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Words by Matt New

Pix by Angie New Photography

Toronto’s Cancer Bats are one of the most revered hardcore punk acts in the modern era of punk and affiliated genres. Their influence is widespread, but particularly strong in Australia, where local acts like Fangz and Hammers draw a lot of inspiration from the Canadian four-piece.

Cancer Bats are respected for their raw and abrasive sound, which ignites a visceral energy that sets them apart from other hardcore acts. However, they are also known for not taking themselves too seriously and regularly incorporate comedic elements into their formula. Their first headline national tour since 2019 has been highly anticipated, but they had a surprise up their sleeves: a few selected shows honouring the heavy metal overlords, Black Sabbath, with their tribute project Bat Sabbath.

It is no surprise that when you cover the band heralded with the birth of heavy metal, you carefully select bands with the same doomy and sludgy elements. Sydney has many top-tier doom metal bands at its disposal, one of which is Mountain Wizard Death Cult, hailing from the Hawkesbury region of Western Sydney. I am no stranger to the Wizzies, having seen them at countless shows supporting other amazing doom and sludge metal bands. They have become one of the most respected underground bands within the scene, as well as one of the hardest working, playing wherever and whenever they get the opportunity.

Mountain Wizard Death Cult are definitely one monumentally heavy band with some very interesting quirks. Guitarist Chris Chaplin uses a wide range of effects pedals that he manipulates to create a variety of haunting and ambient sounds, all the while using some complex dissonant jazz chord voicings smothered by layers of thick distortion.

Drummer Lachlan Livingston Wink‘s drumming is always dense with groove and swing, even when played with immense power. Bassist Anthony Langton, the final piece of the ensemble’s puzzle, plays with an intense amount of energy and conviction. Even snapping a string on his bass at the beginning of their second song, which he promptly managed to replace off to the side of the stage, and professionally was back up and running by the chorus. Fortunately, Chappo’s guitars filled out the low end for the duration until they returned to full strength.

The most notable addition to the line-up is their new vocalist, Elliott Smith, who also features in bands such as Foothills and Wicked Sisters. Smith stepped up to help MWDC while founding frontman JJ Brady takes some time away from the band to focus on his personal endeavours. Given how distinct JJ’s shrieking vocals were, it was refreshing to hear Smith’s more guttural screams accompany the band. This addition has only added more depth and variety to the band’s already versatile sound, giving them an almost post-metal edge. Even the addition of some clean vocals was very welcome. Closing with fan favorite Eye Of The Sun, MWDC set a very strong tone for the whole evening and was incredibly enjoyable to watch.

Following MWDC was another thundering underground doom metal band that also has an incredible cult following: Sydney’s Potion. The three-piece ensemble has a unique psychedelic flair that interweaves into their colossal blend of heavy riffs. Although I am unfamiliar with their catalogue, they are still extremely mesmerizing and showcase an extraordinary level of talent on their respective instruments. Their sound is a unique blend that flirts between the detuned aggression of bands like Sleep and High on Fire, to the sludgy stoner-doom arrangements akin to Kyuss, while also having a technical proficiency similar to bands like Corrosion of Conformity or Down.

Another interesting element of this band is their connection to the visual arts. Both guitarist and vocalist Lee Jowono and bassist Stella Leung are more than just amazing musicians on their respective instruments; they also provide the detailed and enthralling artwork seen on their albums and merchandise. This imagery embodies a heavy influence from the occult and horror movies, adding a sense of darkness that complements their music. To my surprise, Karnivool guitarist Drew Goddard proudly wore a Potion shirt at their recent Sydney show, highlighting the respect this band commands. The band even incorporated audio samples from horror films such as Hellraiser to add gravitas to their dark and moody performance.

Although I am personally not the biggest fan of the doom metal genre, as I feel it tends to drag and be a little too repetitive for my liking, Potion’s music was unrelentingly hypnotic. Their set was one monumentally epic journey matched by amazing technical precision and sorcery. At one stage, frontman Lee Jowono apologized to the Cancer Bats fans for their 10-minute long masterpieces, to which a heckler retorted, “it makes me horny” at the top of his lungs. Jowono responded, “it makes me horny too,” which had the audience in stitches. Potion finished with a new track dripping in octave fuzz and tribal drum rhythms, delivering another memorable performance and solidifying their place as one of the most critical bands in the Sydney heavy music scene.

