REVIEW: CANCER – “Shadow Gripped”
Perhaps Cancer have one of the most antagonic careers in all of death metal, having released two marvelous classic albums in the early 1990’s, only to completely fall from grace in their latest entries, which definitely raised some questions regarding the England natives’ return and new album, ‘Shadow Gripped’.
As scared as I could be of reviewing this – as I’m a longtime fan of the band -, I was also pretty stoked up about the fact that core members John Walker (guitar/vocals), Ian Buchanan (bass) and Carl Stokes (drums) reunited for the first time since 1995 and were looking for reminiscing the band’s heydays. Glady, this actually came true and ‘Shadow Gripped’ is a good display of Cancer’s early personality and playstyle.
The album doesn’t crush everything in its path right from the start, but it’s clear on opener “Down the Steps” that those awful, AWFUL performances seen on ‘Black Faith’ (1995) and the even worse ‘Spirit in Flames’ (2005) have been buried in the past, as the song is a good warm up to the visceral blows coming after. One of these savage moments is “Garrotte”, a visceral, fast, powerful track with a wonderful chorus that gives no rest for the wicked. It’s an evil slab of macabre death metal, worthy of the band’s name.
Continuing in the same vein is “Ballcutter”, featuring Anders Nystrom of Katatonia/Bloodbath fame. Despite its overly-simplistic chorus, the song is very well constructed and feels like a Bolt Thrower on steroids kind of tune. “Organ Snatcher” drops the ball a little bit with a mid-paced, uninventive approach, and albeit not being too good a song it’s also not a filler.
“The Infocidal” improves in quality a little bit compared to its predecessor, starting out strong, and changing the pace mid-song. The solo here is more melodic than it should be but John Walker makes up for it in the vocal lines and guitar leads. “Half Man Half Beast” is exactly what the title suggests. It starts epic with some church-like chants and bursts into a dense as fuck track. Cadenced and brutal, Cancer bets on heaviness instead of speed here, akin to what bands like Obituary and even their past selves did in the 90’s. While the chorus is yet again overly simplistic, it illustrates well the horror of the song’s story.
Other efforts like “Crimes So Vile”, “Disposer” and the title-track all have the same proposal of favoring heaviness and that old-school death atmosphere of the 90’s over speed and mindless instrumental fretting. “Crimes So Vile” reminds me of mid-career Master by using slight thrash metal elements and “Shadow Gripped” is a classic, by-the-book death song, but “Disposer” sounds a little bit flat and it’s ultimately forgettable.
It is with “Thou Shalt Kill”, though, that Walker, Buchanan and Stokes prove that they’re really back to form. Best song in the album by far, this is a slab of pure, evil, eviscerating raw death metal. Sheer angriness on the drum and bass lines and vocals full of hatred will flood your speakers, grab you by the balls and remind you of what Cancer can do when in top form; their best song in more than 20 years.
I have minor complaints about the production, which could be better. The mixing sounds a little bit too analogic, and although I understand that this is definitely something that they deliberately chose to do, the spacing between instruments and sometimes the vocal mix sound a tad out of the right volume. This is just an audiophile’s rant, though, and doesn’t affect the execution or overall songwriting in any form.
After several years of doubts, eyebrows raised and harsh criticism, fans of Cancer can finally be at peace and enjoy the sweet, sweet sound of crunchy, brutal music played the right way once again. Sometimes, evoking giants of the 90’s death scene like Malevolent Creation, Obituary, Massacre or even Benediction, but never losing the characteristic and singularity of what made them a legendary band, Cancer is definitely on track once again and ‘Shadow Gripped’ is the proof; recommended.