I love writing album reviews. I end up turning out around five of them a week, give or take a few. I love the structure that records take on, the universal constraints of time and sound that bind the concepts. I love the sensuality of aural art forms, the wordlessness of music simultaneously defied and contrasted by the lyrics. I love the clumsy brutality that inevitably results when, as a critic, I am called to translate one art form into another, music into language. I love the flawed relationship between music and writing, between art and criticism, how one both creates and contextualize. It’s a symbiotic relationship, and a potentially volatile one, that can leave both halves clawing each other to pieces. It’s hard and ugly and terribly fun.
I’ve wished, over the last months, however, that I could have a bit more time time with a single song. Working through the architecture of an entire album is one thing, but the twisted, obsessive love that I can develop for a single track is hard to express when there is a whole record to talk about. I fall in love with albums, but I develop grotesque, smothering crushes on songs that usually result in us wearing each other out through sheer repetition. My approach to an album is that of a gourmet, carefully sampling and appreciating the nuance. For songs, I am a complete glutton.
This column is devoted to the appreciation of the individual song, the single, and the obsession that individual tracks inspire. Because it is me writing this column, expect a lot of difficult, loud, metallic music.
Cancer Bats – R.A.T.S.
“there’s a special place in hell for people like you”
This is the opening track off of the newest album, Dead Set On Living, by Toronto’s own Cancer Bats. Aesthetic is rooted in hardcore punk, but as their sound has developed over their four full-length records, they have included more and more heavy metal influences, as their songwriting has become more sophisticated. On this particular record, the band made an effort to put a different kind of fuel in their engines, shifting the emotional core and driving from the seething misery of 2010’s Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones to something more positive. The concept of the album remained dark, as a lot of the material on the record was inspired by the serious illness and subsequent hospitalization of vocalist and lyricist best friend. The result is an album that is wholly defiant and merciless, music that cannot be beaten into submission.
R.A.T.S. is the opening track from Dead Set On Living, and it comes out swinging. The driving rhythms supports riffs that writhe with frustration, anger that can only be soothed by thoughts of vengeance. As Cormier snarls that he hopes the objects of his antipathy end up in hell, you can feel the brimstone seeping out of his voice. And yet, this is also a celebratory song, joyous in its hatefulness, spewing out negative emotion so that, in the end, the performers and listener are both left scoured clean. “R.A.T.S.” is a draining track that goes for the guts, and has my heart firmly in its grip.