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CANCER BATS: Band of Brothers

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The underground music scene is more comparable to a family than an industry. The title of this article, “Band Of Brothers”, is matter-of-factly in reference to the 2001 mini-series of the same name, which told the story of “Easy Company”: a Parachute Infantry Regiment as part of the United States Army’s 101st Airborne Division during World War II. Specifically, the episodes revolve around Major Richard Winters and how he keeps his men together and safe whilst accomplishing missions set before them; the “Band Of Brothers” act as a family much like the underground music division (the title is derived from William Shakespeare’s “Henry V” play).

Liam Cormier, vocalist for Toronto-based sludge hardcore punk quartet Cancer Bats, has known the importance of the underground music community and the support it delivers for decades, from the perspective of both performer and fan. In fact, in just June this year, the distinguished frontman Keith Buckley from luminary band Every Time I Die had to depart the band’s European tour to attend to his family back in the USA. Instead of cancelling the remainder of the shows, ETID called upon an array of vocalists the world over to fill the enormous shoes of Mr Buckley to complete the tour, one of which being Liam himself. As he recollects, it was a call of duty he had to answer but not without some minor obstacles.

“That was rad and super fun! But extremely daunting, I had to learn 11 songs for their set. I am a massive Every Time I Die fan; I grew up going to their shows, I moshed to Hot Damn! before I was friends with any of those dudes. Actually, I used to mosh even when I was playing with them when we toured together.” He admits – “But I didn’t realise how much was going on with Keith’s lyrics and how complicated the parts actually are (laughs). So for me, it was definitely like banana-town trying to keep all the lyrics straight, I definitely blew it in a lot of cases HAHA! But I feel like we got through it and made it through the set, people were stoked.”

As Liam is a die-hard supporter of the community, there was no choice in the matter when the Buffalo outfit called for his assistance, it was an obligation to help when and where he could (as with ArchitectsSam Carter, Four Year Strong’s Dan O’Connor, Trap Them’s Ryan McKenney and numerous others). It was a situation which could be best summarised by famed Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen: “A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm”.

“I feel like I butchered ‘The New Black’, but I killed ‘Roman Holiday’ – [laughs] of course, that’s, like, the easy one” Liam confesses in hysterics – “But all the ETID guys were super pumped and thankful, we have all been there you know? People have to leave because of family things or whatever is happening in life, but that’s when everyone comes together and pitches in. It’s funny I was actually hanging out with the While She Sleeps boys the other night because they were in Toronto and Lawrence (Taylor, vocalist) talked about he sang one song with them at Hellfest. I was instantly like: ‘Oh my gosh, I wish I only had to sing one song’ [Laughs]”

Considering the honour which was bestowed upon him, was there anything he would have changed?

“I wish, in a perfect world, we could have jammed before the show and then I could have practiced actually singing. I hadn’t actually sung any of the songs before I got on stage; I was just memorising lyrics with my iPod.” He continues – “I have since seen a couple of the videos, I was singing way off key trying to do Keith’s parts. We both have a very different range, so I would start in what I thought would be a Keith range, but I actually don’t sing like that, so I would very quickly come back to my own range. Who knows, maybe one day I could do round two and do ‘Floater’ because I reckon I could do that one justice?”

Not that Mr Cormier and his Cancer Bats are strangers to performing other musician’s songs, for years now the four-piece have performed shows and released one EP under the moniker of Bat Sabbath. For those who are unfamiliar, it is exactly as it sounds: a Black Sabbath tribute band.

“We actually just came back from ripping the east coast of Canada, it was, for the most part, Bat Sabbath shows.” Liam enthuses – “But we also did some all ages Cancer Bats shows, because we hadn’t done that out there in a while. We were just lucky that all the promoters were really up for it, they wanted us to do a matinee or on a day off an all-ages show at a hall on a day off. We love it when things work out like that.”

However, it plagued this writer to ask though, if any of the members of the sadly now-defunct Black Sabbath – the pioneers of heavy metal themselves – had experienced a Bat Sabbath performance?

“They haven’t seen us do it live (unless they have Googled it), but we did meet them back in 2012; we actually presented them with an award at the Kerrang! Awards for lifetime achievement for, obviously, being epic (laughs). But we got to hang out and talk with Tony Iommi (guitarist) and Geezer (Butler, bass), they were really rad dudes. They just hung out and shot the shit like any musician really does, it was so cool to experience them like that.”

Finally arriving at why this scribe had the good fortune of interviewing the ever polite and stoked Liam Cormier, it has been announced that the ‘Bats will, in fact, be in our fine nation once again in February 2018 supporting the one and only Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes. A tour which has Liam understandably yelling down the phone receiver in excitement.

“Yeah, I am super pumped, this tour is going to be really rad! We have known all those dudes for quite some time. Like, we have known Frank (Carter, vocalist) forever and they’re whole band and crew are just the best dudes, so it is going to be sweet because of that. But what is the cherry on top is we are coming to one of our favourite countries for both bands, so I can happily speak on behalf of both bands saying this is going to be the best time!”

He elaborates: “I really like all the different kind of incarnations Frank has done within his career, from Gallows to Pure Love and now something different again with The Rattlesnakes; it actually gets me really stoked that someone like that is continually creative, it is so inspiring.

“What I like most about The Rattlesnakes is I think it is just a blend and even a middle ground between all of what Frank has done musically. I mean there are some really hard songs and he completely wails on them, but there are some almost Iggy Pop parts to some songs and then there are some really epic songs that didn’t exist in Gallows or Pure Love. It’s got an awesome variety dude.”

The sludge hardcore punks last album Searching For Zero was released in 2015, so it seemed customary to ask if Cancer Bats had plans for the follow-up in the near future?

“Yeah! At the moment we are slowly chipping away at a new record, so if there are some bangers ready for a live show by the time we roll into Australia and they are worthy of all our brothers and sisters down there; I AM MORE THAN DOWN TO UNLEASH THE CHAOS! (laughs).”

How is it coming along?

“I want to record when we have 10 of the sickest songs that I can’t wait to show people and not that we need ten songs that add up to 31 minutes long. We are not that much under the gun which is awesome, that pressure can make you creative. That being said, we are really stoked on everything that has been coming out, and when we do get together, we find that everyone is really inspired and the writing has been moving pretty quick. I’m not that worried that it will take us that long to get out another record.”

On a final note, returning to the idea of support and community, admirably Liam Cormier decided to sacrifice a globally renowned characteristic of himself by shaving off his glorious locks in February 2016 for The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation. It was a wonder though, how did the man himself find the support of his charitable action to eventuate both personally and financially?

“We ended up raising over $20,000. It was so wicked! I mean everyone coming together and just tossing in some change or contributing via the internet. It was a very humbling experience for myself.”

But do you miss the mane?“

“Oh, yeah. [laughs] I mean, I have done a bunch of shows now with short hair and I am finding it pretty fun too. It has a different vibe; I had to learn a few different moves. I mean for so long I had long hair and it was kind of easy just to like wave it around or headbang with it, because you know it’s brutal (laughs).” He expands further – “I looked up to Matt (Caughthran, vocalist) from The Bronx because he is such a crusher and wild man on stage, but he has no hair. He has to make up for that with his entire body; I have certainly come to realise that short hair is way harder than long hair, long hair is like a ‘cop out’. It does look gnarly doing nothing with long hair, but with short hair, you have to be really harsh and more powerful.”

In conclusion, there is no doubting Liam is Cursed With A Conscience*, but with what he and his ‘Bats have provided their Buds*, the world should respectfully *All Hail.

*Track titles which appeared on Searching For Zero

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