Sound — 8
Though a couple decades ago, you could barely count the number of hardcore bands in Canada with more than one hand, it certainly didn't stop Canada from contributing to the scene at large. Thankfully, Canada's hardcore export would grow a sizeable amount come the 21st century, bringing forth a number of substantial acts: the melodic hardcore group Comeback Kid, the post-hardcore group Alexisonfire, the "progressive hardcore" dabblers F--ked Up, and the most multi-genred hardcore group of the bunch, Cancer Bats.
Aspiring to wield their hardcore style tinged with the swagger of the southern metal sound and some bouts of heavy sludge sections, Cancer Bats would more or less be Canada's answer to Every Time I Die. Quickly being welcomed into the hardcore scene after their debut album, "Birthing the Giant," Cancer Bats would really hit their stride in their third album, "Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones," showcasing both impressive instrumental skill and covering a wide span of the genre spectrum; from emulating Soundgarden-esque grunge to toeing the line of grindcore. However, their fourth album, "Dead Set on Living," would focus most on their southern/groove metal side; primarily staying in mid-tempo rather than pedal-to-the-floor speed, and containing more clean vocals from frontman Liam Cormier (though that rasp in his voice will always be present).
"Dead Set on Living" would also include a hint of early doom metal influences; though that's not too much of a surprise, seeing as Cancer Bats also operate as a Black Sabbath tribute band, entitled Bat Sabbath. However, with Cancer Bats' fifth studio album, "Searching for Zero," they further show their penchant for a Black Sabbath-inspired sound, rather than the Down-inspired sound in the songwriting of their previous albums. The biggest bouts of this newfound aspiration come in the slow and doomy cuts of "Beelzebub" and "Dusted," as well as the swingy and riff-filled "Buds," which, from the opening hammer-on/pull-off licks to the dark psychedelic melodies, are Black Sabbath pastiches that run the risk of turning off those that don't want Cancer Bats to be reduced to a band emulating legends.
But instead of being a complete and shameless shift into Black Sabbath derivation, the main goal that Cancer Bats strive for in "Searching for Zero" is to smoothly blend that doomy/stoner rock sound into their sonic repertoire. "Cursed With A Conscience" is their fusion of a stoner rock aesthetic with a southern metal groove and sneaky tempo shifts, whereas "Arsenic in the Year of the Snake" and the stampeding "No More Bullshit" are the best displays of the band threading the needle of hardcore energy and stoner rock heaviness. Even the more stark hardcore songs like "Satellites," "True Zero" and "Devil's Blood" are generally thicker in sound (especially in the halftime sections), thanks to the gritty mix job and the hazy guitars. And though it's short, Cancer Bats make sure to dedicate a sweet moment for balls-to-the-wall hardcore madness with "All Hail."
Lyrics — 8
With so much Black Sabbath influence in the music aspect, it was bound to show up in the lyrical aspect of "Searching for Zero" as well. Devilry play a substantial role here, from the attempt to summon demons in "Beelzebub" and the biblical doomsday scenario painted in "Devil's Blood" to the self-addressing adherence to grim superstition in "Arsenic in the Year of the Snake." But the occult aesthetic in these tracks aren't merely a shallow veneer to match the Sabbath sound being flexed, and Cormier's naturally-inclined lyrical themes still hold strong in this different aesthetic: "Beelzebub" is more about overcoming one's fear than satanic ritual; "Devil's Blood" is more generally about the world being ruined by mankind's own doing; and "Arsenic in the Year of the Snake" is Cormier trying to find a reason to direct his grief and anger towards in the wake of numerous friends passing away back in 2013.
Cormier's cynicism towards the world and human nature is still going strong, too: he tries to find certain meaning in the cruelness of life in "Buds" ("I try my best to keep my head high/ Question all, was I lied to?/ Searching for what's wrong or right"), and curses his own sensitive morality until he finally gives into his own criminal desires in "Cursed With a Conscience." However, what ends up ringing the loudest are Cormier's bouts of strong and catchy positivity in "Searching for Zero." "True Zero" can be seen as the amendment of resolution to the amount of angst Cormier showed in "Dead Set on Living," where the concept of zero is neither positive nor negative, and is an even-keeled state akin to nirvana (which also includes the anthemic, self-esteem-boosting chorus "then I remind myself who I really am!"). And "Satellites" is the designated socio-political call-to-arms, where Cormier goes into a clear sing-speak voice to make sure everyone gets the message for taking action ("If you can't change, change what you can/ If you can't, then let it go, let it go").
Overall Impression — 8
As there were those that were disappointed in "Dead Set on Living" for containing more prominence of groove metal than hardcore, "Searching for Zero" may not be the joyous return to the vintage Cancer Bats sound that they would hope for. But with Cancer Bats moving into a stoner-tinged sound, it only makes "Searching for Zero" a more interesting release compared to a simple return-to-form, and it pays off here. Moving forward into new sounds is always a better artistic move to make than to bank on the comfort zone, and even though Cancer Bats have been seeking for progression for the past few releases, their hardcore roots are still in the heart of it all. You can either move forward with them, or amicably part ways.