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I'm not trying to say that Cancer was ever a bad band, but their debut album "To the Gory End" was amateurish to say the least. But when ex-Obituary and ex-Death guitarist James Murphy joined, it gave cancer a much needed shot of adrenalin, and kicked the band into creating the best album of their career. From what I can tell, Murphy didn't write any of the songs on here, but his superior guitar playing skills allowed Cancer to write more of what they wanted to write, because they had a guitarist able to play it.
If you're familiar with death metal, add a bit of complexity on top of that, and the result is this. Cancer doesn't really bring any new ideas to the table, but they take ideas already done and does them quite well. There aren't any new, experimental sounds found here, just a complex version of some good old fission death metal.
There are good and bad things here, but you can tell that Cancer has learned quite a bit since they put out their debut. They've evolved from seemingly having not a clue as to what they're doing, to on this record where an action plan has been established. The songs on this album are far better written than their counterparts on "To the Gory End". The band's performance is significantly improved since their last release, and it seems they intended to use more of their new found skill.
John Murphy also provides the guitar solos for this album. His solos end up being one of two things, either aggressive and spectacular, or they become bogged down by Murphy's effects. None of the solos here are explicitly bad, they just don't stand up to the other half of the guitar solos. "Death Shall Rise" the song has one of the solos where James doesn't try to do to much with effects, and lets his skill and creativity speak for themselves.
Lyrically, this album doesn't stand out. There isn't anything special here with the lyrics. Blood and guts, the usual death metal fanfare. Lyric topics aside, they aren't especially well written either, although they aren't clumsy nor do they detract from the song's ability to be enjoyed. If you are one of those people who really enjoys some intellectual, well written lyrics, this album is not something that you'll enjoy.
For a band who is on their second album, whose first was both a commercial and artistic failure, getting a second album made is not a small feat. To get a producer like James Burns to produce this album after the failure of the last one, that is even more surprising. It also seems to have been a surprise to Burns as well, as it seems that he didn't really try super hard here. Not that the production here is bad, it is actually well above average for a death metal album, shockingly good considering the conditions the band were under. It is just that, his later work with Death or Atheist is far, FAR superior. This is very much like his work with Sepultura. Again the production isn't bad at all, just not as good as it could have been. The production also kills Ian Buchanan's bass work. If you can hear it, you have ears of a god, as it, for all intents and purposes, isn't even here.
Long time death metal fans will love this album. It won't show them a new side of death metal, but it will show them what death metal looks like when it is executed to near perfection. This is basically a completely mandatory album for any death metal fan. This album is basically "The Night of the Living Dead" turned from a movie into an album, and it' works phenomenally well.
Unfortunately, we know what happened to Cancer. It may have been inevitable, but James Murphy's departure from the band was a major blow to the band. They learned a lot from his time in the band, but not enough to make an album on the level of this one ever again. After two more disks, the band called it quits in 2006. Still, this album alone is more than what most bands do in their entire career, and is worthy of purchase.
Cancer went to Florida to record their second album – they wanted results and back then there was no better way to get them than convincing Scott Burns to produce your album, and if you could get some rehearsal session at Morrisound, things would be much better. The group could do no wrong, the influence of the bunch of bands from the Tampa scene at the time, fused with the fresh ideas and potency from James Murphy was an explosive combination to hit new peaks in many aspects. The guys made as well lots of friends there, sharing beers with none other than Deicide, Demolition Hammer, Gorguts or Obituary, such an inspirational climax. In fact, they had been opening for Tardy & co. in Europe before that, so they were no strangers to each other, both personally and musically. So we have an outrageous British death metal band with its burning ambition and hunger for results breaking through, meeting an American promising talent with lots of ideas and plausible skills: perfect combination.
