Cancer Bats storm Crowbar

Image by Rosina Carbone


My leather jacket just isn’t cutting it anymore. It’s a frigid sabbath like this that sees me only dare to brave the Crowbar floor with a down-padded winter jacket zipped to my chin and covertly thick socks tucked under bootcut jeans. “We’re here to see Cancer Bats and then we’re fucking right off,” I promise. I have ambitious plans for this Sunday: in bed by midnight. It’s my mantra through the four acts I enjoy and the temperatures I endure. In bed by midnight… In bed by midnight… 

Despite the circumstances, what a crowd to behold. Given that the Canadian hardcore purveyors have also held the Saturday headline with their interpretive tribute to Black Sabbath under clever anthropomorphic moniker Bat Sabbath, this consecutive slot to showcase their own material is just as eagerly attended. It’s a testament to their almost two-decade-long career and hallowed cult albums that deftly skirt punk, sludge and metal attribution. And the fact they’re tagging along an extensive posse of local supports speaks volumes to their reverence of our D.I.Y. grassroots. 

Irken Armada @ Crowbar. Image credits: Rosina Carbone

Irken Armada are the first to sense the communal hesitance to cut loose, calling the initial spotty crowd “awkward motherfuckers” when we don’t drop everything to two-step. Churning hardcore track “Guttermouth” underscores the frenetic actions of their frontman who constricts his neck and forearms with the mic chord, finally chucking it over the barricade so he can venture out and personally victimise those stagnant with arms locked across their chests. With such soft vocals buried in the mix, it’s difficult to tell what the band are verbally accosting us about now, until I zone in on the tonal shift of appreciation for everyone who made it out on a Sunday. 

Bare Bones @ Crowbar. Image credits: Rosina Carbone

Sydney metalcore Bare Bones further what warming up was started, shifting gear to clearly the most groove-laden set of the night. Amongst a flurry of hard, snapping punk, this four-piece brought some of the “roll” I sorely miss at these types of shows. It’s only halfway through the set that I realise their total absence of a bassist means that the petulant rhythm is being substantiated by a secondary guitarist and backing track alone. My friend assures me this is the new standard, and I suck back in a tear. I’m fond of bassists, but Bare Bones fare well enough that I swear to an open mind. There’s a lot for me to love regardless, from the Dimebag-esque squealy harmonics to the drummer’s sweat that hits the snare with a rival ferocity to his sticks.

With the appearance of FANGZ, the only band to accompany Cancer Bats on the full extent of their national tour, shit feels a little more serious. “Organised” isn’t a word readily attributed to a punk band, but as the newly expanded five-piece mount the stage in uniform overalls and hold audience command with weighty impetus I can’t help and summate this act as nothing short of well-prepared and well-practised. I admit to not enjoying it as the singer sprays a mouthful of beer onto the front row, but my tolerance has more to do with a Sunday hangover than characteristic un-punkness. (I’m also picky about my beer types.) The band debut new lashing single “Wasting Time” in their home city with a brutish vivacity and bid us goodbye with some classic auto-destructive art. As their devastated bass lays stringless on the stage floor, I mourn what must be the tedious labour to restore it night after night on tour.

FANGZ @ Crowbar. Image credits: Rosina Carbone

There’s a tangible shift in energy as Cancer Bats storm out of the beer garden and onto the Crowbar stage. The interest from a largely nonchalant crowd tentatively won over by the supports is now at full attention. Liam Cormier saunters from corner to corner, a perpetual shit-eating grin growing as he growls along to the industrial imagery of set-opener “Gatekeeper”. In quick succession, “Trust No One” uproots this ground-level debauchery with crooked chords that scale through the turbulent mids. Jackson Landry, the youngest and newest addition to the outfit amongst the departure of original axeman Scott Middleton in 2021, teeters on the wah, balancing a classic punky guitar tone that harkens back to old Stooges effects so uncommon in these modern circles it rings both nostalgic and refreshingly offbeat. 

Cancer Bats @ Crowbar. Image credits: Rosina Carbone

Cormier expresses gratitude that they play songs off their latest album Psychic Jailbreak (2022) to the same ravenous response as their all-time hits, gargling water in the corner before refreshed enough to take on the gritty spits of “Lonely Bong”. Doom-like crash prevails over more metal-leaning track “Lucifer’s Rocking Chair” before the wayward squirming of “Sorceress” is pummelled under hefty kick drum. 

Vitriolic and poisonous, “Rats” stirs the crowd to mercilessly recite “There’s a special place in hell for people like you.” Cormier points out how the mosh is an equal split between people injected in the wrath of the words and those so enchanted by the moment they smile through the venomous refrain. Landry’s distorted offerings are sucked down in an ever-sinking spiral, led infinitely more heavily by Jaye R. Schwarzer’s hellbound basslines. And it’s the punctual syllabic accents on “Bricks and Mortar” that send the pit thrashing against the barricade in a frenzied unison.

Cancer Bats @ Crowbar. Image credits: Rosina Carbone

A final rallying cry rises out of the iconic rolling bass of Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”, the cover seeing Landry’s wah back in full force. Cormier perches on the barricade and passes his mic around to a radicalised front row while the rest of the punters are ecstatically throwing themselves off each other a few feet away. It’s the perfect segue into the blazing white fire of closer “Hail Destroyer”. The band laud many thanks before melting out into the crowd for a more intimate display of parting gratitude. 

It’s way after Cormier grabs my shoulder to acknowledge my headbanging contributions that I remember my promise to myself. The warmth from communal moshing is seeping out into the night with an urgency that beckons me swiftly to a homeward T2. After that performance, calling the exodus a sacrifice is a sore exaggeration. These Canadians gave us a show worth many a sleepless school night.

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