Early attempts to bridge the distance between hardcore, punk and metal had all the beauty of Frankenstein's monster -- unsightly sutures, exposed bolts, faltering gait. But over time, such metalcore/screamo experiments have become more refined. In particular, Cancer Bats has found a comfortable midpoint reflecting the influences of Black Flag, Refused, and Today is the Day.
The Canadian band's heavy sound vacillates between ominous deep-seated breakdowns and spiky torrents of scratchy punk guitar, while singer Liam Cormier goes from feral-but-decipherable growls to a flat speak-sing, like Henry Rollins crossed with Lou Reed. The tempos aren't fast but hit hard; the effective use of dynamics helps Cancer Bats fashion songs, rather than blurs of technical brutality and animal torture.
Cancer Bats has followed 2008's Juno Award-nominated second album, Hail Destroyer, with an even weightier slab in Bears, Mayors, Scraps and Bones. Titled using the band members' nicknames for each other, the album is more personal than previous releases. Cormier was struck by how often people said they could relate to soul-bearing tracks such as "Sorceress" and "Regret." "So when it came to writing this record, I tried to be as open and personal as I could with the lyrics," he says.
Sonically, the album attempts to recreate Cancer Bats' live shows -- which band members describe as dirtier and heavier than their recordings -- and largely succeeds. Even more striking than the concussive effect is the tightness, aided by the addition of bassist/backing vocalist Jaye Schwarzer, who joined shortly after Hail Destroyer. The band was better prepared for its second studio visit: This time, everything was written prior to hitting the studio, which allowed the group to spend two weeks honing the material to a Ginsu edge. The result is an album that defies expectations -- and allows Cancer Bats to forge a sound of its own.
Cancer Bats opening for The Chariot with Stray from the Path, Dethlehem, Arcane Haven and Dinotrax. 6:15 p.m. Wed., Dec. 1. Altar Bar, 1620 Penn Ave., Strip District. $10 ($12 day of show). All ages. 412-263-2877 or www.altarbarpittsburgh.com