From minute 0 of this record it’s easy to guess what these guys want: intensity, power and complexity. They leave behind the lazily straight, raw style on their debut to work much harder on the song-writing, making instrumental passages lengthier and more coherent too, making the lyrics more disgusting and crude. John Walker’s sounds doomier than ever here, his growling is now deeper, darker and stratospheric, accompanying properly the ominous downtuning-riff series and the shocking speed on “Corpse Fire”, “Internal Decay” (or should it be “Internal Decadence”?) and “Hung, Drawn & Quartered”, which are a formidable exhibition of rabid death metal values. Velocity is present on most of the recurrent breaks on “Tasteless Incest” or “Burning Casket” as well, punctuating the violence and cogency of beat bases, when the group speeds-up, changing the mid-paced main riff into a total headbanging line sequenced with a propulsive tempo, which Carl Stokes’s blast-beats drive and perpetrate, accompanying lead guitars and bass with exuberance . On other hand, their sound gets insipid and emotionless when they decide to calm down, increasing the weight on riffs, giving as well James room to jam as much as he wants during the sometimes excessively overlong pickin’ parts. It’s not that “Back From The Dead” or the title-track are incongruently-conceived, it’s just that the band choose inappropriate, insubstantial alterations on riffs, getting also stuck in the same slow-paced sequence for too long. They do reach an apocalyptic, evil climax using that tactic, but it’s easy to make the listener bored when you don’t offer an interesting instrumental development and configuration. On other numbers like “Gruesome Tasks”, Cancer alternates accelerated rhythms with laidback beats, introducing naturally a bunch of rhythm changes, deriving effective bridges, leading to predictably extended guitar solos and less verses in order to emphasize progression as well, explicitly attempting to make the music more complex. Results are plausible, but not spectacular; in particular, when they attack together on the most compulsively frenetic parts on the tunes, and all of a sudden decide to slow down, not to mention the exhaustion they expose when they try to make the riff textures as prolific as possible, then their performance becomes too clumsy and incoherent.
There’s pros and cons on this record, but it’s evident t the band has been working hard since their unpolished debut, from almost amateur skills to solid technicality, with still a few weak spots to be found, though. Guitar parts are immaculately-executed however, even if I’m afraid John wasn’t in the same level of James, and we all know different ability levels in a combo of guitar players could ruin the harmony and cohesion of the sound, not this time fortunately. Murphy is the one pushing the band, enriching the equation too with temperamental solos which get surprisingly creative and fluid at times, other times turning inconsistent when he abuses of his effect pedal tricks. As for rhythm section, they made an honest performance, unspectacular and limited by the usual death metal parameters but compelling enough for this level. However, don’t look for any Ian Buchanan bass lines here, they’re completely unlistenable, buried in the mix – blame it on Scott Burns! The production is much more similar to his job with Sepultura, rather than his excellent, dense and condensed contribution to Death, Terrorizer, Atheist or Exhorder: very clean, dry, too sober. About the lyrics, everything you can expect on a death metal album: gore, guts, amputation, sickness, graves...and zombies! Are you impressed. John Walker is a freak of horror movies; sure he had been watching Stuart Gordon, Lucio Fulci, George A. Romero and John Carpenter classic films at night during the recording, taking good note of the bloodies scenes for the album verses.
Sadly, we all know what happened next: Cancer ever got over the departure of well-travelled guitar player James Murphy, even if they saw it coming. His energy, fresh ideas and virtuosism were crucial to make this album sound as good as it does; poor Barry Savage had to walk into his shoes. They would languish in obscurity during the middle-90’s, offering mediocre CDs and finally breaking-up in 2006. It’s unfair they’re not remembered as much as other British bands, how did Bolt Thrower, Benediction and Napalm Death got that far, anyway? Whatever, this record is a fine representation of the climax, glory and greatness of the Florida early-90’s death metal fever, arguably the most memorable project Mr. Murphy has ever taken part on. So all you zombie movies fans and death metal maniacs, your steak is done.
Call it an anomalous phenomenon, but there is something appealing about a familiar sounding album coming from an unfamiliar place. Granted, circa 1991 it wasn't out of the ordinary to hear an album taking its cues from the thrash-infused brilliance of "Leprosy", "Altars Of Madness" or "Beneath The Remains", but having a band come out of the land of Bolt Thrower and Carcass (aka England) that plays in this style is definitely a curious thing. But simply coming out of a novel location alone does not a great album make, and apparently Cancer knew this when they hit the ground running in the early 90s. Suffice to say, this is a band that was in it early on, and what they didn't quite have in originality they more than made up for in nasty, ear-destroying death thrashing quality insofar as "Death Shall Rise, their second LP is concerned.
