. Liam Cormier even joined in for the vocal beatdown of “I Won’t Break.” They’re a great band that’s worth checking out, even if just for the bodybuilding shirtless drummer. Ahem.
But really, the night was always about the Batmen. Cancer Bats have grown from scrappy Ontario punks into full-on trendmakers. Hail Destroyer played an integral part in this transformation, providing Cancer Bats with their first genuine hits. Some, like “Lucifer’s Rocking Chair” and the title track, have become setlist staples for the band, while others have become elusive rarities. The Bats started with a few such gems, including “French Immersion” from their first album Birthing The Giant. By the time these were done and the full-length play through of Hail Destroyer began, it was clear we were all witnessing something special.
For starters, the sound was perfect. Liam Cormier’s vocals shone out over everything, while Scott Middleton and Jaye Schwarzer’s guitar and bass hit hard, but never overpowered. Songs like “Regret” and “Sorceress” sounded just as fresh here as when they were first recorded. The band looked like they were having the time of their lives, gleefully playing off each other’s strengths and bouncing out riffs like they were 22 again.
Then there was the crowd. Anniversary shows like this one are always fandom celebrations, but tonight, in front of a local crowd, things felt different. The sheer energy that was in the room cannot be overstated. One thing that can be said is that I had to rescue our photographer from the mosh pit during only the second song. Stage divers soon invaded the playing area, almost erasing the line between band and crowd. Cancer Bats seemed fine with this, even inviting several audience members to sing along in Liam’s mic during their brief time onstage. A superfan was called up at the start of “Bastard’s Waltz”, at which point Liam declared, “This guy has been to 48 Cancer Bats shows. I don’t even think I’ve been to that many!”
Inevitably, Hail Destroyer had to finish, but that was not the end of the concert. After announcing the existence of The Spark That Moves, Cancer Bats raged their way through their new album’s first few tracks. “Gatekeeper”, “Brightest Day” and “Space In Time” demonstrated that the band’s new material can stand shoulder to shoulder with the old. By this point most of the crowd was mortally exhausted, but that didn’t keep them from flailing around like spastic ninjas during the set closing cover of “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys.
At this point it seems Cancer Bats can do no wrong. They’ve successfully moved on from the sludgy experiment that was Searching For Zero without losing a single fan. When they aired middle-era favourites like “Brick and Mortar” during their four-song encore, Cancer Bats proved once again that they really have no peers in Canadian music. No one else rocks or parties quite like them. This is the kind of thing can’t be taught. It has to be grown organically, as the Bats have done for their entire career. With the double-whammy of this new album and the Lee’s Palace shows, Cancer Bats have cemented their hold on the crown.
Cancer Bats are here to stay. They’ve had many important shows in their career, but this one feels like a milestone. It could develop into an “I-Was-There” moment. Hats and beanies off to what might as well be the best band in hardcore. They’ve earned it.
Written by Max Morin
Photography by Gabby Rivera
*edited by Kate Erickson