Crowbar started packing out as many Cancer Bats fans waited eagerly to see their favorite Canadian band, all the while humming along to the tunes of Danzig playing in the background. Drummer Mike Peters, bassist Jaye R. Schwarzer, and touring guitarist Jackson Landry made their way onto the stage to a jeering reception, getting the proceedings underway with Into The Void from the Master of Reality album. Then, in a frenzied dash, frontman Liam Cormier appeared almost out of nowhere, joining his bandmates with a mic in hand and wearing a black cape draping a cowboy-like shirt, that hilariously seemed a few sizes too small. Cormier was instantly captivating, and his intense stage persona made it nearly impossible to lose sight of him, as he paced and kicked furiously on stage. His frenetic enthusiasm l was infectious, and at that point, I knew Cancer Bats covering Black Sabbath would be different from the original recordings, so I was curious to see how the set would play out.

Bat Sabbath, as they are affectionately known, performs these high-intensity hardcore renditions of Black Sabbath covers with an unparalleled energy that I have never witnessed from any tribute or covers band. The DNA of their sound shines through perfectly with every note of every classic Sabbath riff. Cormier even had a floor tom on stage at his disposal, which he used to provide some percussive accompaniment on Supernaut alongside drummer Mike Peters. As you can imagine, the energy picked up exponentially with Paranoid, but Cormier was convinced that the sweaty Sydney crowd was in their element to worship his heavy metal overloads just like he does. Rating the crowd a 3/10 and demanding they get sweatier, sing so loud they bleed in their throats, and move like crazy in the mosh pit. Then, like flicking on a switch, Sydney took the challenge on board and went bat shit crazy for Iron Man and Electric Funeral.

Cormier is definitely a unique and dynamic frontman, and his screeching gravelly vocals gave these sacred heavy metal hymns an interesting timbre. All the while dancing and headbanging like crazy, he seemed to at times almost be possessed by the energy of Ozzy Osbourne. His overwhelming joy was evident for everyone to see while performing, as were his bandmates, as they played every song with the widest of smiles. The sentimental importance of Black Sabbath to these musicians appeared very personal, giving the impression that the Cancer Bats boys were reliving their youth by getting to play their favorite songs that are solely responsible for shaping them into the musicians they are today. It was a very humbling moment to experience indeed.

The set continued with all the songs you would expect to hear from Black Sabbath‘s greatest hits, with the entirety of the set representing the Ozzy Osbourne era of Black Sabbath only. Children of the Grave, Black Sabbath, and War Pigs were highlights of the evening, receiving a rousing reaction from the audience. On a cold winter’s night in Sydney, probably feeling like Spring to these Canadian minstrels, every single person in the Crowbar main room emanated a warmth that was both physical and metaphysical. Bat Sabbath raced through these classics with unrelenting fury, all the while keeping true to the content of the tracks. The rhythm section performed every song with all the applicable grooves, arrangements, riffs, and solos with ease, even at the frenzied pace they delivered them at.

As a special treat, Bat Sabbath returned to the stage to give the fans what they wanted: an encore, but not as expected. Rather than continuing with more Black Sabbath hits, they covered three Cancer Bats tracks under the careful watch of their Bat Sabbath alter egos. Lucifer’s Rocking Chair, Bricks & Mortar, and fan favorite Hail Destroyer concluded a powerfully vivid performance that was an incredible sight to behold. I left Crowbar with a newfound respect for a band whom I never really enjoyed enough until now.

They have endured a career spanning two decades by playing a fun and energetic brand of punk, representing the easygoing and humorous characters they are. Aussie fans should be excited for this tour, as Cancer Bats have a purpose, and that is to make sure you get crazy, as Cormier described it, “unleashing the ultimate boogie.”

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