As a whole, this album could be likened to a rock solid, moderately elaborate structure that rests on a monstrously fortified foundation. Every single piece of this creation acts as a supporting beam of the other, comprising a colossal whole that is insusceptible to any kind of assault via mortal hands or natural disaster. The production (ala Scott Burns of Sepultura fame) is a testament to how the early death/thrash sound can be likened to an iron clad titan, cleaning with a pristine shimmer from the fluttering lead guitar lines, impregnable beneath the density of the crush rhythm guitar sound and the massive battery of the drums, and the face of the beast proves an intimidating glare of hatred in the classical mode in a vocal display that is right along the lines of a mid-ranged bark out of John Tardy or David Vincent from around said time period. The songwriting naturally follows in similar fashion, showcasing an impressive assortment of Slayer and Teutonic Trio influenced mayhem with a slower, almost doom-like trot during the breakdowns that is heavily painted with gloom and agony.
To be sure, this is a band that hasn't given itself over to the always fast, always frenetic approach that was a staple of the genre's genesis under Possessed and early Death material, but is clearly in line with the moderated character that came soon after it and saw atmosphere as being equally as important as velocity and technical flair. "Hung, Drawn and Quartered", the album's lead off chapter, opts for the usual creepy ambient keyboard intro found on an album of this variety, but opts not to put things into full overdrive, but pushes forth at a moderately fast tempo in line with early Obituary and often paces things back to a mid-paced groove that isn't all that removed from a typical Entombed groove. Interestingly enough, it isn't until the 3rd song "Burning Casket" that things turn into a frenzied, thrashing celebration after the traditional Possessed model, and even then the landscape is still painted with a lot of catchy and mid-paced riffs and beats. This mixture of slow and moderately fast serves the band fairly well and dominates most of the album, giving way a bit in the case of "Corpse Fire" and "Internal Decay", both of which go a lot faster, employ frequent blast beats and somehow manage to veer into early Cannibal Corpse territory a bit.
Ultimately, despite all the right elements and being at the right place, at the right time, Cancer didn't take off the way most of their contemporaries did. Be this as it may, just about any self-respecting fan of early death metal should look into this album, as it embodies all of the great elements of the early 90s and almost none of its flaws. It might be a bit presumptuous to put it up there with the likes of "Cause Of Death", "Legion" and "Eaten Back To Life", but it definitely crosses into very similar territory and not only in terms of stylistic attributes. It's definitely the first album to go to insofar as this band is concerned and is deserving of a much bigger audience than what it has managed to attract up until now. Don't be on the wrong side of death when he rises, because according to this album, he has a pretty damned massive scythe to take you out with.
Here is an album that occasionally gets lost in the shuffle when discussing the best material to come out during the year 1991, which is one of the best years for metal in general, especially death metal. I don't want to lead you on and say that "Death Shall Rise" is the epitome of what death/thrash should be and that it is the greatest album of the subgenre, because it really isn't, but it is still an album that stands tall on its own feet and delivers a great eight-track onslaught of what you would expect a death/thrash record to sound like and one that certainly deserves some more recognition.
Cancer already had an uphill battle when releasing their sophomore album, because their fellow UK comrades in Bolt Thrower and Benediction would both release two excellent albums later in the year. Luckily, this group of metalheads had a different sound than their countrymen, not settling for a doomier or groovier sound, instead they would release an unbridled assault that became apparent once the classic "Hung, Drawn and Quartered" punched through the listener's speakers. Fast riffs and tremolos that sounded like they could have been written by Chuck Schuldiner himself (Maybe it was because James Murphy played guitar on this album?) and heavy riffs guaranteed to cause some whiplash to the vertebrae are what were to be found on this track, as well as an incredibly catchy chorus (with guest vocals from Glen Benton).
