Cancer Bats – ‘Psychic Jailbreak’

By Tom Walsh

Not since The Style Council penned their 1985 hit ‘Come to Milton Keynes’ has a Buckinghamshire new town been so effortlessly crowbarred into a song. Then again, have you ever “melted faces in Milton Keynes”? Well Cancer Bats have, and they want you to know about it.

The self-proclaimed ‘road dogs’ are back, refreshed after the long Covid-induced break and ready to rip your face off once again with album number seven – ‘Psychic Jailbreak’. The Canadians are now veterans of the hardcore scene, and their penchant for pumping out fast and furious tracks with just the right amount of hip swinging is showing no signs of weakness.

However, ‘Psychic Jailbreak’ is their first without founding member and formidable axeman Scott Middleton. The guitarist decided to step back from Bats duty in late-2021 and his departure has signalled a bit of a re-think in terms of songwriting. Working once again with producer JP Peters (Propaghandi), following 2018’s ‘The Spark That Moves’, the band hasn’t dropped a beat in the intensity and heaviness that they have become renowned for.

Bassist Jaye Schwarzer has taken up guitar duties and from the word go, ‘Psychic Jailbreak’ is an almighty powerhouse of a record. The door hinges are ripped off from the first chords of opener ‘Radiate’, which comes with Liam Cormier’s signature howls and evokes a sound reminiscent of their much earlier work, particularly 2006’s ‘Birthing The Giant’.

There is no time to breathe as it slams straight into the double-header of ‘The Hoof’ – where Cormier eulogises about his life “being saved by a skateboarder” – and ‘Lonely Bong’, an ode to life on the road. For a band so accustomed to touring the globe, a pandemic put them at a weird juncture, so it’s a love letter to the better days where they were, as Cormier puts it, “melting faces in Milton Keynes” and “shooting fireworks in Aberdeen”.

Sonically, Cancer Bats lean on their punk and hardcore sensibilities much more in this record. While previous works have trodden into metal and doom-rock, ‘Psychic Jailbreak’ has a break-neck tempo, demonstrated aptly on the sizzling guitar solo on ‘Friday Night’. It also permeates through ‘Shadow of Mercury’, which is a burning ball of rage that wouldn’t have felt out of place during ‘Hail Destroyer’-era Bats.

There are moments of the grooving stoner rock we have become accustomed to from the Bats in recent years in the shape of ‘Hammering On’. Cormier teams up with folk singer-songwriter Brooklyn Doran to create haunting vocal harmonies – another sign of the ambition to try something a little different on this record.

While the seventh album of a band’s career is not usually seen as the one that defines them, Middleton’s departure meant Cancer Bats had to go for something new. The excitement the remaining trio – Cormier, Schwarzer and drummer Mikey Peters – had going into recording shines through, and this is a band that feels as though they’ve fallen right back into their songwriting groove.

It encapsulates the party atmosphere, positivity and goddamn heavy riffs that only Cancer Bats can produce. As they return to the ‘road dog’ life, this record is one that will reverberate across all the sweat-stained pits the world has to offer. And, hey, maybe it’ll be your hometown that gets name-checked in album number eight.

TOM WALSH

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