While the first track is the definition of brilliance, the rest never seem to catch up to the precedent set so early on. A lot of the riffs aren't anything overly special or anything that couldn't be heard from other bands that came out before, and the vocals are a little dry. The bass and drums also don't do anything that warrants much attention, either. The closest that Cancer comes to recapturing the greatness from the first track would be on the songs "Back From the Dead" and "Corpse Fire." The former track has a darker edge to it due to some melodies placed throughout, and the later song is a no-nonsense song that never lets up and even features some blast beats. After the eight songs have all gone through, there is an impression that is made on the listener, but it isn't on par with the same that are left by albums like "Dreaming with the Dead," "The Awakening" or "Idolatry." Not that it really matters, this album did have one of the best album covers out there, though, and had the music been as fantastic as the cover art then "Death Shall Rise" could have been an undeniable classic.
"Hung, Drawn and Quartered"
"Back From the Dead"
Originally written for Nightmare Reality Webzine.
If I was asked to sum up the early nineties Florida death metal scene as quickly as I could, rather than explain it in words or play a handful of bands, I'd put this album on. Not that this is in any way a classic album - it's just that rather than stress over picking a handful of Morbid Angel, Death, Obituary, Deicide, et al. songs, I could play “Hung, Drawn and Quartered” and be done with it. Cancer's second album isn't a masterpiece in any sense. It's almost a how-to guide. And of course the oddest part of all is that Cancer weren't even from Tampa, or Florida, or even the US - they came from England. Upon first listen I was expecting a much larger Paradise Lost influence. There is a small amount of Dismember or Entombed to be heard from time to time, but for the most part this is pure Tampa-worship. Naturally, this is only reinforced by the Scott Burns production. Burns' signature sound is personally one of my favourites, but while it's so clear and distinctive, it's also extremely typecasting. In the case of Death Shall Rise, without anything of any stand-out worth, it's ultra-evident. This album at times is even slightly reminiscent of Sepultura's Beneath the Remains, which Burns had produced two years earlier.
But while this sounds like criticism of the album, it's really not. Sure, at times it does sound like John Tardy is screaming over riffs from “Living Monstrosity”, and because of this the band never really gained the following that either Obituary or Death did.... but it's still a worthy, legitimate alternative. This is the album you put on when you can't decide which classic album to listen to. It's all of them at once, and while it loses out on originality, it makes up for it in immediate familiarity. From the first listen this felt like something I had heard many times before. And the songs mesh well - it is not a haphazard collection of other bands' riffs. Each song is well-crafted, the musicians are on par with their contemporaries, and the album will finish well before you expect it to. That is always the mark of a good album. In particular, I'd recommend the songs “Hung, Drawn and Quartered” and “Burning Casket”.
Cancer is a relatively unknown death metal band hailing from Great Britain. Death Shall Rise is their best album in my opinion, and should be heard by all old school death metal fans out there. This music is very simple and heavy. James Murphy provides some tasteful guitar solos on this album and really makes it memorable.
Cancer is heavily influenced by such death metal pioneers as, Possessed, Obituary, Death, Autopsy, and Massacre. Like I stated above, the music doesn't really have a lot of technical flair to it. The production is heavy and loud, it reminds me of a more bass heavy Leprosy.
The album starts off with one of it's strongest tracks in the form of 'Hung, Drawn, and Quartered'. This song is a beast, and is sure to instigate headbanging within seconds! Some other notable songs are, 'Burning Casket', 'Death Shall Rise', and 'Internal Decay'. These aforementioned songs have a solid mix of speed and heavy groove.
When I say groove, I do not mean the metalcore or post thrash style of groove. The grooves here are much in the vein of Celtic Frost, they are very driving. The drum work is laid back and not too impressive. Carl Stokes basically does the same pattern over and over again. The guitar solos are great, James Murphy and John Walker trade solos throughout the entire album.
There really isn't much more to say here. This is a really good album that needs to be heard. If you are an old school death metal fan, and you do not have this then I strongly suggest you pick this album up.